Recent Scholarship: Kuran on Zakāt

This week’s issue of SSRN’s Islamic Law & Law of the Muslim World eJournal includes an article by Timur Kuran, Professor of Economics, Political Science, and Islamic Studies at Duke University, on the failure of early Islamic governments to use zakāt to advance personal liberties:

“Zakat: Islam’s Missed Opportunity to Limit Predatory Taxation”


One of Islam’s five canonical pillars is a predictable, fixed, and mildly progressive tax system called zakāt. It was meant to finance various causes typical of a pre-modern government. Implicit in the entire transfer system was personal property rights as well as constraints on government—two key elements of a liberal order. Those features could have provided the starting point for broadening political liberties under a state with explicitly restricted functions. Instead, just a few decades after the rise of Islam, zakāt opened the door to arbitrary political rule and material insecurity. A major reason is that the Qurʾān outlines the specifics of zakāt as they related to conditions in seventh-century Arabia, without making explicit the underlying principles of governance.

Read the article here (login or free SSRN registration may be required).