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Islamic History

Umar's Islamic welfare state




Muslims are often told that they need to modernize and reform, in this context, reform and modernization refer more to westernization more than anything else. Yet as Muslims, when we look at Islamic history, we find that solutions can be found within the examples of the Muslims of the past.

In this case, we look to the example of Umar al-Khattab, the 2nd caliph of Islam, and one of the close companions of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). During the reign of Umar, he essentially created a formalized welfare state. Now in our modern context, western democratic societies are known for being welfare states, at least the majority of them are, and this is taken as a matter of pride and something good.

Now while most western democratic states are known as welfare states, the fact is is that the Islamic welfare state formalized by Umar, preceded all of these western welfare states, in fact Umar’s welfare state was the first institutionalized such state.

Amongst the reforms Umar brought to the Islamic state was the creation of a public treasury, known as the Bayt al-Mal. The task of the Bayt al-mal was to collect the wealth of the Islamic nation, such as collecting taxes, or newfound wealth that came into the hands of the Muslim community as the Islamic state expanded. Once the treasury collected the wealth, these public funds were then used to provide for the people of the state.

So out of the public treasury, the poor, the old, the widow, and the young would all be provided for by the state, to insure their well being. For example in the case of young orphan children, they would be provided from the public treasury, you could call this akin to child benefits.

The system also had what we know as pensions, for old people who would retire, they would receive a pension from the state. Benefits were also extended to citizens who became injured and were not able to work. And if there were people who were not working, they would also be given what’s now known as an unemployment benefit.  In essence, Umar introduced what we now know and call, social security, and a fully functioning welfare state where the basic needs of all citizens was provided for.

So now as Muslims, if we are looking for an example and a standard for reform or success, then we need not look further than the Islamic welfare state of Umar, which is not only an example and framework for Muslims, but a framework for all peoples.

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