Jumaat, 7 Januari 2011

Monetary System in the Islamic World

How did money as a medium of exchange for foods and services evolve into its current form we know and use today? The first Muslim coins were struck during the Caliphate of Uthman (ra), 644-656 CE. The first original minting of Islamic dirham was done in 695 CE (75 AH) during the reign of Khalifah 'Abd al-Malik. It followed the standard set by Umar Ibn al-Khattab (ra).

These coins included the phrase: "Allah is Unique, Allah is Eternal". Beginning with these coins the use of human figures and animals was discontinued. Both the dinar and dirham coins were round in shape. Typically, one side of the coin was stamped with the words "La ilaha illallah" and "Alhamdulillah" and the obverse side with the name of the caliph or ruler and the date of minting.

The earliest Arab coins imitated those of the Persians (the Sassanians) and the Byzantines. The Arab-Sassanian series goes back as far as 31 AH (Hijriah) just 21 years after the death of Prophet Muhammad S.A.W. The Sassanian coins resumed a century later by the Arab governors of the Tabaristan province (on the southern border of the Caspian Sea). The Arab-Byzantine coins imitated the copper 40-nummia pieces of the 7th century Byzantine Emperors.

The Arab coinage was reformed in 77-79 AH (696-98 AD), creating the main Umayyad series. Its copper denomination, the Fals, exhibited a wide variety of types, but the silver coin, the dirham, used a single calligraphic type at all of the mints of the Caliphate. This coin, with its religious inscriptions and its consistent use of a date and a mint name, set a pattern that was followed for the next few centuries throughout the Islamic world.

The Abbasid series is similar to the Umayyad, but the script takes on a distinctive form that exaggerates the horizontal letters and makes the others microscopic. The Caliph's name is absent on the early issues (as on the Umayyad Dirhams), but it appears on some coins of al-Mahdi (775-85 AD) and becomes a standard feature on all later issues.

During the early 900s AD, the Abbasid Caliphs came under the power of the Buwayhid rulers and lost their temporal authority. Their coins came to an end, but their names were often placed on the coinage of other rulers, citing them as Islam's spiritual head. In a later age, the Abbasid Caliphs regained control of a temporal state, but those coins are of a much different style. Some non-Abbasid coins can be deceptive when they include the Caliph's name but happen to omit the name of the temporal ruler.

In the medieval Islamic world, a vigorous monetary economy was created during the 7th-12th centuries based on the expanding levels of circulation of a stable high-value currency - the Dinar. The Islamic gold dinar (sometimes referred as Islamic dinar or Gold dinar) is a bullion gold coin made from 4.25 grams of 22-carat (k) gold with historical Islamic significance.

The Dirham and Dinar were both used as the official Islamic currency beginning with the second Caliphate, 634-644 CE. The Islamic Dinar is the weight of gold equivalent to 4.25 grams, whereas the Islamic Dirham is the weight of silver equivalent to 3.0 grams. Umar Ibn al-Khattab established the known standard relationship between the two based on their weights: 7 dinars must be equivalent to 10 dirhams.

Gold has always had value to humans, even before it was money. This is demonstrated by the extraordinary efforts made to obtain it. Prospecting for gold was a worldwide effort going back thousands of years, even before the first money in the form of gold coins appeared. In the quest for gold by the Phoenicians, Egyptians, Indians, Hittites, Chinese, and others, prisoners of war were sent to work the mines, as were slaves and criminals. This happened during a time when gold had no value as 'money,' but was just considered a desirable commodity on itself.

The first use of gold as money occurred around 700 BC, when Lydian (Turkey) merchants produced the first coins. These were simply stamped lumps of a 63 per cent gold and 27 per cent silver mixture known as 'electrum.' This standardised unit of value, had no doubt helped Lydian traders in their wide-ranging successes, for by the time of Croesus of Mermnadae - the last King of Lydia (570-546 BC) - Lydia had amassed a huge hoard of gold. Today, we still speak of the ultra-wealthy as being 'rich as Croesus.'

Gold, measured out, became money. Gold was money in ancient Greece. The Greeks mined for gold throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East regions by 550 BC, and both Plato and Aristotle wrote about gold and had theories about its origins - one of them is that Gold was associated with water and it was said that gold was a particularly dense combination of water and sunlight.

The Islamic gold dinar came back to life as a consequence of a currency crisis in Asia in 1997. The then Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, proposed the Islamic gold dinar as currency for international trade in the Muslim world. It was supposed to suppress the overly traded American dollar and ensure that dollar's instability does not affect international trade because Islamic gold dinar was to be tied to the price of gold, and thus provide a stable value of the currency.

Tun Dr. Mahathir once emphasised that the Gold Dinar policy is being driven by the crushing reality of the economic and strategic crisis. The Gold Dinar can be a trading currency for all countries, not necessarily Muslim countries alone. He strongly feels that the Muslim countries are in the best position to demonstrate the viability of the system and in the process, show the world that they are capable of growing with stability and peace.

However, the idea has since been halted. Perhaps one day, it will become a reality and the gold dinar will reign within the Muslim world one day.


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