Policy 14.4: Software in the Caliphate: Cali-Cloud or Open Source?

In the previous installment, we discussed the possibilities of open-source medication as well as how the Islamic rule on patents can lead to a service economy instead of a consumer economy.  For more context, see these two posts (here and here) that discuss the dark-side of IP.

For-profit software, likely will not work in the Islamic Society. Once it's sold the buyer can freely distribute it to others as they have purchased the software. The seller no longer owns the software, and so they can't dictate how the new owner uses that software. Even if companies try to use anti-copying mechanisms, they are just avoiding the inevitable. Remember how a marker obliterated Sony's anti-copying “protection” ? When there’s a will, there’s a way.

Arguably, it boils down to two business models: open-source or cloud.

Open-source software development
Open-source was born with Capitalism to build software that is free to use and modify. For example, the Linux operating system is based on the open-source model. Google’s Android is based on Linux. Open-source software development illustrates how people don’t always need to be paid to get things done. If this can happen in a capitalistic system, imagine what the possibilities are in an order whose main driving force is spirituality and holds pleasing the Creator, Allah (swt), the highest objective?

In the current economy, open-source software is associated with a foundation that is dependent on donors and sponsorships. For example, IBM “gave hundreds of millions of dollars to the Linux community.” So, who would take the place of IBM or other large companies in the Islamic State?  Some alternative sources would be:

  • Military research: the military will need software. In Capitalism, it is the military that invented the Internet, and then this was taken over by the private sector – just as was done with the Internet. What does the Internet have to do with the military? The Internet is designed to keep running even if part of the network is taken out by a military strike. Similarly, there can be military software that can be adapted to civilian use. Care must be given, however, that such R&D doesn't fall into the wrong hands.

  • University: Open-source in the Islamic State could be supported by the universities whose professors and grad students could be the ones maintaining and supporting the software. As with drug research, the state could also attract top minds of software development to work at the university. They, in turn, would work with students and (private) coders to maintain such software.

  • Private market: The state could also pay for people to help with software development. Companies or developers could be awarded prize money for patching software bugs. For example, FitBit offers $2,500 for identifying security flaws in its software.

As with fixing hardware, the money in software would be in the services economy. For example, Red Hat made a business of selling services around the open-source Linux software. How much are they worth? According to IBM, they are worth $34 billion.

Examples of services include implementation, customization, maintenance and the like. These consultants could also be rewarded either with money or notoriety in solving security bugs. The latter would make them famous and give them prominence in the market.

How about Cali-Cloud? Cloud Computing in the Caliphate
The second model could be cloud computing. Here the issue of copyrights is not an issue from a shariah perspective because the company is not selling software but providing a service (e.g. Software-as-a-Service). They are renting their software to others. Consequently, the purchaser cannot modify or copy the service since it doesn’t belong to them.

Which one will dominate? I think it will depend on the total-cost-of-ownership, which could vary by software type. For example, I think the operating system would likely be open-source, whereas something like accounting software would be cloud-based.

The other consideration for “Cali-Cloud”, would be network connectivity. In the early years of the Caliphate, fast broadband networks may be difficult to count on. However, Muslims have been ingenious in times of hardship. For example, the Prophet (saw) used trench warfare – a Persian innovation – when facing off against, well, everybody.

Helping for the sake of helping
Islam recognizes there's more to life than just money. People also want to maximize spiritual, humanitarian and moral values. Even in Capitalism, we see this phenomenon.  Social media channels, such as YouTube, allow people to share things from how to change a flat tire to how bitcoin works. Although there are monetary incentives (e.g. advertisements), this not what the Capitalist themselves see as the primary motivation for this type of contribution. According to a Forrester case study of Dell's support forum, one contributor logged in the equivalent of 123 working days over an 8-year period. Forrester estimates the contribution of the individual to be worth at least $1,000,000. Forrester struggles to identify a term for this but ends up with “psychic income” which they say is “paid in love, not money” (see the book “Groundswell”).

Islamically, the concept of generosity is well established. The following narration in Muslim is a well-known hadith:

“Abu Huraira reported that a person came to Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) and said: I am hard pressed by hunger. He sent (message) to one of his wives (to procure food for him). but she said: By Him Who has sent you with Truth, there is nothing with me (to serve him) but only water. He (the Holy Prophet) then sent the (same) message to another, and she gave the same reply, until all of them gave the same reply: By Him Who has sent thee with the Truth, there is nothing with me but only water, whereupon he (the Holy Prophet) said: Allah would show mercy to him who will entertain this guest tonight. A person from the Ansar stood up and said: Messenger of Allah, I (am ready to entertain). He took him to his house and said to his wife: Is there anything with you (to serve the guest)? She said: No, but only a subsistence for our children. He said: Distract their attention with something, and when the guest enters extinguish the lamp and give him the impression that we are eating. So they sat down. and the guest had his meal. When it was morning he went to Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) who said: Allah was well pleased with what you both did for your guest this night.”

Consequently, the idea of sharing the knowledge, research or innovation that will be beneficial – like how the individual contributed on the Dell forums – is something that will be, by Allah’s (swt) Permission, in abundance in the Islamic Society.