Accounting Systems and Recording Procedures in the Early Islamic State

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Abstract: Despite advances in historical knowledge the precise origins of accounting systems and recording procedures remain uncertain. Recently discovered writings suggest that accounting has played a very important role in various sections of Muslim society since 624 A.D. This paper argues that the accounting systems and recording procedures practiced in Muslim society commenced before the invention of the Arabic numerals in response to religious requirements, especially zakat, a mandatory religious levy imposed on Muslims in the year 2 H.


In an influential contribution Parker [2000] wrote that "the writing of accounting history is increasingly dominated by writers in English discussing private-sector accounting in English-speaking countries of the 19th and 20th centuries ... the scope of accounting history is much wider than this" [p. 66]. This paper seeks to further advance our increasing knowledge of the history of accounting outside English-speaking countries in periods earlier than the modern era. It also contests de Ste. Croix's claim [1981, p. 114] that "there seems to have been no really efficient method of accounting, by double or even single entry, before the thirteenth century". Analysis of medieval bookkeeping systems in Muslim society throws doubt on this assertion.

The paper seeks to explore the work of earn Muslim scholars on accounting in the context of zakat (religious levy) and the expansion in the revenues and expenditures of the Islamic state, the structure of business in the Islamic state and the religion that shaped the economic and social life of Muslims. This remains a subject which "has not been explored in depth" [Hamid et al., 1993, p. 132]. It will be shown that the accounting systems developed and practiced in parts of the Muslim world, especially the Middle and Near East, were advanced. In focusing explicitly on accounting systems and recording procedures the paper goes beyond Zaid [2000a] which was specifically concerned with the accounting books developed in the Islamic state. It departs from Zaid [2001] and Nobes [2001] where the question of the origins and terminologies of double entry, bookkeeping were at issue.

While there are exceptions [Lall Nigam, 1986; Hamid et al, 1993; Scorgie, 1990; Solas and Otar, 1994; and Zaid, 2000a and 2000b], few western and contemporary Muslim accountants have sought to document and explore early Muslim accounting. Lal Nigam [1986] has highlighted the role played by Indian accountants in the development of accounting prior to Pacioli's Summa of 1494. The author claims that the development of "a system of bookkeeping which predates and was far ahead in sophistication of its European counterpart. This system recorded the two aspects of each event, and took care of businesses of varying sizes and dimensions. Called Bahi-Khata, Mahajanor Deshi-Name as its indigenous to the soil, it is still practiced in most parts of the country" [1986, p. 149]. Scorgie [1990] examined "the evidence that supports a contention that the Indians imitated and adopted the bookkeeping systems conveyed by the Moguls who conquered India in the mid-sixteenth century" [p. 63]. Scorgie concludes that "[T]he similarity of words in Arabic and main languages of India suggests that the system used by Indian traders and families was derived from their Arab conquerors. That is, that the Indians were imitators rather than inventors and that the transport of double-entry accounting was from the West to the East rather than vice versa as asserted by Lall Nigam" [p. 69]. Scorgie's [1990] suggestion that accounting development "was derived from their Arab conquerors" [p. 69] is further strengthened by Solas and Otar [1994] whose focus was on "the governmental accounting practice in the Near East during the II Khan Dynasty period (1120-1350 A.D.)" [p. 117]. Their study concerned the Ottoman Empire, a Muslim empire. Solas and Otar [1994] conclude "that the rudiments of double-entry accounting were practiced in the Near East and were developed independently from the accounting practices used in the West" [p. …