Agriculture in Islamic Economics
By: Ayatullah Shaheed Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim
In its all-inclusive sense (which includes animal-husbandry) agriculture and agricultural investment are counted among the most important economic means for nations and communities both because they are chief sources of food and major sources of raw materials that are used in many essential, transformative and manual industries.
Therefore, the Islamic economic theory has conferred upon agriculture the second level of importance after commerce and even the highest level under certain economic circumstances (such as a besiegement) or for certain social classes (such as working class). Moreover, no nation or community can ever achieve ideal independence unless there is sufficiency in agricultural production.
Increasing its importance, the funds obtained from agricultural activities are usually pure, legal, and free from legal obscurity. As a result, the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) are reported to have classified agriculture as the most lawful and pleasant of all professions.
In his book, al-Kafi, Shaykh al-Kulayni has reported through a valid chain on the authority of Sayyabah that a man seeking certainty said to Imam al-Sadiq (‘a), “May Allah accept me as ransom for you! I heard some people saying that agriculture is disapproved of.”
The Imam (‘a) answered: You may sow and plant. By Allah (I swear), people have never been engaged in any job that is more lawful and more pleasant than agriculture.40
According to another tradition, the Imam (‘a) is reported as saying: The best of jobs is the sowing of a cultivated land from which both the good and the bad eat.41
According to a third tradition, the Imam (‘a) is reported as saying: Farmers are the treasures of all creatures. They plant pleasant things that Almighty Allah causes to grow. On the Day of Resurrection, they shall be the best of people in rank and the nearest in standing. They shall be called the blessed ones.42
According to an acceptably reported tradition, Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) is also reported as relating the following: When he was asked about the best of income, the Holy Prophet (S) answered: It is (the income from) a crop that is tended and refined by the planter who then gives its due on its harvest day.
When he was asked about the next category in superiority, the Holy Prophet (S) answered: It is the money of a man who tends his sheep leading them to rainwater and, at the same time, maintains prayers and defrays the zakat tax.43
Due to the significance of agriculture and the fortune and reformation found therein, the Prophets and Imams used to work in agriculture in various stages of their lives.
Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) has reported the Holy Prophet (S) as saying: Verily, Almighty Allah has made the sustenance of His prophets in agriculture and shepherding so that they would not resent any drops from the sky (i.e. rain).44
According to another tradition, the Holy Prophet (S) is reported to have said: All the prophets that Almighty Allah has sent were farmers except (Prophet) Idris (‘a) who was a tailor.45
The Holy Prophet (S) and Imam ‘Ali Amir al-Mu'minin (‘a) worked in agriculture. In this respect, Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) is reported to have said: The Commander of the Faithful, peace of Allah be upon him, used a shovel and cultivated the soil. The Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him and his Household, used to take out the seeds (of date-palm trees) and then plant them, and they would grow from that moment. The Commander of the Faithful manumitted one thousand (bonded slaves) out of the money he had obtained from work with his own hands.46
In his book, al-Kafi, Shaykh al-Kulayni through a valid chain of authority has also reported the following account on the authority of Imam al-Baqir (‘a): One day, a man met the Commander of the Faithful (‘a) and found a small quantity of seeds (of the date-palm tree) beside him. “Abu’l-Hasan,” the man asked, “What is this beneath you?” The Commander of the Faithful (‘a) answered, “These shall be a thousand bunches, Allah willing.” Hence, the Imam (‘a) planted all these seeds without leaving even a single one.47
According to many traditions, Imam al-Baqir, Imam al-Sadiq, and Imam al-Kazim (‘a) worked in agriculture.48 that The other Holy Imams (‘a) also worked in this field when they had a chance. Traditions have asserted that agriculture was the general means of livelihood practiced by the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a).
It goes without saying that all economic activities are contingent upon God-wariness and defraying religious dues, including zakat and others, because success and prosperity are conditional upon observation of such religious duties.
In this regard, the Holy Prophet (S) is reported to have said: If someone plants wheat but the crop fails to produce or much barley grows in its place, this means that the planter must have committed a wrongdoing in ownership of that land or in employment of workers; that is, he must have wronged an employee in work or in wage. Almighty Allah says, “Wherefore, for the iniquity of those who are Jews, did We disallow to them the good things which had been made lawful for them. (4:160)”49
Social Objectives of Agriculture
The Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) intended to achieve definite social objectives for the virtuous community in particular and wanted to create an accord between this economic activity and the political and social conditions of the community. Some of these objectives can be summed up in the following points:
(1) Agricultural activities have been presented as the best of deeds, as shown by the previously mentioned traditions, because they highlight man’s spiritual connection with Almighty Allah and because they are the most pleasant, most lawful and purest means of earning money.
(2) Engagement in agricultural activities procures self-sufficiency for the individuals of the virtuous community. It also teaches them reliance on Almighty Allah alone in addition to self-dependency in managing their affairs. Under harsh social conditions a self-sufficient farmer can dispense with the help of others completely and has the freedom to manage his life, worship Allah and carry out his duties on his own initiative.
(3) Engagement in agricultural activities provides the members of the virtuous community with a safe refuge and averts direct contact with the despotic authorities and their officials. As a result, a good, yet proportional level of security is achieved for the individuals of the virtuous community who, under such circumstances, can practice their activities and private rituals freely, because the ruling authorities usually lack influence or power in the rural and agricultural regions. Therefore, such regions were important shelters for the descendants and followers of the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) who were pursued by the ruling authorities. These regions were also good grounds for promulgating the true guidance that is represented by the faith of Shi’ism.
(4) Agriculture, in its capacity as a vital economic activity, provides good income. It is regarded as one of the best means of production and the best method of investment. It also increases the financial capacity of the virtuous community and ensures a considerable financial resource to the governing system of the community through khums and zakat, as well as other dues which are levied from its assets.
40. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi’ah 13:193, H. 1.
41. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi’ah 13:194, H. 6.
42. - Shaykh al-Kulayni, al-Kafi 5:261, H. 7.
43. - Shaykh al-Kulayni, al-Kafi 5:260-261, H. 6.
44. - Shaykh al-Kulayni, al-Kafi 5:260, H. 2.
45. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi’ah 12:25, H. 3.
The same is recorded in ‘Awali al-La'ali and other reference books of tradition, yet with a very little difference.
46. - Shaykh al-Kulayni, al-Kafi 5:74, H. 2.
47. - Shaykh al-Kulayni, al-Kafi 5:74-75, H. 6.
48. - Shaykh al-Kulayni, al-Kafi 5:73-77, H. 1, 3, 7, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15.
49. - Shaykh al-Kulayni, al-Kafi 5:306, H. 9; Tafsir al-’Ayyashi 1:284-285, H. 304; al-Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar 103:66, H. 15.