The Economic Role of the State in the Classical Islamic Literature: The Views of Ibn Taimiyah

The Economic Role of the State in the Classical Islamic Literature: The Views of Ibn Taimiyah

By Bassam Abu Al-Foul, and Mohamed Soliman

Digest of Middle East Studies, Vol.15:2 (2006)

Abstract: This paper explores the economic writings of Ibn Taimiyah, particularly his views on the economic role of the state. In so doing, it offers some explanations to the “great gap” puzzle posed by Schumpeter, and introduces the reader to a model of the medieval Arab and Islamic economic thoughts.

Introduction: The “great gap” hypothesis of Schumpeter (1954) occupied much of the history of economic thought. There have been several references to the discontinuity of Greek philosophy and sciences and their re–emergence in the medieval. As the Renaissance represents the rebirth of the Greek body of knowledge, there have been very few attempts to examine the vehicle that preserved Greek heritage and made it readily available for the cultural and scientific resurrection of the enlightenment era.

This is also true in the history of economic analysis. The expansion of industrial production and international trade, found in the writings of Smith, Ricardo and Mill, provides the foundation in modern economic analysis, and perhaps the starting point for studies of the history of economic analysis. However, not many studies go back to the economic ideas of the Greek. These contributions often make reference to such a gap and attribute it to what is known as the “dark ages”. Very little investigation, however, is devoted to the question of how humanity could preserve the Greek contribution.

This paper attempts to shed some light on the economic thoughts of one of the classical Islamic scholars as one example of the Arab Muslim scholarly contributions that fill the great gap. Ibn Taimiyah was a prominent Hanbali Muslim jurist of the thirteenth century. He was deeply engaged in the philosophical, theological, ethical, legal, political and social questions of the Muslim community in his days.

In this paper, we focus on the economic discussion of Ibn Taimiyah’s thought as well as his concept of the state and its role in the economic life. The paper proceeds as follows: Section I offers a brief biography. Section II explains Ibn Taimiyah’s view on the necessity of the state and the objectives of an Islamic state. Section III explains Ibn Taimiyah’s view on the state and its economic functions. Section IV explores the institution of Hisbah, and its role as a regulatory mechanism. Section V concludes with some remarks.

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