Islamic Economics: Plundering with a Prophetic Seal
In an earlier article, I outlined my views about the origination of Islam as a tribal system. It was an open system in the sense that it was very easy for outside individuals and tribes to join in. All one needed to do is say the “Shahada” and he/she is in. However, it was also a closed system to leave. If an individual or a group of individual attempted to leave Islam, they were put to the sword.
Muhammad devised this system for his personal benefit. He established himself as a leader of the Muslim community, or “Umma” – the name of the new tribe, which is a collective of members of multiplicity of tribes. There was no functioning government in 7th-century Arabia. Might and power had the final say. Muhammad used to send groups of his Muslim followers as scouts to watch what the surrounding tribes were doing in order to find opportunities to attack such tribes and take over their belongings. He also used to send groups of Muslim men to watch commercial routes that the Meccans used to use for plying their commercial caravans. During his early stay in Medina, when Muhammad’s community was not yet very strong in number and power, he and his followers had no success in the initial attacks on other tribes or commercial caravans. The first success for them came through the Nakhla raid. Muhammad had sent a group of his men to go and oversee a commercial Meccan caravan. This occurred during the Arab holy month of Rajab, during which the Arabs refrained from violence at any cost. But Muslims proved to be a different breed. Disregarding the Arab reverence for the holy months, they attacked and took over the Meccan commercial caravan. Here is a link to the Nakhla raid itself for the interested reader:
The Early Islamic Economics
Once the Nakhla raid was a success, Muhammad began to realize his dreams of making a living by engaging his followers in raiding and plundering without himself needing to lift a finger. So, what followed after the Nakhla raid was nothing but a dream come true for Muhammad. All Arab renegades and bandits started joining Muhammad’s open tribe system in greed for loots. Many tribes joined Muhammad for fear of being his next victim. This fear was rooted in our human instinct for survival. One example from the history of Islam suffices in this regard: When Muhammad managed to assassinate Asma Bint Marwan, a mother of five children, which we can read about her plight from Ibn Hisham’s and other Sirats. Ibn Hisham narrates the assassination story as follows:
When the apostle heard what she had said he said, “Who will rid me of Marwan’s daughter?” ‘Umayr b. ‘Adiy al-Khatmi who was with him heard him, and that very night he went to her house and killed her. In the morning he came to the apostle and told him what he had done and he [Muhammad] said, “You have helped God and His apostle, O `Umayr!” When he asked if he would have to bear any evil consequences the apostle said, “Two goats won’t butt their heads about her”, so ‘Umayr went back to his people.
Now there was a great commotion among B. Khatma that day about the affair of bint [daughter of] Marwan. She had five sons, and when ‘Umayr went to them from the apostle he said, “I have killed bint Marwan, O sons of Khatma. Withstand me if you can; don’t keep me waiting.” That was the first day Islam became powerful among B. Khatma; before that those who were Muslims concealed the fact. The first of them to accept Islam was ‘Umayr b. ‘Adiy who was called the “Reader”, and ‘Abdullah b. Aus and Khuzayma b. Thabit. The day after Bint Marwan was killed the men of B. Khatma became Muslims because they saw the power of Islam.
Muhammad’s evils in this story terrorized this poor tribe to the degree that they joined Islam the next day. Human instinct for survival kicks in. There is no truth to Islam. Early Islamic history stories bear me out here. Those who joined Muhammad after he became powerful in Medina were renegades, bandits, greedy men, and terrorized tribes and individuals.
Muhammad’s raids were mainly for acquiring fortune, and the women and children. In the process, he killed all adult men of the attacked tribes that refused to embrace Islam and Muhammad’s leadership. In fact, Muhammad’s early days in Medina were days of poverty and hardships. His fortunes started changing in a big way after he beheaded the 800 adult men of the Qurayza tribe and took over their belongings and enslaved their women and children. The women raped as sex-slaves. None clarifies the economics played out in the raids better than this Sahih Bukhari hadith:
Narrated Anas bin Malik: People used to give some of their date palms to the Prophet (as a gift), till he conquered Bani quraiza and Bani An-Nadir, whereupon he started returning their favors. (53:357)
True, the Nakhla raid gave Muhammad some fortunes. Other raids and ghazwas gave him even more, which helped the Muslim community to survive severe economic hardships. But that is nothing compared to inheriting, so to speak, an entire fortunes of the Qurayza tribe after beheading their men in a single day. Jews being the richest communities of Medina, that must have been a lot of wealth. Muhammad enjoyed that, and the above hadith shows how this became the turning point in putting Muhammad on a path to acquire dominion and wealth. This was the time when he struck rich. It is like winning a big lottery to strike rich in our times, but without the atrocities Muhammad committed against to Bani Qurayza. What he did is a genocide of a whole tribe. That tribe ceased to exist after that day. If such an incident happens today, the perpetrators would be criminals and put to death quickly. However, Muslims are a different breed. They consider the leading criminal – Muhammad – a “prophet”, and consider the gangsters who perpetrated this atrocity with him “Sahaba” (revered friends of the prophet).
Back to the topic at hand, there are many stories in early Islam showing that people joined Muhammad in hope of receiving a share of the loots. The battle of Uhud, which Muhammad’s side lost against the Quraysh of Mecca, also shows us why people joined Muhammad. It was not for the love of Islam, but for the greed of loots. One can find the following passage on the Battle of Uhud in Wikipedia:
Whilst outnumbered, the Muslims gained the early initiative and forced the Meccan lines back, thus leaving much of the Meccan camp unprotected. When the battle looked to be only one step away from a decisive Muslim victory, a serious mistake was committed by a part of the Muslim army, which altered the outcome of the battle. A breach of Muhammad’s orders by the Muslim archers, who left their assigned posts to despoil the Meccan camp, allowed a surprise attack from the Meccan cavalry, led by Meccan war veteran Khalid ibn al-Walid, which brought chaos to the Muslim ranks. Many Muslims were killed, and even Muhammad himself was badly injured. The Muslims had to withdraw up the slopes of ‘Uḥud. The Meccans did not pursue the Muslims further, but marched back to Mecca declaring victory.
Please note of the reason for the Muslim side losing that battle. Muhammad’s warriors left their positions hurrying to collect loots. They could not wait until the Meccans were completely lost and out of the battle field. Economic greed has a great influence on us all. Economic greed is what cost the Muslims a battle that was almost won. Uhud is a battle fought in earlier Medina times, and it does reflect the mentality of why people became Muslims for the most part.
The fact that economic greed was a main motivation for the early Muslims to join Islam is clearly reflected in many stories and hadiths available on the subject. In fact, the Qur’an itself has an entire Sura, called “Al Anfal” (Spoils of war), to give a divine seal of approval to this mode earning a living. It deals with how to distribute loots that Muhammad and his followers obtained from war against, and robbery of, non-Muslims. Muhammad wanted to secure a 20% share of the loots, which is commanded by Allah in this Sura. Thus, Muhammad amassed a lot of wealth over the subsequent years without needing to lift a finger. The remaining 80% of booty, under Muhammad’s watch, was distributed among his followers, which helped him minimize quarrels and bickering amongst them.
This sums up how Muhammad turned to making his living during his prophetic years in Medina and beyond. This also shows how Muhammad’s community survived the dire hardships during the early months in Medina. Muhammad himself said:
Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah’s Apostle said, “I have been sent with the shortest expressions bearing the widest meanings, and I have been made victorious with terror (cast in the hearts of the enemy), and while I was sleeping, the keys of the treasures of the world were brought to me and put in my hand.” Abu Huraira added: Allah’s Apostle has left the world and now you, people, are bringing out those treasures (i.e. the Prophet did not benefit by them). (Bukhari Sahih 52:220)
The above Hadith indeed summarized the message of Islam: terrorize others, and take over their belongings by force. “Terrorize and Plunder” is early Islamic economics.
Islam’s early message was simple: It was open-to-come-in and no-to-go-out tribal system. Come join us and you will gain lots of fortunes without working hard for it. It was to be obtained by attacking others and plundering their wealth. “Economic Expansionism through Loots” may be a terminology in order here.
Additional supportive Hadiths
All from Sahih Bukhari
- Narrated Jabir bin ‘Abdullah: The Prophet said, “I have been given five things which were not given to anyone else before me. (1) Allah made me victorious by awe, (by His frightening my enemies) for a distance of one month’s journey. (2) The earth has been made for me (and for my followers) a place for praying and a thing to perform Tayammum, therefore anyone of my followers can pray wherever the time of a prayer is due. (3) The booty has been made Halal (lawful) for me yet it was not lawful for anyone else before me. (4) I have been given the right of intercession (on the Day of Resurrection). (5) Every Prophet used to be sent to his nation only but I have been sent to all mankind. (Bukhari 7:331)
- Narrated Jabir bin ‘Abdullah: Allah’s Apostle said, “I have been given five things which were not given to any amongst the Prophets before me. These are: 1. Allah made me victorious by awe (by His frightening my enemies) for a distance of one month’s journey. 2. The earth has been made for me (and for my followers) a place for praying and a thing to perform Tayammum. Therefore my followers can pray wherever the time of a prayer is due. 3. The booty has been made Halal (lawful) for me (and was not made so for anyone else). 4. Every Prophet used to be sent to his nation exclusively but I have been sent to all mankind. 5. I have been given the right of intercession (on the Day of Resurrection.) (Bukhari 8: 429)
- Narrated Abu Huraira: I heard Allah’s Apostle saying, “I have been sent with Jawami al-Kalim (i.e., the shortest expression carrying the widest meanings), and I was made victorious with awe (caste into the hearts of the enemy), and while I was sleeping, the keys of the treasures of the earth were brought to me and were put in my hand.” Muhammad said, Jawami’-al-Kalim means that Allah expresses in one or two statements or thereabouts the numerous matters that used to be written in the books revealed before (the coming of) the Prophet. (87:141)
- Narrated Said bin Al-Musaiyab: Abu Huraira said that Allah’s Apostle said, “I have been sent with ‘Jawami-al-Kalim ‘ (the shortest expression with the widest meaning) and have been made victorious with awe (cast in my enemy’s hearts), and while I was sleeping, I saw that the keys of the treasures of the world were placed in my hand.” Abu Huraira added: Allah’s Apostle has gone, and you people are utilizing those treasures, or digging those treasures out.” or said a similar sentence. (92:378)