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Fai favors Muhammad’s successors

January 2, 2010

Money Jihad has examined all the major Islamic revenue sources including zakat, sadaqa, ushr, jizya, khums, kharaj, customs duties, ransoms.  But one remains:  the fai.

Fai defined

In classical Islam, wealth taken peaceably from an enemy, either under the terms of a peace settlement or after fighting has ended. Fai was considered the right of the Prophet Muhammad originally. Later it was distributed by the community leaders according to what was considered to be in the best interests of Islam and Muslims. (Oxford Islamic Studies Online)

Or, for a much more vivid definition of fai, Islam Watch offers this:

Consider what it would be like to walk through a dark alley on a quiet night. You are looking back every few minutes, hoping no one is following you. You are close to the next illuminated street, but, almost magically, two tall musclemen block your way and ask for your wallet. You hand them your wallet and give up your wrist watch and the expensive jacket that you bought recently. Yes, you just made your contribution to Fai.  (“Muhammad’s Profession:  Booty Ahoy,” by Sher Khan)

Islam’s legal basis for the fai is similar to that of the kharaj:  “The spoil taken from the people of the towns and assigned by God to his apostle, belongeth to God, and to the apostle, and to his kindred, and to the orphan, and to the poor, and to the wayfarer” (Koran 59:7).

The Hadith are more explicit about the fai, its disbursement to Muhammad’s family, and any amount remaining to go toward holy war:

The properties of Bani An-Nadir which Allah had transferred to His Apostle as Fai Booty were not gained by the Muslims with their horses and camels. The properties therefore, belonged especially to Allah’s Apostle who used to give his family their yearly expenditure and spend what remained thereof on arms and horses to be used in Allah’s Cause.  (Sahih Bukhari, 4.52.153)

Fai in early Muslim practice

The fai overlaps to some degree with Islam’s other punitive taxes against non-Muslims.  The kharaj taxes conquered non-Muslim land, the jizya taxes non-Muslim persons, and traditional khums is a tax on war booty plundered from defeated non-Muslim groups.

Yet the fai is unique in that it is the equivalent of a 100 percent absolute tax.  It resembles a “taking” more than a tax—or eminent domain without any reimbursement to the original owner.  It usually appropriates all seized or surrendered property for the Islamic state.  In his helpful Understanding Islam through Hadis, Ram Swarup explains why:

In due course, the rules relating to the distribution of booty and the disposal of fai’ were codified by the various fiqh schools. According to this code, it was unlawful for a Muslim conqueror to leave anything in the hands of the infidels. Such property must be carried away and four-fifths of it distributed among the soldiers. During a retreat, any such property that cannot be carried away, including the cattle, should be destroyed…

A Muslim chief who conquered a territory was at liberty to leave the land in the possession of the conquered, provided that they paid tribute and became tenants on their own land. This provision was supported by Muhammad’s own example. When the Jews of Khaibar were defeated, they were allowed for some time to continue cultivating their land on the payment of half the harvest (3762). The chief was also at liberty to distribute the land among his soldiers, but more often this was not done. The land was considered fai’ and declared to be part of the public domain. It was used in the interest of the whole Muslim community (for the payment of troops and officers, and for the building of bridges, forts, and mosques), and kept as a permanent source of income for future generations.  (Chap. 9, Religious Wars)

Tax preference given to Muhammad’s descendants

Like the khums tax (Koran 8:42), the Koran specifically authorizes the fai to benefit Muhammad’s kin.  The argument usually given in defense of this practice is that Muhammad’s family does not receive other sources of charity or public revenue.

Imagine if our founding fathers had written into the Constitution that George Washington’s relatives would be entitled to a fixed share of America’s war spoils in perpetuity.  Or if a portion of your church tithes went people claiming bloodlines to Mary and Joseph!

Interpretations of Islam that give special emphasis to Muhammad’s heirs are especially prevalent among Shias.  In their world, Muhammad’s kin get most, other Muslims get some, and non-Muslims get hosed.

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