In most Muslim countries today the ruler and his extended family are some of the wealthiest individuals in the nation and in some instances even the world.
According to the official 2006 Forbes rich list of world leaders, the top three richest leaders are in Muslim countries.
First place is King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia with an estimated wealth of $21 billion. The royal family derives most of its wealth through oil, which represents 45% of the country’s $340 billion GDP.
Second place is the Sultan of Brunei with wealth of $20 billion. This wealth is gained from Brunei’s extensive petroleum and natural gas fields.
Third place is Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE with wealth of $19 billion. Most of his family’s wealth comes from the emirate’s oil wealth; it holds more than 90% of the 2.5 million barrels a day exported from the UAE.
The wealth of all these leaders is derived primarily from the country’s oil and natural resources. In Islam natural resources such as large quantities of oil and gas cannot be owned by private individuals. They are considered public property whose revenues must benefit all the Muslims.
Ibn ‘Abbas narrated that the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم said: “Muslims are partners (associates) in three things: in water, pastures and fire,” reported by Abu Dawud. (Fire here refers to the fire based fuels.)
Unfortunately, a study of most of our leaders today reveals that they treat the country’s state treasury like their own personal bank accounts. Much of their true wealth is siphoned away from the Ummah and hidden offshore in Swiss bank accounts.
Reading through Islamic history we also find many examples of Caliph’s and wulah (governors) living very lavish lifestyles and taking very large sums of money from the state treasury (bait ul-mal) for their personal allowance.
So how much will the Caliph in a future Caliphate get paid?
To answer this question we need to look to the first Caliph of Islam Abu Bakr as-Siddiq (ra) and how this was dealt with in his Caliphate.
A short while after Abu Bakr as-Siddiq (ra) was appointed as Caliph, Umar ibn al-Khattab (ra) and Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah (ra) were walking in Medinah when they met Abu Bakr (ra) carrying garments on his shoulders and going to the marketplace to trade.
Umar asked Abu Bakr, “What are you doing?”
Abu Bakr replied, “I am going to trade.”
Umar said: “After you became responsible for all the Muslims???”
Abu Bakr said, “But I have to feed my family.”
So Umar said, “Lets go and we will pay you an allowance.” [from the state treasury Bait ul-Mal]
Umar and Abu Ubaidah decided to pay Abu Bakr 250 dinars a year and a daily allowance of half a sheep in food.
Some time later Umar was walking in Medinah when he came across a group of women. He asked them “What are you doing?”
They replied, “We are waiting for the Caliph.”
Abu Bakr did not turn up for office that day so Umar went searching for him and found him in the marketplace trading again.
Umar grabbed the hand of Abu Bakr and said, “What are you doing?”
Abu Bakr replied, “The allowance you gave me is not enough.”
Umar said, “Fine, we will increase it for you.”
Abu Bakr said, “I want 300 dinars a year and a daily allowance of a whole sheep in food.”
Umar said, “No. We are not going to give you that.”
Imam Ali (ra) intervened and said, “Give it to him.”
Umar said, “You think so?”
Ali replied, “Yes.”
So Umar said, “We agree.”
Abu Bakr then stood on the minbar in the masjid and called the sahaba. He said, “You have paid me 250 dinars a year and a daily allowance of half a sheep in food, and that wasn’t enough for me. So Umar and Ali have given me an increase to 300 dinars a year and a daily allowance of the whole sheep. Do you agree?”
The sahaba replied, “We agree.” *
Points we can take from the above incident are as follows.
Firstly, the Caliphate is not an employee who gets paid a wage, since he is not hired by the Ummah. The Caliph is given a pledge of allegiance (bay’ah) by the Ummah to implement the Sharia and convey the Islamic Da’wah to the world. Although the Caliph is not paid a wage an allowance is assigned to him from the bait ul-mal to meet his needs. This allowance is a compensation for him since he is kept busy with the obligation of Caliphate and cannot work and pursue his own business interests.
This also applies to any of the ruling positions within the Caliphate such as the wulah and mu’awinoon (assistants).
Secondly, ruling is an act of ibadat (worship) performed purely for the pleasure of Allah سبحانه وتعالى. Therefore the office of Caliph should not be viewed as a means of becoming rich and amassing huge wealth as we find the Muslim rulers doing today. The Caliph will be paid an allowance that covers his expenses to a level that he can function comfortably in office and meet his needs.
Thirdly, the Majlis ul-Ummah (Council of the Ummah) will decide through shura (consultation) how much the Caliph’s allowance should be. They are the elected representatives of the Ummah and giving them the ultimate decision prevents any abuse of the public funds by the Caliph.
* Dr Ali Muhammad As-Sallabi, ‘The Biography of Abu Bakr As-Siddeeq’, Dar us-Salam Publishers, p.271