Parts 8-13

Agriculture is a way of making a living for weak people

by Ibn Khaldun Icon

This is because agriculture is a natural and simple procedure. As a rule, sedentary people, or people who live in luxury, do not practice it. Those who practice it are characterized by humility.

When Muhammad saw a plowshare in one of the houses of the Ansar (in Medina). He said= “Such a thing never entered anyone’s house save accompanied by humbleness.”

Al-Bukhari explained this (statement) as referring to too intense an occupation with (agriculture) and he entitled the chapter in which he dealt with the tradition in question= “Warning against the consequences of (too intensive an) occupation with agricultural implements or transgression of the stipulated limit.”

However, the reason for it might possibly be that imposts come to be (exacted from farmers) and lead to (their) domination and control (by others).

The person who has to pay imposts is humble and poor, because a superior force takes (his possessions) away (from him). Muhammad said= “The Hour will not arise until the charity tax becomes an impost.”

This refers to the tyrannical ruler who uses force against the people, who is domineering and unjust, and who forgets the divine rights of (private) capital and considers all rights to be (subject to) imposts (to be paid) to rulers and dynasties.

9. The meaning, methods, and different kinds of commerce.

Commerce is the attempt to make a profit by increasing capital, through buying goods at a low price and selling them at a high price, whether these goods consist of slaves, grain, animals, weapons, or clothing material.

The accrued (amount) is called “profit” (riba). The attempt to make such a profit may be undertaken by storing goods and holding them until the market has fluctuated from low prices to high prices.

This will bring a large profit. Or, the merchant may transport his goods to another country where they are more in demand than in his own, where he bought them. This, (again,) will bring a large profit.

Therefore, an old merchant said to a person who wanted to find out the truth about commerce= “I shall give it to you in two words= Buy cheap and sell dear.

There is commerce for you.” By this, he meant the same thing that we have just established.

God “gives sustenance. He is strong and solid.”

10. The transportation of goods by merchants

The merchant who knows his business will travel only with such goods as are generally needed by rich and poor, rulers and commoners alike. (General need) makes for a large demand for his goods.

If he restricts his goods to those needed only by a few (people), it may be impossible for him to sell them, since these few may for some reason find it difficult to buy them. Then, his business would slump, and he would make no profit.

Also, a merchant who travels with needed goods should do so only with medium quality goods. The best quality of any type of goods is restricted to wealthy people and the entourage of the ruler.

They are very few in number. As is well known, the medium quality of anything is what suits most people. This should by all means be kept in mind by the merchant, because it makes the difference between selling his goods and not selling them.

Likewise, it is more advantageous and more profitable for the merchant’s enterprise, and a better guarantee (that he will be able to take advantage of) market fluctuations, if he brings goods from a country that is far away and where there is danger on the road.

In such a case, the goods transported will be few and rare, because the place where they come from is far away or because the road over which they come is beset with perils, so that there are few who would bring them, and they are very rare.

When goods are few and rare, their prices go up. On the other hand, when the country is near and the road safe for traveling, there will be many to transport the goods. Thus, they will be found in large quantities, and the prices will go down.

Therefore, the merchants who dare to enter the Sudan country are the most prosperous and wealthy of all people. The distance and the difficulty of the road they travel are great. They have to cross a difficult desert which is made (almost)inaccessible by fear (of danger) and beset by (the danger of) thirst.

Water is found there only in a few wellknown spots to which caravan guides lead the way. The distance of this road is braved only by a very few people. Therefore, the goods of the Sudan country are found only in small quantities among us, and they are particularly expensive.

The same applies to our goods among them. Thus, merchandise becomes more valuable when merchants transport it from one country to another.

Merchants who do so quickly get rich and wealthy. The same applies to merchants who travel from our country to the East, also because of the great distance to be traversed. On the other hand, those who travel back and forth between the cities and countries of one particular region earn little and make a very small profit, because their goods are available in large quantities and there is a great number of merchants who travel with them.

11. Hoarding

Intelligent and experienced people in the cities know that it is inauspicious to hoard grain and to wait for high prices, and that the profit (expected) may be spoiled or lost through (hoarding).

The reason may perhaps lie in the facts that people need food, and that the money they spend on it, they are forced to spend. Therefore, their souls continue to cling to (their money). The fact that souls cling to what is theirs may be an important factor in bringing bad luck to the person who takes (someone’s money) giving nothing in return. 56 This, perhaps, is what the Lawgiver (Muhammad) meant when he speaks about taking people’s property for nothing.

In this case, it is not a question of (taking money) giving nothing in return.

Still, people cling to (the money spent for food); they had to spend it and had no possible excuse, which is a sort of compulsion. For things that are traded, other than foodstuffs and victuals, people have no compelling need. It is merely the diversification of desires that calls their attention to them.

On such, they spend their money voluntarily and willingly, and they retain no hankering after (the money) they have paid. Thus, the person known to be a hoarder is persecuted by the combined psychic powers of the people whose money he takes away. Therefore, he loses his profit.

And God knows better.

In this connection, I heard an interesting story about a shaykh of the Maghrib. Our teacher Abu ‘Abdallah al-Abili told it to me as follows= “I was in the house of the (chief) judge of Fez, in the time of Sultan Abu Sa`id.

He was the jurist Abu1-Hasan al-Malili. He had just been offered, as his salary, the choice of one of the various sorts 56a (of taxes) that were collected by the government.” He said= “The judge reflected a while. Then he said= ‘The customs duties on wine.’ Those of his friends who were present were amused and astonished. They questioned him as to what was in his mind.

He replied= ‘All tax money is forbidden. Therefore, I choose the tax that is not haunted by the souls of those who had to pay it. Rarely would anybody spend his money on wine unless he were gay and happy with the experience 57 of (drinking wine), and did not regret it. His soul, therefore, does not cling to the money he has had to spend.’ " This is a remarkable observation.

12. Low prices are harmful to merchants who, (have to) trade at low prices

This is because profit and livelihood result from the crafts or from commerce. Commerce means the buying of merchandise and goods, storing them, and waiting until fluctuation of the market brings about an increase in the prices of (these goods). This is called profit (ribh).

It provides a profit (kasb) and a livelihood for professional traders. When 60 the prices of any type of goods, victuals, clothing material, or anything else (that may bring in) capital, remain low and the merchant cannot profit from any fluctuation of the market affecting these things, his profit and gain stop if the situation goes on for a long period.

Business in this particular line (of goods) slumps, and the merchant has nothing but trouble. No (trading) will be done, and the merchants lose their capital.

This may be exemplified in the instance of grain. While it remains cheap, the condition of all farmers and grain producers who have to do with any of the various stages of grain production is adversely affected, the profit they make being small, insignificant, or non-existent.

They cannot increase their capital, or they find (the increase) to be small. They have to spend their capital. Their condition is adversely affected, and they are reduced to poverty and indigence. This then, in turn, affects the condition of millers, bakers, and all the other occupations that are connected with grain from the time it is sown to the time it can be eaten. Likewise, the condition of soldiers is adversely affected. Their sustenance is provided by the ruler in the form of grain from farmers, through the grant of fiefs.

Thus, (when the prices of agricultural products are low) the income from taxation 61 is small, and soldiers are unable to render the military service for which they exist and for which they receive sustenance from the ruler. Thus, (the ruler) discontinues their sustenance, and heir condition is adversely affected.

Likewise, while the prices of sugar and honey remain low, everything connected with (these commodities) is adversely affected, and the merchants who deal in it stop trading. The same is the case with clothing (material), while prices remain low.

Thus, prices that are too low destroy the livelihood of the merchant who trades in any particular type of low-priced (merchandise). The same applies to prices that are too high. Occasionally and rarely, they may bring an increase in capital as a result of hoarding (some particular merchandise) and the large profit that goes with hoarding, but it is medium prices and rapid fluctuations of the market that provide people with their livelihood and profit.

This insight has a bearing upon customs established among civilized people. Low prices for grain, and of other things that are traded, are praised, because the need for grain is general and people, the rich as well as the poor, are compelled to buy food. Dependent people constitute the majority of people in civilization.

Therefore, (low prices for foodstuffs) are of general usefulness, and food, (at least) as far as this particular kind of food (namely, grain) is concerned, weighs more heavily than commerce.


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