As I continue building on my activism, I’ve had to defend several ways I advocate for equality and how I identify. Perhaps none of them get more raised eyebrows than when I say I’m a socialist.
Yes, the favorite villain of America politics, and perhaps the most misunderstood political concept.
But socialism isn’t just misunderstood in the U.S. political space. It’s also misunderstood in religious spaces, including Muslim spaces.
So what is socialism exactly? By definition, it’s “a political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.”
With socialism, people are ideally able to democratically elect governments that provide a range of economic resources available for every citizen equally so that nobody goes into debt because of necessities such as health care or education.
This is not to be confused with communism, which allows the government to control most economic assets, including property and has a much broader loophole for abuse of power. With socialism, people are ideally able to democratically elect governments that provide a range of economic resources available for every citizen equally so that nobody goes into debt because of necessities such as health care or education.
Like all movements, such as feminism, anyone can identify as being part of said movement while misusing it and not living up to its values.
This misunderstanding around socialism is sometimes valid, such as living through a regime that misuses socialism. The misinterpretation is also often invalid, as many religiously conservative people oppose the social liberties that socialism, when appropriately implemented, would extend to all marginalized groups.
I saw that first-hand with the older generation’s hatred of socialism, always referencing Gamal Abdel Nasser’s reign. I’m from an impoverished town called Bakos in Alexandria, Egypt. It’s Nasser’s — and both of my parents’ — birthplace, and I have a lot of pride in it, but one could see why anyone from Bakos would live there and see the urgent need to help impoverished communities in Egypt.
Nasser created the Arab Socialist Union in 1962. While the economy improved under his presidency, and universities became more accessible to the poor, Nasser failed to make human rights (aside from giving women more rights) the priority it should have been.
He banned and imprisoned political opposition like the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt was also once a haven for Jewish refugees. Still, thousands of Jewish people living in Egypt, including Egyptian Jews, were imprisoned, ethnically cleansed, and exiled because of Nasser’s paranoid anti-Semitism. The list goes on.
As a result, the lasting effects of Nasser’s regime isn’t his expansion of economic resources. Instead, it’s the staunch identity of Egypt as a military and police state.
So I understand Muslims who are skeptical about socialists, and assume socialist governing is anti-religion. After all, speaking only for Egyptian history, it was a “socialist” who made political prisoners and terrorists out of the largest moderate Muslim-majority (they have Christian members) political group in Egypt — the Muslim Brotherhood, a group whose ideology doesn’t align with mine, but only because they’re like Republicans. (And they certainly don’t deserve to be political prisoners, but that’s a an entirely different topic.)
Modern Muslim-majority countries haven’t exactly gotten socialist governing right like most of Europe has, thanks to the lack of democracy and authoritarianism. While some “socialist” governments worldwide have also been anti-religion, don’t let that fool you into thinking Islam is not compatible with socialism.
Because in fact, Islam and socialism have a lot of the same values.
Both have a core belief that all people are equal and should have equal rights.
“O people, we created you from the same male and female, and rendered you distinct peoples and tribes that you may recognize one another. The best among you in the sight of GOD is the most righteous.” – The Holy Quran, Surah Al-Hujurat [49:13].
Prophet Mohammed’s (PBUH) Constitution of Medina governed with equality and taxes to support community needs.
Scholars widely recognize Medina as “the first Islamic state,” and we could learn a lot from how Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) drafted the Constitution of Medina.
He drafted it with input from all residing tribes, not just Muslims. This included feedback from our Jewish, Christians, and Pagan siblings. Like socialist ideals, not only did he ensure that everyone had equal representation, but he placed responsibility on everyone to look after one another like any community-building society should.
That meant religious freedom to all, taxes to support basic needs (especially when there is a crisis or conflict), women’s rights, a ban on violence and weapons because it made Medina a sacred place, and more.
They both promote governing that ensures universal basic income that rises with inflation.
Abu Bakr, Prophet Mohammed’s (PBUH) best friend, father-in-law, and the first Muslim Caliph (a word that describes the “successor” after Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) died) guaranteed universal income to everyone – men, women, and their children. This started at ten dirhams annually, and increased to twenty dirhams.
It highlights the value of Islamic teachings that everyone has the right to financially support themselves regardless of the labor they produce, because remember your work is not your value, and shouldn’t determine whether you’re able to put food on your table or a roof over your head.
It also emphasizes something that continues to be an issue today: the need to recognize inflation in economies, and adjust universal income based on the cost of living in your country or community.
Muslims introduced what’s considered one of the earliest forms of a social welfare state.
Fun fact: Omar ibn al-Khattab, regarded by Sunni Muslims as the second Muslim Caliph, went even further than Abu Bakr to create what many scholars interpreted in the modern world as one of the first welfare states.
Under his leadership, he extended social welfare rights by creating child benefits, pensions, benefits for the elderly and disabled, and unemployment benefits for the community.
This governing aligns with the compassionate-driven ideals within the socialist movement.
One of the five pillars of our religion, zakat, is redistributing wealth to the poor.
Islam requires that we the people, as financially capable adults, help our community by giving 2.5% of our annual wealth every year. It’s one of the five pillars of Islam; hence, it’s obligatory and not a suggestion. The people who benefit from zakat are the neediest in our communities — the poor, those in debt, children, or others experiencing hardships due to a lack of resources.
This is a form of community building at its finest, like getting taxed to expand free education, health care, and more. Islam has its own system to ensure we don’t hoard wealth, and look after those who need it most.
Islam forbids financial institutions and people from taking advantage of you by banning interest.
Need help getting a loan? Ask a practicing Muslim, or go to an Islamic bank.
As people and any Islamic financial institution, Muslims are forbidden under Islamic law to charge interest when lending you money. It unburdens many people who already likely sought out a loan due to not having the means at the time of the loan.
This protects people from allowing big financial institutions to rip them off. Interest payments on top of original prices continue to put people in unnecessary debt, and financial hardship within capitalist economies like the U.S.
Islamic history is rich with ways to ensure an equal and equitable society, both economically and socially, as a community. So although regimes have misused socialism, and although there’s propaganda that makes “socialism” a dirty word, it’s reassuring to know that our religion, while neither a political ideology nor associated with any political ideology, supports and has implemented socialism’s core values in which people like me believe will help liberate us from the oppression of capitalism.
Suppose you were ever rightfully discouraged by the misuse of “socialist” regimes in Muslim-majority countries that often persecuted the religious. In that case, I hope that this brief history (I could write a dissertation on this), and facts, help show you socialism is not anti-Islamic and vise versa. Instead, governments like Nasser’s neither followed their religious history’s teachings nor real socialist school of thought.
My socialist beliefs and my religion both reaffirm my right to equality, both economic and social, my right to universal necessities and benefits, my belief that nobody’s value is merely their labor, my responsibility to help the poor, instillation of a requirement to never hoard wealth, and more.
Has learning about Islam’s compatibility with socialism changed your opinion of socialism at all?