Personal Property and Its Protection in Islam

Islam respects and protects the personal property of individuals; but should this property contradict the public interest of the community, the public interest would be given priority and the individual would be compensated fairly for any damage that might be caused to him in this regard. Moreover, Islam does not prohibit acquiring such wealth, so long as it is acquired lawfully and spent lawfully, without miserliness or extravagance.
Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi states the following: The teachings of Islam correspond with man’s fitrah or pure nature; they neither go against it nor do they suppress it; on the contrary, they go in line with it and, furthermore, seek to uplift it.

It is in man’s nature to love possession; this instinct is found even in children. Almighty Allah has endowed people with such a characteristic so that it motivates them to act and vie in doing their best in seeking success in life, for it is in this way that the earth is constructed, production is increased and improved, and life booms.
Having property is a characteristic of freedom. Moreover, property is a characteristic of humanity—animals have nothing to possess. Hence, respecting man’s nature and his right to freedom and humanity, Islam sanctions the right to personal property.
Denying one all rights to personal property and giving the fruits of one’s own work to others who may not be as active is not fair at all. Justice dictates giving all people the chance to work and to acquire wealth (by lawful means), and when one proves to be a hard worker and efficient in this regard, one becomes worthy of success. Allah Almighty says: (Is the reward of goodness aught save goodness?) (Ar-Rahman 55: 60).
He Almighty also says: (And for all there will be ranks from what they do, that He may pay them for their deeds! and they will not be wronged) (Al-Ahqaf 46: 19).
Thus, according to Islam, one may seek to acquire wealth as much as one desires, so long as one acquires it through lawful means and spends and invests it in lawful ways. Allah has created man to be His viceroy on earth. This implies that one is not to succumb to illicit means of acquiring wealth or squander one’s money or withhold from giving others their rights or usurp the rights of others.
A telling example of a committed Muslim seeking to acquire wealth lawfully is `Abdur-Rahman ibn `Awf (may Allah be pleased with him). Ibn `Awf was one of the early persons who embraced Islam, one of the 10 Companions who were given the glad tidings of entering Paradise, and one of the six persons whom `Umar ibn Al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) appointed to choose the Muslim caliph from among them after his death.
When Ibn `Awf left Makkah and migrated to Madinah, he had no wealth or home. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) established a bond of brotherhood between him and Sa`d ibn Ar-Rabi`. Ibn Ar-Rabi`, who was then one of the richest people of Madinah, offered to give Ibn `Awaf half of his wealth and divorce one of his two wives so that Ibn `Awaf might marry her when her waiting period ended. Refusing the offer politely, Ibn `Awf beseeched Almighty Allah to augment the wealth of Ibn Ar-Rabi` and bless his family, and then asked Ibn Ar-Rabi` to show him the way to the marketplace of Al-Madinah.
He went to the market that was dominated by the Jews of Al-Madinah and traded there. In fact, he had such a business talent that in a few years he became one of the richest Muslims. When he died, he left behind a great wealth, to the extent that it was said that the pieces of gold he left could be cut with an axe. Moreover, Ibn Sa`d related in his book At-Tabaqat, “After Ibn `Awf’s death, one of his wives was compounded for her share of inheritance from his wealth and it was estimated then at 80,000 dinars.”
This proves that Islam does not prohibit acquiring wealth, so long as it is acquired lawfully and spent lawfully, without miserliness or extravagance.
It was also reported that once Ibn `Awf sold a piece of land of his for 40,00 dinars and distributed all this money among his relatives of the Banu Zahrah and the poor Muslims and gave a portion to the Mothers of the Believers.
It was reported that he donated in Allah’s cause a caravan of 700 camels all carrying supplies of different kinds. Moreover, before his death, he bequeathed that 50,000 dinars of his wealth be given in Allah’s cause and that every one of the people still alive of those who took part in the Battle of Badr be given 400 dinars. This was only a small part of what he gave in charity, besides the obligatory zakah he paid, and the expenses he was responsible for.
This is an example of a blessed wealth in the hands of a good, righteous person. (As for the hadith reported to the effect that he would enter Paradise creeping, this has not been proved to be an authentic hadith.)
Islam not only sanctions the right to acquire personal property, it also encourages people to seek to acquire lawful wealth and it lays down laws for protecting it and giving it in inheritance. Thus, it motivates people to work and exploit their energy. In this way, it also gives people the feeling of being mighty, mastering their lives. Dispossessing people of their properties renders them slaves in the hands of their states. Tyrant states that enslave people in this way do not pay attention to the teachings of religion or the dictates of ethics; the subjects of these states, having nothing of their own, lack the ability to resist the despotism that dominates everything.
Furthermore, Islam’s sanctioning the right to personal property benefits the economy of the nation as a whole. The private sector has been proved to produce more than the public sector, because the personal incentives given in the private sector encourages people to be more efficient and productive, the opposite of the public sector.
Conditions of Protecting Personal Property in Islam
1. Personal property must be acquired through lawful means; otherwise Islam will not recognize it. This clear stance of Islamic Shari`ah differs from that of some manmade laws that recognize property acquired through illicit means after the elapse of some years. For Islam, the elapse of years does not turn illicit property into lawful property.
2. Personal property should not contradict the public interest of the community. If preserving personal property is at the expense of the public interest, it is to be taken away from its owner in return for a fair price, whether he consents to this or not. This is because communal interest is given priority over individual interest.
An example of this took place in the era of the caliphate of `Umar (may Allah be pleased with him). When he wanted to expand the space of the Sacred Mosque to contain the huge number of people visiting it, it required that he buy the mansions surrounding it. Some of the owners of these mansions agreed to sell them, and some others refused. He (may Allah be pleased with him) tried to convince them to sell the mansions, but to no avail. So he took them against their will and placed the price of the mansions in the treasury of the Ka`bah so that those people could take it later. The same thing took place with `Uthman ibn `Affan (may Allah be pleased with him) during his caliphate.
The acts of these honourable Companions are to be applied to similar cases. For example, if there is a necessity for building a hospital, a factory, an airport, a public school in the benefit of public interest, and some of the land needed for this purpose belongs to some individuals, they should not refuse to sell to the state in return for a fair price. If one of them did so, the state might compel him to sell the piece of land for a fair price according to a verdict from courts concerned with settling the disputes of this kind that may arise between the state and its subjects.