Islam’s contribution to Agriculture and related matters

Agriculture is the production of food, feed and fibre by the systematic harvesting of plants and animals. Agriculture was developed at least 10,000 years ago, and has undergone significant developments since the time of the earliest cultivation. Evidence points to the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East as the site of the earliest planned sowing and harvesting of plants that had previously been gathered in the wild. The history of agriculture is a central element of human history, as agricultural progress has been a crucial factor in worldwide socio-economic change. Agriculture played a key role in the development of human civilization-it is widely believed that the domestication of plants and animals allowed humans to settle and give up their previous hunter-gatherer lifestyle during the Neolithic Revolution. Until the Industrial Revolution, the vast majority of the human population labored in agriculture. The development of agricultural techniques has steadily increased agricultural productivity, and the widespread diffusion of these techniques has led to new technologies.

Agriculture now encompasses many subjects, its core areas remain:

Cultivation (the raising of plants)

Animal husbandry (Animal Science)

Aquaculture (fishing)

Horticulture (science of cultivation of plants)

Each of these subjects includes various disciplines, for example, cultivation includes both organic farming and intensive farming. Animal husbandry includes ranching and herding. The development and evolution of agriculture has resulted in products such as fodder (starch, sugar, alcohols and resins), fibers (cotton, wool, hemp, silk and flax), fuels (methane from biomass, ethanol, biodiesel), cut flowers, ornamental and nursery plants.

As of 2006, an estimated 36% of the world's workers are employed in agriculture.[1] (down from 42% in 1996), making it by far the most common occupation. However, the relative significance of farming has dropped steadily since the beginning of industrialisation, and in 2006 – for the first time in history – the services sector overtook agriculture as the economic sector employing the most people worldwide. Agricultural production today accounts for less than 5% of world Gross Domestic product (GDP).

History: Islam's enrichment of Agriculture

Many historians consider the global economy established by Muslim traders across the world, enabled the diffusion of many crops and farming techniques among different parts of the Islamic world, as well as the adaptation of crops and techniques from beyond the Islamic world. Crops from Africa, China and numerous crops from India were distributed throughout Islamic lands. Some writers have referred to the diffusion of numerous crops during this period as the Globalisation of crops.[2]

When the Abbasids took over the reins of the Khilafah in 750 they moved the capital city from Damascus to the Sassanid city of Baghdad a small town in central Mesopotamia. European towns, cities and settlements built walls to prevent raids from outlaws and armies but were typically vulnerable at four points; the corners. If enough pressure was applied at any of these points the wall would collapse and troops could flood through the breach. The Abbasids solved this problem by building Baghdad as the first Circular City.

The Abbasid caliph, Al Mansur (754-75) built the new capital, surrounded by round walls. Within fifty years the population outgrew the city walls as people thronged to the capital to become part of the Abbasids' Civil service or to engage in trade. Baghdad became a vast emporium of trade linking Asia and the Mediterranean. By the reign of Mansur's grandson, Harun ar Rashid (786-806), just 10 years later Baghdad was second in size only to Constantinople.

After the defences of the city were complete attention turned to how the Abbasids would feed not just Baghdad but the whole empire considering its enormous population. The development of Agriculture under the Abbasids was a phenomenon; the scarcity of water had converted the barren Arab lands into a vast desert, which had never yielded any substantial agricultural produce. The scattered population always imported supply of food grains to supplement the dates and the little corn grown in their own lands. Agriculture in Arabia had been very primitive and was confined to those tracts where water was available in the form of springs. Medina, with its springs and wells was the only green spot in the vast desert. The Abbasids dealt with this by first controlling the flows of the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers. The Irrigation system in the land was greatly improved by digging a number of new canals, the largest flowed between the Tigris and Euphrates. This canal was called Nahr Isa (Isa canal) and was open to ships for transportation between Syria & Iraq. This led to navigation routes opening to India and Persian Gulf. The Abbasids reconstructed the existing canals, lakes, and reservoirs, which were first built under Hajjaj Bin Yusuf in 702. After this the swamps around Baghdad were drained, freeing the city of malaria. Muslim engineers perfected the waterwheel and constructed elaborate underground water channels called qanats. Requiring a high degree of engineering skill, qanats were built some fifty feet underground with a very slight inclination over long distances to tap underground water and were provided with manholes so that they could be cleaned and repaired.

The result of this was the Abbasids set in motion an agricultural revolution, this stimulated development in other parts of the economy. Most of the Abbasid wealth was generated from taxation on land alongside trade. Commercial activity flourished under the Abbasids, which stimulated many developments in other fields the demands on trade generated the development of crafts. From Baghdad's large urban population, craftsmen developed such as metalworkers, leatherworkers, bookbinders, papermakers, jewellers, weavers, druggists, bakers, and many more. As they grew in importance to the economy these craftsmen eventually organised themselves into mutual-benefit societies, which to later led to the Western guilds.

The development in agriculture led to the development of horticulture. Within 100 years Bagdad and its surroundings presented the appearance of a veritable garden, the region between Baghdad and Kufa came to be covered with prosperous towns, flourishing villages and fine villas. The staple crops of Iraq were barley, rice, wheat, dates, cotton, sesame and flax. The production of fruit was pursued as a science and several new fruits were introduced in varying climates.

The Mediterranean Sea during the Abbasids had virtually been converted into an Islamic lake. The Mediterranean, which on three sides was surrounded by Islamic lands as well as its important islands like Sicily, Crete, Cyprus and the Baleric islands, all were governed by Walis. The Abbasids venture to the West led to Tunis, Alexandria, Cadiz and Barcelona becoming famous ports, which handled flourishing trades.

Islamic Contribution

The Muslims introduced what was to become an agricultural revolution based on four key areas:

  • – The development of a sophisticated system of irrigation using machines such as norias, water mills, water raising machines, dams and reservoirs. With such technology Muslims managed to greatly expand the exploitable land area.

  • – The adoption of a scientific approach to farming enabled them to improve farming techniques derived from the collection and collation of relevant information throughout the whole of the known world. Farming manuals were produced in every corner of the Muslim world detailing where, when and how to plant and grow various crops. Advanced scientific techniques allowed scientists such as like Ibn al-Baitar to introduce new crops and breeds and strains of livestock into areas where they were previously unknown. Numerous encyclopaedias on botany were also produced, with highly accurate precision and details. The earliest cookbooks on Arab cuisine were also written, such as the Kitab al-Tabikh (The Book of Dishes) of Ibn Sayyiir al-Warraq (10th century) and the Kitab al-Tabikh of Muhammad bin Hasan al-Baghdadi (1226).

  • – The Islamic rules on land ownership and labour rights, alongside the recognition of private ownership and the introduction of sharecropping created big incentives to engage in agriculture. Whilst at the same time Europe struggled under a feudal system in which peasants were almost slaves with little hope of improving their lot by hard work.

  • – Under the Khilafah new crops were introduced which transformed private farming into a new global industry, which exported everywhere, including Europe, where farming was mostly restricted to wheat strains obtained much earlier via central Asia. Islamic Spain exported much to Europe this included many agricultural and fruit-growing processes, together with many new plants, fruit and vegetables. These new crops included sugar cane, rice, citrus fruit, apricots, cotton, artichokes, aubergines, and saffron. Muslims also brought to Europe country lemons, oranges, cotton, almonds, figs and sub-tropical crops such as bananas and sugar cane.

The Muslim world today

Population under the poverty line, World Bank 2006

Bangladesh       50%

Iran                 40%

Pakistan           33%

Jordan             30%

Indonesia         27%

Turkey             20%

Egypt               20%

Syria                12%

Whilst the Islamic world has a history of being at the forefront of technology and catering for its citizens needs. The Muslim world today unfortunately represents some of the poorest nations in the world. The Muslim world does not even have the necessary infrastructure to fulfil the basic needs of its people. Wealth in the Muslim world suffers from huge misdistribution; the Middle East may have some of the largest oil reserves in the world however very little oil revenue actually trickles down to the population. In the Arab world one in five Arabs still live on less than $2 a day. And, over the past 20 years, growth in income per head, at an annual rate of 0.5%, was lower than anywhere else in the world except sub-Saharan Africa[3]. In Pakistan 40% of land is in the hands of 23 families.[4] Government investment in infrastructure and public services is minimal considering the large population of the Muslim world.

What is so shocking is the fact that Turkey is the worlds 10th largest agriculture producer ($40 billion), Pakistan is the worlds 15th largest producer ($15 billion), Iran is the world's 21st largest producer ($21 billion) and Bangladesh is the worlds 27th largest producer, producing over $13 billion of agricultural products a year. Below is a list of commodities the Muslim world is the world's largest producer in:

Algeria – Green beans

Bangladesh – goat milk

Egypt – Dates

Indonesia – Cinnamon, coconuts, cloves, nutmeg, maze and cardamons 

Iran – berries and pistachios.

Malaysia – Duck meat

Pakistan – clarified butter (Ghee)

Saudi Arabia – Camel Milk

Sudan – Camel meat

Turkey – hazelnut, fig, apricot, cherry, quince and pomegranate[5]

If such counties look back at their histories they would realise that Islam offers an efficient system of distributing such resources and goods and how Islam made poverty history in the past. 

Is Islam outdated?

The Muslim world has made very little contribution to science and technology for the last 150 years. Whilst the Western world industrialised the Muslim world remains largely backward and unable to match the progress made by the Western world. In this vain many academics have argued that the Shariah only worked well when the world economy was based upon agriculture, however it has been unable to do well in the modern industrial world. They have argued that Islam has no place in the modern world and continues to hold the Muslim world back.

There is no doubt Islam progressed in the past and has been credited for being the world superpower for nearly four centuries in the past. The expansion of the Khilafah resulted in the development of agriculture, which was the central sector in most economies in the past. What is noticed however is the absence of Islam during the industrial revolution and after in the Islamic lands. The implementation of Islam was the trajectory, which led to the Khilafah to excel, whilst under the Ottomans the understanding of Islam declined which resulted in the Muslim world viewing technology incorrectly.

This proves that it was not Islam that held Muslim back but rather the absence of Islam is what created the problem and continues to hold Muslims back. Islam is not against modern development and is more then capable of dealing with modern technology and scientific advancements.

Islam views all the material matters which include the sciences, technology and industry, as merely the study of the reality and a study of how matter can be manipulated to improve the condition and living standards of humanity. This is the view of Islam on science and all its branches. The Shari'ah addressed this via numerous verses

"It is He Who created for you all that is in the earth." [TMQ Al-Baqarah:29]

"Do you not see how Allah has made serviceable to you whatsoever is in the skies and whatsoever is in the earth, and He has loaded you with His favours, both the open and the hidden."
[TMQ Luqman:20]

"Who has appointed the earth a resting-place for you, and the sky a canopy; and caused water to pour down from the sky, thereby producing fruits as food for you."
[TMQ Al-Baqarah:22]

"And We send down from the sky blessed water whereby We give growth to gardens and the grain of crops. And lofty date palms with ranged clusters. Provision (made) for men…"
[TMQ Qaf: 9-11]

These texts allow the general use of objects and materials that are found on or in the earth. From this is derived the Islamic qaida (principle): "All objects are allowed unless Shari'ah evidence prohibits it".

Thus the initial view is that in generality all objects are permitted however their use has been restricted as all actions require a Shari'ah evidence. For instance Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) are allowed in Islam. However its use would require knowledge of the Shari'ah rule. ICBMs could be used for reasons ranging from legitimate deterrent measures to the illegitimate killing of innocent civilians. Islam permits the study and use of medicine, engineering, maths, astronomy, chemistry, physics, agriculture, industry, communications including the Internet, and the science of navigation and geography. This includes what results from them such as industry, tools, machinery and factories. Also included in this are industries, whether military or not, and heavy industry like tanks, aeroplanes, rockets, satellites, nuclear technology, hydrogen, electronic or chemical bombs, tractors, lorries, trains and steamships. This includes consumer industries and light weapons and the manufacture of laboratory instruments, medical instruments, agricultural tools, furniture, carpets and consumer products such as the TV, DVD, Playstation etc. The point being illustrated here is that all objects we know of past, present and future are allowed without restriction unless a Shari'ah evidence exists to definitively disallow it.

Islam most certainly is not outdated and if applied comprehensively it will change the situation of the Muslim world. For a detailed look at the Muslim world and industrialisation see ‘How will the Khilafah industrialise the Muslim world.'

Understanding the Islamic rules on Agriculture

The economic policy in Islam or the overall direction of the Islamic economic system is to secure the satisfaction of all basic needs for every individual completely, and to enable them to satisfy their luxuries as much as possible. This means economic polices will look to cater for all rather then just leaving satisfaction to market forces.

Therefore, one will find that the Shari'ah has secured the satisfaction of all of the basic needs (food, clothing, housing, health and security) completely, for every citizen of the Khilafah. This is achieved by obliging each capable person to work, so as to achieve the basic needs for himself and his dependants; this is based upon evidences which encourage Muslims to work such as:

"Whosoever sought the life (matters) legitimately (halal) and decently he will meet Allah (swt) with his face as a full moon; and whosoever sought it arrogantly and excessively he will meet Allah while He is angry at him." (Bukhari)

The Prophet (saw) also said: "Do you have, son of Adam, of your property except that which you ate and consumed, that which you wore and exhausted, and that which you donated and kept (for yourself)?" (Bukhari) 

Allah (swt) also said:

"Don't commit Israaf (spending or going beyond the limits imposed by Islam); surely He does not like those who condone Israaf." (Al-A'raf: 31) 

"But seek the abode of the Hereafter in that which Allah has given you, and do not neglect your portion of worldly life, and be kind even as Allah has been kind to you, and seek not corruption in the earth." (Al-Qasas: 77)

Islam requires that the individual secures for himself and his dependants the satisfaction of the basic needs i.e. adequate foodstuffs, clothing and housing. Islam then encourages the individual to secure the luxuries of life as much as he can. If one is unable to then the state is obliged from Islam to provide for such an individual, the most basic of needs for all people from the perspective of Islam is their dietary requirements and this requires the development of agriculture to ensure the population is fed. In order to facilitate this Islam permitted employment and landownership.

Employment and Land ownership

Islam outlined very clearly the rules for employment and landownership which are the most common ways for people to earn a living and fulfill their basic dietary needs. Islam defines employment as the hiring of the benefit of a person; this would be one's skill and effort. This definition requires the employment contract to clearly define the work to be undertaken, the period of work, the wage and the effort required. Gaining employment is like any contract in Islam with the key condition for the two parties being that they must both be above the age of puberty – this will effectively end child labour. 

Islam has also permitted sharecropping. This is where one person hands over the responsibility for the growing of crops and produce to another person in order to irrigate them and tend to them in return for a defined portion of their fruit. Abdullah ibn 'Umar (ra) said "The Prophet of Allah (SAW) contracted the people of Khaybar over half of what they produce of fruit crops and plants." (Muslim).

When it came to landownership the Islamic rules ensure land is used rather then remain idle. Islam does not view landownership as a problem as the socialists did but it rather views feudalism which is the neglect of land and not cultivating it as the problem. This results in vast amounts of land sitting idle and not contributing towards the economy. Islam mandates a number of rules which deal with the cultivation of land, these include:

  • – The confiscation of land from individuals who neglect their land for three years. This is based upon a number narration's attributed to Umar ibn Khattab (ra) which were collected by the hadith scholars which are considered Ijma:

"Whoever neglects land for three years then another comes and cultivates it, it belongs to him."

"Whoever neglected a land for three years without using it and another person came and used it, it becomes his."

Umar (ra) narrated that "a fencer has no right after three years"

  • – Islam mandated a method for the working of land; Allah (swt) explicitly defined the method of working with land. The person is compelled to manage its utilisation by themselves, thus the land owner is obliged to farm his/her land with their tools, seeds, animals and workers, employing them to work in exchange for a wage. Islam expressly prohibited the leasing of land where the owner has a manager who employs people to work on the land and a portion of the profits are then given to the landowner. This is because Muhammad (saw) said:

"Whoever has land let him plant upon it or grant it to his brother. If he declined let him hold his land." (Bukhari)

"The Messenger of Allah (saw) forbade a rent or a share be taken for the land." (Muslim)

"The Messenger of Allah (saw) forbade the leasing of land. We said, 'O Prophet of Allah, can we then lease it for some of the grain." He (saw) said, ‘No.' we said, ‘we used to lease it for the straw.' He (SAW) said, ‘No.' we said, ‘We used to lease it in return of that on the irrigating Rabee'a (Small stream). He (saw) said, ‘No, plant it or grant it to your brother." (Sunan of An-Nisai)


Islam has detailed laws on which types of foodstuff can be consumed and which cannot. Islam considers food as vegetation and animals. The meat of certain animals has been forbidden which exist on land with some which live in water. Amongst the prohibited types of food are some which are forbidden in origin and some which are forbidden if certain conditions occur. These are ten in total which were outlined in the Qur'an as:

"Forbidden to you are the flesh of dead animals and blood and the flesh of swine, and that which has been dedicated to any other than Allah, and that which has been killed by strangling or by beating or by falling or by being gored, and that which has been (partly) eaten by a wild beast except that which you make lawful by slaughtering (before its death), and that which has been sacrificed to idols…." (Al Mai'da: 3)

From this ayah it is deduced that all food is permissible unless there is a text to prohibit it. No fruits or vegetables were expressly prohibited in the above ayah hence they are all permissible to consume. 

Islam enjoins Muslims to treat animals with compassion and not to abuse them. The animals, together with all the creation, are believed to praise Allah (swt). There are over two hundred verses in the Qur'an that deal with animals and six suras of the Qur'an are named after animals. The Qur'an explicitly allowed the eating of the meat of the animals with the exception of certain animals e.g. the pig. The Animals whose meat is halaal must be slaughtered in a particular manner; one is required to sharpen the blade and then with a swift, deep incision with a sharp knife in the neck, cutting the jugular veins and carotid arteries of both sides but leaving the spinal cord intact

This ensures a relatively painless death and also helps to effectively drain blood from the animal.

This method ensures the blood of the animal is never consumed as this is forbidden in Islam. While the blood is draining, the animal is not handled until it has died.


Islam mandated a number of taxes upon land and its produce. The Kharaj tax is levied on crops raised throughout the year. The Khaleefah stipulates when the tax is collected in the year and from the types of crops produced. The tax does take into account the burden it places on owners. Landowners are obliged to pay this tax when it is due, even if they have not used their land. If landowners are not able to use their land, they will have to sell it, or employ others to work on it, rather than pay taxes on land producing no income. This will generate employment and also bring more land onto the market for those who have the skills to work on it. If the land is not used for three years then it will be confiscated.

Islam also mandated the Ushr tax, which is levied on the actual production from a land, which forces one to use it otherwise after three years it will be confiscated. The rate of tax is based upon how it is irrigated. Land which is irrigated with technology has a lower rate then the land which is irrigated naturally through rainfall.

[1] International Labour Organization, Key Indicators of the Labour Market 2007, chapter 4, p6, retrieved 21st Jan 2008, 


[3] The Economist (2002), Self doomed to failure, Arab Development, Special report, July 4th 2002, print edition,

   accessed 26th July 2006,

[4] James A, Too much for one man to do, The Economist, July 6th 2006

[5] United Nations Food and Agricultural organisation, Statistics division, Food and agricultural production, 2005 figures, retrieved 22nd Jan 2008,