"Were Islamic Records Precursors to Accounting Books Based on the Italian Method?" a Response. (Response)

By Zaid, Omar Abdullah | Accounting Historians Journal, December 2001 | Go to article overview

"Were Islamic Records Precursors to Accounting Books Based on the Italian Method?" a Response. (Response)


Zaid, Omar Abdullah, Accounting Historians Journal


Abstract: Offers a response to Nobes' comment on Zaid [2000]. Focuses on Nobes' interpretation of the arguments presented by Zaid, his contentions about 'pious inscriptions' and the use of the term 'journal'. Calls for broader thinking on the history of double entry bookkeeping and for more research on possible antecedents in the Islamic state.

Four aspects of Nobes' comment will be addressed in this response: Nobes' understanding and interpretation of Zaid [2000]; the requirement to start the books with the phrase 'In The Name of God'; the use of the term 'Journal'; and, the readers' understanding of Zaid [2000] as perceived by Nobes.

First, the subject of Nobes' understanding and interpretation of Zaid [2000]. Nobes suggests that: "Zaid would seem to be seeking to identify the influence of the practices of the Islamic State on one or other of the following Italian developments:

1. various pre-double-entry accounting records and reports, or

2. the accounting records and reports specifically related to the practice of double entry."

It will be apparent to readers of Zaid [2000] that neither of these issues were the concern of, or addressed in, my paper. Rather, the paper specifically examined accounting books as one of the several components of the Italian Method. The paper did not refer to the 'double entry system'. It appears that Nobes understands the 'Italian Method' as being restricted to the 'double entry system'. The 'Italian Method', as we know it is a more comprehensive practice that should not be restricted to meaning only 'books' or the 'double entry system'. Accordingly, Zaid [2000] was an attempt to examine the influence of the accounting books developed in the Islamic state on the accounting books used in the Italian republics.

The subject of the 'double entry system' is a separate issue; and requires further research and discussion about 'who' was responsible for its development, and 'where' and 'when' it emerged. At present no conclusive evidence exist as to 'who' developed the 'double entry system'. All that we do know is that it was used in the Italian republics. Although I confirm that at present no evidence has been found that the 'double entry system' was developed by Muslim scholars or others outside (or inside) the Italian republics, the possibility of a direct or indirect contribution by Muslim accounting scholars to the development of the 'double entry system' through their accounting books, accounting systems, recording procedures and reports, cannot be ruled out. This possibility exists given the influence of Muslim traders on the practices of their Italian counterparts. As Wolff observed in the wider context, the condition in Europe at the time of the early use of double entry "was temporarily at a standstill, and we s hall therefore not expect to find a visible or appreciable progress in methods of accounting during that period" [1912, p. 54]. This was also suggested by a number of Western scholars and is akin to Nobes' comment "that many of the necessary conditions for the development of double entry (as suggested by Littleton) were established in the Muslim world earlier than in Italy and that they probably moved from the former to the latter".

As Nobes mentions in his comment, "Zaid does not suggest that he is offering evidence that any of the Islamic records were kept in double entry". This statement would appear to conflict with his earlier contention that "Zaid would seem to be seeking to identify the influence of the practices of the Islamic State on one or other of the following Italian developments: 1. various pre-double-entry accounting records and reports, or 2. the accounting records and reports specifically related to the practice of double entry." (emphasis added). If the object of Nobes' comment is to explore whether developments in accounting and trade in the Islamic state contributed to the development of 'double-entry-system', my response is that neither a direct or indirect relationship between developments in the Islamic state and the emergence of the double entry system can be ruled out. …

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