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Question:

How early did Muslim scholars address the issue of economics and the economic system?  Is it a new development in Islam?

Answer:

This is not new. In fact, it is interesting to notice how some economists tend to think that the first systematic way of dealing with economics goes back to the 18th century and is connected to Adam Smith a Scottish economist who wrote a classic book called “The Wealth of Nations”. This notion which relates the study of economics to the 18th century is incorrect. There were many Muslim scholars who wrote about economics in a systematic way from an Islamic point of view whose writings goes back as far as the 8th century in the Christian era which is more than a thousand years before Adam Smith. Three examples of these writings are:

Firstly: A book called "Alkharaj" which deals mainly with what we now today as the macro economic system written by Abu Yusuf.

Secondly: In the tenth century a book with the same title was written by Yahya Bin Adam.

Thirdly: A book written in the 11th century by a famous writer Almawardi titled "Al Ahkam Alsultaniyyah" which again deals with the basic aspects of macro economics.  In the same century another jurist Alfarak wrote a similar book.  In the 11th a great writer Al-Ghazali addressed some aspects of economics. In the 12th century a very famous Muslim philosopher and scholar Ibn Rushd who is known in the West as Averroes also addressed the subject.  In the 13th century a scholar, IzuDeen Ibn Abdus-Salam also addressed the subject. In the 14th century Ibn Taymiyyah addressed the subject.  There are several contributions in the 15th century by Al Maqrizi and another by Ibn Khaldun.  Ibn Khaldun was described by the famous British historian Arnold Toynbee as the greatest sociologist ever lived. He was a sociologist and economist because he dealt with aspects that pertain to economics in a systematic way. 

With these examples we can see that more than a thousand years before Adam Smith the subject of economics was addressed in Islam.

In Islamic History, numerous scholars wrote about certain aspects of economics viewed from an Islamic point of view.  Of cause these subjects were scattered in different books addressing Islamic jurisprudence.  More recently we find that there are many scholars who started addressing the subject like Syed Qutb Maududi, Yusuf Qaradawi, Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, Muhammad Al Mubrak Sibai, Suood, Isa Abdu, Muhammad Abu Zahra, Munthir That, Umar Chapra, Muhammad NajatuAllah Sidiqui and numerous individuals who belong to the traditional jurist stream as well as those who have studied economics in the modern sense. These people have given lots of contribution to the effort of re-establishing the economic system in Islam which would be very relevant to the Muslim as an individual and to Muslim nations and societies, which have in recent years been trying to imitate imported system from the East and the West but who are unable to solve their problems.  There is a call back to the foundation of the heritage of Islamic economics in order to establish a system based on the basic guidance of Islam, and in order to create an alternative to the present system.  This task is not necessarily an easy one.

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