We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more Islam in Transition Muslim Perspectives Second Edition - Islam vs. Marxism and Capitalism - Islam vs. Marxism and Capitalism - Oxford Islamic Studies Online
Select Translation What is This? Selections include: The Koran Interpreted, a translation by A.J. Arberry, first published 1955; The Qur'an, translated by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, published 2004; or side-by-side comparison view
Chapter: verse lookup What is This? Select one or both translations, then enter a chapter and verse number in the boxes, and click "Go."
  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Look It Up What is This? Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Next Result

Islam vs. Marxism and Capitalism

Mustafā Mahmūd
Document type:
Articles and Essays

Islam vs. Marxism and Capitalism

Mustafā Mahmūd


After primary and secondary education at Tanta, he entered the medical college of Cairo University and on graduation practiced medicine in Cairo from 1952 to 1966. In the mid-fifties he began writing on religion and modern problems and now has become a full-time writer and spiritual counselor.

In this piece written in 1975, Mahmud examines the early Islamic period to demonstrate what he believes is Islam’s advantages over capitalism and Marxism. His method is to quote Qurānic verses or traditions of the Prophet and his companions, in order to show Islam’s virtues in relation to the other two systems of thought and practice. He also asserts certain points, as when he asserts that Islamic thought is based on both Aristotelian and dialectical logic.

As developing nations we normally look at two pioneering experiences only: communism in the East and capitalism in the West. We can hardly imagine that there may be another solution, so if we discover that both the two experiences are not advantageous to us we begin to search for a solution midway between the two schools and we start to manufacture an appropriate composite.

If we were to look to Islam we would find a source of thought and truth which surpasses both systems in its progressiveness and contemporaneity. We would find that everything we reckon new in scientific socialism was old hat thirteen centuries ago in Islam. Islam came establishing, from the very beginning, the principle of equal opportunity, guaranteeing minimal needs to the individual and achieving a balance between the liberty of the individual to profit and the rights of society, the principle of private and public property (private and public sectors), the principle of state interference in the economy—this is what we call today a directed economy—the principle of confiscating the wealth of exploiters for the benefit of the poor and the oppressed.

Islam does not allow classes and forbids that wealth circulate among a limited group of rich.

“That it become not a commodity between the rich among you” (Qur'ān 59:7).

Rank in Islam is based on piety not riches.

“The noblest of you in the sight of God is the best in conduct” (Qur'ān 49:13).

“God does not look at your form or your wealth but only at your hearts and your actions” (Prophetic Tradition).

“People are equal like the teeth of a comb; there is no preference for the Arab over the non-Arab except in piety” (Prophetic Tradition). . . .

Islam is against excessive disparity in resources. There is more than one verse against luxury and the luxurious. “The wrongdoers followed that by which they became opulent, and were guilty” (Qur'ān 11:116). “Till when we grasp their luxurious ones with the punishment, behold they supplicate” (Qur'ān 23:64). . . .

Despite this, Islam is not against the rich man if he is restrained.

“There is no objection against the rich man who is pious” (Prophetic Tradition). “Yes, just wealth for the just servant” (Prophetic Tradition). “In their wealth the beggar and the outcast had due share” (Qur'ān 51:19).

The minimum for life must be guaranteed to all. “People share in three things: water, pasture and fire” (Prophetic Tradition).

The wealth of the rich is illegal if there is one poor person in the society who cannot find food. “There is no one of us who goes to sleep full when his neighbor is hungry” (Prophetic Tradition). “Let him who has surplus give to him who has not” (Prophetic Tradition).

We have seen examples of state interference in the economy under ‘Umar ibn al-Khattāb.1 ‘Umar b. al-Khattāb: second Caliph after death of Muhammad. . . .

‘Umar refused to let Muslims take possession of land conquered in raids, considering it the property of the community, just as he refused to allow possession of beneficient trusts, mines, and underground resources, considering them under the rule of the public sector.

‘Umar forbade the buying and consumption of meat two days in succession when meat was scarce, and anyone violating the prohibition he struck with an udder, saying: “Now your stomach will close up for two days.”

‘Umar bought monopolized products forcibly from the monopolists for a symbolic price and used to fix the price for certain items to prevent arbitrary pricing which might harm people. . . .

Abū-Dharr al-Ghiffārī2 Abū-Dharr al-Ghiffārī: companion of the Prophet, known for his humility and asceticism. Because of his criticism of abuses of wealth he has been adopted recently as the first socialist. considered the wealth of the wealthy fair game for others as long as there was one poor man in the society who could not find sufficiency.

Private property is inviolable in Islam as is public property. “The blood, honor and wealth of every Muslim is inviolable” (Prophetic Tradition).

The one who violates private property has his hand cut off like the one who violates public property.

In Islam, formal logic is joined with dialectical logic. (Formal logic is Aristotelian and talks of the permanence of existing things, so what is a tree today will be a tree tomorrow. Dialectical logic is Hegelian dialectical logic and talks of the continual change of existing things, so every existing thing carries the seed of its own destruction.) These two are the logics of permanence and evolution. Islam joins adherence to permanent dogmatic principles with personal interpretation (ijtihād) in derived branches, details, and applications (this is what we call development). It says that derived rules change with changes in time and place. This is what jurisprudents call “difference of time and place,” not difference in argument and proof. Hence the Prophetic Tradition: “differences among Imams is a blessing,” because they are differences in details necessitated by changing circumstances.

For this reason we say that economic policy in Islam is divine policy in what concerns principles but positive policy in what concerns application and detail.

The divine principles in the Islamic program are based on the notion of accommodation of the interests of the individual with those of the group. It does not crush the individual for the good of the group (as in communism) nor does it crush the group for the good of the individual (as in capitalism).

But if accommodation is impossible as in time of war or famine or plague, the Islamic application chooses the group interest and decrees that people divide food equally, though all may be only half full. . . .

However, in a normal situation the Islamic program is bound by divine principles which aim at a delicate balance between individual and community interest. . . .

For this reason anyone who thinks Islam is capitalistic is mistaken. Likewise anyone who thinks Islam is communistic is mistaken. And so too, the one who thinks Islam is a mathematical mean between the two systems or a concoction from both is mistaken. The truth is that Islam has a distinctive economic program which proceeds from basically different points of departure, although some point or other may be in accord with this or that system.

It proceeds from the notions of accomodation, interest, cooperation, and complementarity, not from the notion of class struggle and contradiction. It seeks a balance between the individual and the group, not the melting of individuals into the group (as in scientific socialism) nor the sacrifice of the group for the good of a minority of individual capitalists (as in capitalist throught). Accomodation and interest are always the starting point.

In capitalist economics we find that the freedom of the individual for gain is the principle and the interference of the state is the exception. In scientific socialism we find that the interference of the state and its isolated role in economic activity is the principle and the granting of some freedom to the individual is the exception. It is clear, then, that in Islam we are in the presence of something very different.

Individual freedom to profit is a principle in the Islamic system along with individual property, so too are state interference in the economy and public property principles. And when Islam established the zakāt3 zakāt: obligatory tax on capital holdings enjoined by Muhammad. it legalized state interference and set up the first institution of social security. Islam makes interference a duty so that wealth will not remain among the rich as the monopoly of one class to the exclusion of the rest of the citizens. . . .

The freedom of the individual to gain is a principle, but Islam does not allow it to become an absolute. It puts fetters on it, so production of wine, usurious transactions, monopoly, amassing wealth and spending it foolishly or gathering it by graft, and infringement on the rights of others and overpricing are not allowed.

The Islamic economic program is characterized by another thing not found in capitalism or in scientific socialism, namely its satisfaction of spiritual as well as material needs. Relations with God and acting to please him in expenditure and performance of good deeds is a principle. Our prophet says: “Alms fall into God's hand before they reach the hand of the deprived.”

This gives the economic program a lofty goal and enables economic activity. The believer feels he is dealing directly with God.

Also, it provides the governor with a two-fold supervision over his actions in addition to the supervision of the commissioner of taxes, namely, the supervision of God and the supervision of his conscience.

This spiritual satisfaction protects the society from the psychological emptiness and malaise which occur in opulent European societies like Sweden or in socialist atheistic societies in the East where we find the highest proportion of insanity and suicide despite the abundant guarantees of life for all.

The reason is that the system does not satisfy spiritual needs and does not quench that holy thirst within man, the thirst for the true God, even though it satisfies his stomach and natural dispositions. They do not understand that man is not merely stomach and instincts. . . .

There is no separation in Islam between the spiritual and the material. . . . Sincere, upright action before God is both material and spiritual.

Wealth is not sought for itself in Islam but is sought as a means to piety and a way to upright, merciful, and loving action. This marks it as very different from the meaning of wealth in materialist capitalist economy and materialist socialist economy. These latter look at wealth as economic power and as a means for domination and conquest. Activity without a spiritual sense is dry and lifeless.

We, however, say, “Seek, in what God gives you, this life and the next.” This makes our use of wealth in construction and development something similar to prayer or obligatory devotions by which we seek the next life in pleasing the Creator. . . .

Were we to execute our economic plan with this religious, devotional spirit we would accomplish miracles in a few years and overtake the cavalcade of progress with the speed of a rocket. The Arab states complement one another economically and form a nation which could become richer and stronger than the American nation—a geographical area with petroleum, iron, coal, copper, magnesium, gold, and uranium in addition to abundant agricultural produce, unlimited animal and marine resources and a numerous work force. Imagine the possibilities were we to join the potential of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the Gulf States with that of Egypt, Sudan, and North America; if only we did the necessary planning, brought them together and exploited our possibilities. . . .

Only by searching into the depths of Islam, the Qur'ān and the Sunna4 Sunna: the practice of the Prophet. for this Islamic economic plan and by searching for its limits and its specifications will we all be saved from stumbling around between capitalism and scientific socialism (which is not scientific as we saw). By this too we will be saved from patching up our great civilization with civilizations which are in fact either in old age and decline (like capitalism) or in a stage of trial and experiment (like scientific socialism). Both these civilizations are materialistic standing on hypothetical philosophies oriented to dry material interest without any trace of spirit or divine knowledge and lacking that certainty which is supported by heaven and sustained by God.

Islamic economics, as we saw, gives us the advantages which are found in scientific socialism plus spiritual satisfaction and dogmatic enthusiasm along with more progressive and contemporary points of view and more humanistic procedures. Moreover, it will help us to avoid the pitfalls, errors, and presumptions of materialistic thought and that strangeness which it has for us as imported thought which remains at the door of our hearts and does not enter no matter what propaganda or tyranny the ruler may use. We are a believing people. Faith for us is our pillar, our heart, and our backbone. In this valley [Nile] we came to know God and worshipped him during seven thousand years when these “civilizers” were barbarians who did not know how to talk. . . .

Bibliography references:

From al-Marksiyyah wal-Islām [Marxism and Islam] (Cairo: Dār al-Ma‘arif, 1975), pp. 66–79.


1. ‘Umar b. al-Khattāb: second Caliph after death of Muhammad.

2. Abū-Dharr al-Ghiffārī: companion of the Prophet, known for his humility and asceticism. Because of his criticism of abuses of wealth he has been adopted recently as the first socialist.

3. zakāt: obligatory tax on capital holdings enjoined by Muhammad.

4. Sunna: the practice of the Prophet.

  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Look It Up What is This? Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Next Result
Oxford University Press

© 2020. All Rights Reserved. Cookie Policy | Privacy Policy | Legal Notice