16 June, 2011


What is AL HISBA?

The holy Quran visualizes every Muslim to play a positive role in the propagation of good (Ma’ruf) and suppression of evil (Munkar). It has been made an obligation on a section of the people to remain engaged in it (Fard Kifaya). The Islamic State has been enjoined to institute arrangement to oversee the implementation of this injunction. It is both material and spiritual compulsion on the part of an Islamic State. Hisba is the state institution created for the purpose. It is the institution to promote what is proper and forbid what is improper (amr bil ma’ruf wannahi anil munker). In short Hisba is an institution established by an Islamic Government to oversee the implementation of good (Ma’ruf) and elimination of evils (Munkar). The Chief of Hisba was known as Muhtasib. Different other terms were also used to mean the Muhtasib in different areas of the Muslim World.

Development of Al Hisba as an Institution:

Besides devising a code of approved behaviour the holy Prophet (SM) took care to institutionalize the perpetuation and preservation of this code by enjoining upon everyone to engage in amr bil ma’ruf wa-nanahi anil munkar. In a number of traditions the Prophet (SM) has been reported to emphasize this role for every Muslim. He himself would, so often, undertake inspections of markets to see that the merchants did not engage in improper behavior. Wherever he would see someone indulging in an evil he would forbid him. This function he carried out both as Prophet of Allah and as head of the Islamic State. In this regard, the Prophet (SM) has been termed as the first Muhtasib in the Muslim history. Subsequently when his personal engagements increased he appointed Sa’id b. Al-As b. Umayyah as Muhtasib in Makka and Umar b. al-khattab in Madina.

The first four Caliphs of Islam carried out the functions of Muhtasib themselves, although there are reports of the appointment of a market officer by the Caliph Umar. The provincial governors during this era acted as Muhtasibs on behalf of the Caliph. A separate department of Hisba, with a full time Muhtasib by qualified staff (known as Arifs and Amins) was introduced by Abbasid Caliph Abu Ja’far al-Mansur in 157 A.H. He appointed Abu Zakariyah Yahya b. Abdullah as Muhtasib. With the expansion of the jurisdiction of the Caliphate the office of the Muhtasib also expanded and assumed an increased number of functions. The institution of Hisba moved along with Muslims in the western provinces of Spain and North Africa and remained an integral part of the state even after the split of the Baghdad Capliphate. Similarly the office of Muhtasib was an important department during the rule of Fatimids, Ayyubids and Ottomans. In India although a formal Hisba department did not exist, yet during the Sultanate period a Muhtasib and a Qadi was invariably appointed whenever an area was annexed to the state. The Mughals did not feel easy with the institution of Hisba due to their own lax moral standards and replaced it with the office of Kotwal who had a much more limited jurisdiction than the Muhtasib. The institution of Hisba remained in vogue during the entire Muslim period of history, though it has been termed differently in various regions. For example, in the eastern provinces of Baghdad Caliphate the officer in charge was Muhtasib , in North Africa he was Sahib al-suq, in Turkey-Muhtasib aghasi and in India a Kotwal.

In certain cases the offices of Qadi (justice) and the Muhtasib were entrusted to the same person. At other places the police department (Shurta) and the Hisba were headed by the same officer. And at still other places the three officer were manned by one man. But the functions of Muhtasib were clearly distinct from those of a Quadi and Shurta.

Functions of Muhtasib: The responsibility of a Muhtasib was enormous. He was responsible to over see the position of implementation of Islamic Sharia in Public and Private affairs and to suggest appropriate corrective measures where necessary. The functions of a Muhtasib could be classified into three categories. They are as follows:

1.   Performance of Ibadat: 

First, the Muhtasib was responsible to see that the community as a whole had proper organization and facilities for performance of Ibadat. The maintenance of Mosques, appointment of Muezzins and Imams, arranging daily prayers, Friday congregations and Id prayers were some of his duties. Similarly he would object to any willful non-observance of any other obligation of the Sharia by individuals or by the community. These functions of the Muhtasib may be adopted even now, if an office to this effect comes into being.  

2.   Implementation of Adle (Justice):

Second, the Muhtasib was concerned with the implementation of Adle (Justice) in the society. He would try to enforce fair play among different economic factors to minimize possibilities of exploitation from the economy. Consequently, we find a long list of such instructions, which prescribe inspection of weights and measures, metallic content of coins and quality of food products. Similarly the Muhtasib would check manipulation of prices, supplies and production, monopolistic collusions, cheating, fraud and any other form of inter-sectoral inequity. In brief, he had to intervene wherever the economic flows were manipulated by the economically powerful individual or groups to their selfish ends. This area of the Muhtasib’s functions needs to be recast to the present day modes of production, distribution and exchange. The spirit of Adl has to be preserved while defining roles for various economic agents.

3.   Various Municipal Services:

Third, the Muhtasib paid special heed to various municipal services, especially hygienic conditions in the town. Perhaps the Muhtasib was the only municipal officer in the Muslim society. He would look into the entire municipal administration such as street lighting, removal of garbage, architectural designs of buildings, water supply and antipollution sanctions. Obviously, need for smooth availability of these services on an efficient scale has only increased these days.

Necessity of Al Hisba in Economy:

a.    To manage economic equilibrium
b.    For regulation of supply
c.    For price control
d.    For looking after credit structure
e.    To ensure ownership rights
f.    To look after proper utilization of Manpower
g.    To enhance efficiency in the public sector

Eligibility of Muhtasib:

Traditionally, the Muhtashib was a free Muslim male with a high degree of integrity, insight, reverence and social status. He was supposed to be scholar of the Sharia (most often competent for Ijtihad) with a high degree of in-depth knowledge in the social customs and habits. Of the qualities of a Muhtasib Ilm (knowledge), Rifq (kindness) and Sabr (patience) were considered to be of prime importance.

Present state of Al Hisba:

Al Hisba is almost a forgotten but unparallel contribution of the Muslim to human civilization. It was necessitated by the Muslim to ensure the facilities of prayer and making the life easier, specially for harmonious growth of the economy. Al Hisba was existant in some form or other in Muslim countries so long they were in possession of political power. With the fall of Muslim rule the Hisba was either ignored or transformed into a pure secular institution. Spiritual aspects of Al Hisba were then segregated as they took these as irrelevant to state ship and Mundane aspects of Al Hisba were entrusted with several departments in different names. Saudi Arabia is perhaps the only Muslim country which has retained to this day the religious wing of Al Hisba intact to large extent although it too has distributed the secular functions to different Depts. & Ministries.

Some Western Countries have introduced the office of Ombudsman to look into complaints against administrative conduct of state functionaries. Some Muslims are also heard to plead for introduction of the office of Ombudsman. But we think an institution adapted to the moral fiber of the present day Muslim Societies would be just in the tradition of having a Muhtasib.

Ref: Al Hisba in Islamic Economy by Muhammad Akram Khan

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