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Qur'an disapproves of economic fundamentalism

Published: 26/11/2010 10:31:00 PM GMT
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By DR. JAVED JAMIL

Published: Nov 12, 2010 18:16 Updated: Nov 12, 2010 18:16

The following paper was presented in the two-day conference on Economic Problems and the Qur'anic Solution on Nov. 6 and 7, organized by Idarah Uloomul Qur'an, Aligarh



Wealth has a central position in economics. But economic fundamentalism tends to regard it as the most, not just one of the most, essential requirements of life. The business community has, throughout the world and for ages, always cared little for anything but its own economic interests. But the businessmen of the past made only individual efforts in that direction and they had little influence over the happenings in their surroundings. They were the cranes that would use their cunning eyes to capture the prey when it came close to them and not leopards that would roar their way through the forest in search of their preys. They did not have any say in political and administrative affairs; the law of the land safeguarded the interests of the common people, or the interests of rulers. During the last few centuries, especially in the wake of industrial revolution, businessmen have organized themselves into an aggressive, domineering, dexterous, ingenious and inexorable class. It has wrongfully or rightfully but successfully mastered all the new information, techniques and opportunities available to it for the protection and expansion of its interests. This is where economic fundamentalism begins to emerge. Now, businessmen, unlike in the past, are no more weak and submissive. They are not cranes any more but leopards that want to rule and roar. They have not only learned to assert themselves but have perfected the skill to push their plans defying all obstacles that may come in their way. Not any longer are they bootlickers of the rulers that they used to be; they have now mastered the art of maneuvering them into submission. From the sycophants that they used to be they have now positioned themselves in a way that the administrators even often become their sycophants. Not any more are they silent followers of the rule of law; they have become articulate votaries of such modification in the law and the legal systems as better suit their interests. They have ceased to be introverts seeking comfort in solitude; they now socialize in a way that gives them a plateau of eminence in society and of course the economic monopoly. Still, they sacrifice moles for gaining mountains in return. It is this assertive, aggressive, cunning, provident and ruthlessly selfish approach toward economics that breeds what I have termed "economic fundamentalism."

Economics is surely one of the essential constituents of human life. Without money, one cannot survive; we need coins for food, drinks, clothes, house, treatment, entertainment, marriage, bringing up of children, their education; even for funeral. But the problems arise when money is assumed to be the biggest essential of life. Economics is the stomach that supplies food for the body. It cannot and must not become the heart and brain. For a wholesome living, good relations among members of family and of society, proper spiritual and moral development and proper environment are also needed. Love for money is nice as far as it does not disturb mental, family and social peace. But as soon as it transforms into lust encroaching upon others' spheres, it becomes a curse. When the lust for making money becomes organized, its effects on society are bound to be devastating. And when this organization turns global and uses highly advanced information and technology available to it, mankind faces imminent ruin.

It can be seen that economic fundamentalism is becoming increasingly aggressive with every passing day. What has facilitated its stupendous growth is the outstanding ability of its generals to deal with the hurdles coming in their way. The truth is that they have been marching toward their ultimate destination without facing any appreciable resistance. They studied and recognized all the possible sources of obstruction well in advance, and prepared a meticulous plan to thwart them. All possible weapons were and are being employed for this purpose: persuasion, advertising, misinformation, defamation, bribing, maneuvering and use of power. The ballistic missiles of their money-power have proved to be too destructive for the resistant elements to withstand. Through persuasion or threats, they are either overpowered or purchased. The opposing forces have failed owing not only to the lack of resources but also to the glaring deficiency of will and spirit. What further paralyzed them is innumerable divisions in their ranks, based on religion, region, race, ideology and language. The economic fundamentalists have used this lassitude to gain on them; they are now, virtually, the rulers of the world. Their trumpet blows everywhere - from the north to the south and from the west to the east. There is little evidence in sight to foretell that their dominion will shrink to any remarkable extent in the foreseeable future. Whatever few areas or fields have till now remained beyond their reach will soon be ransacked by their visible or invisible forces. How long they will be able to retain their hold, only time will tell.

Thus, the rise and growth of economic fundamentalism has been, from historical standards, rather rapid taking hardly a few centuries. The think-tank of the world of economic fundamentalism has taken innumerable steps to strengthen their hold.

They have transformed through political maneuvers the state into their estate. They have incessantly and relentlessly been trying to organize a grand farewell for religion. They have captivated the people's imagination through the media. They have got the attire of society redesigned so that it looks gorgeous and inviting to their eyes. They have industrialized sex, in which they have discovered the hen that always lays golden eggs. They have relocated the entire educational set-up on the Wall Street. They have monopolized the tree of economy whose fruits and shadows are only theirs; others can only admire its beauty from a safe distance. They have taken science and technology as their mistresses that are always keen to offer their glorious best to them. They have nipped all the challenges in the buds by masterminding popular movements. They have lynched the 'civilization', which has been given a new incarnation; and now Bohemians are called civilized. Last but not the least, they have been busy colonizing the good earth in the name of globalization.

This does not mean however that whatever the economic fundamentalists sought to do or undo was all misplaced. Nor does it mean that the economic fundamentalists are solely responsible for all the wrongs perpetrated on mankind. What is true nevertheless is that they have always striven to support those ideas and movements that would become uranium for their commercial nukes. Sometimes, they would themselves spearhead a particular campaign. More often, they would financially back such activities as suited their strategies. At other times, they would make overt or covert efforts to contain, dilute or minimize the damages to their interests consequent on the popularization of certain ideas or customs. Many a time they might have pursued or backed a good cause; but they have invariably been selective in their support, calculating its positive or negative impact on their business prospects. It is this preferential and partisan attitude that has to be denounced and renounced, if the world has to be saved from the impending doom.

Quran's position on economic fundamentalism

It is clear that the Qur'an recognizes the importance of wealth but it warns against giving it supremacy over the other important aspects of life. The ultimate aim of the Qur'an is to attain Comprehensive Peace, and economics too has to supplement that aim. The economic activities (Prohibited Economics) that endanger the ultimate goal have no place in an Islamic system. In the following verse, knowledge and physical power have been given more importance than wealth:

"Their Prophet said to them: "(Allah) has appointed Talut as king over you." They said: "How can he exercise authority over us when we are better fitted than he to exercise authority, and he is not even gifted with wealth in abundance?" He said: "(Allah) has Chosen him above you, and has gifted him abundantly with knowledge and bodily prowess: Allah grants His authority to whom He pleases. Allah cares for all, and He knows all things." (2: 247)

The following verse condemns spending of wealth against the cause of God:

"The Unbelievers spend their wealth to hinder (man) from the path of Allah, and so will they continue to spend; but in the end they will have (only) regrets and sighs; at length they will be overcome: and the unbelievers will be gathered together to Hell." (8: 36)

The following verse clearly condemns love of wealth over love of Allah,  His Messenger and His cause:

"Say: If it be that your fathers, your sons, your brothers, your mates, or your kindred; the wealth that ye have gained; the commerce in which ye fear a decline: or the dwellings in which ye delight - are dearer to you than Allah, or His Messenger, or the striving in His cause; then wait until Allah brings about His decision: and Allah guides not the rebellious." (9: 24)

Wealth not spend in accordance with the commands of God will prove to be fire in the Hereafter:

On the Day when heat will be produced out of that (wealth) in the fire of Hell, and with it will be branded their foreheads, their flanks, and their backs - "This is the (treasure) which ye buried for yourselves: taste ye, then, the (treasures) ye buried!" (9: 35)

Allah condemns those wealthy persons who refuse to be part of Jihad in Allah's way:

When a Surah comes down, enjoining them to believe in Allah and to strive and fight along with His Messenger, those with wealth and influence among them ask thee for exemption, and say: "Leave us (behind): We would be with those who sit (at home)." (9: 86)

Those who use their wealth for the rightful cause are admired:

But the Messenger, and those who believe with him, strive and fight with their wealth and their persons: for them are (all) good things: and it is they who will prosper. (9: 88)

And Qur'an makes it clear that though wealth is good for the comforts of life, it is the conduct that is more important:

Wealth and sons are allurements of the life of this world: But the things that endure, good deeds, are best in the sight of thy Lord, as rewards, and best as (the foundation for) hopes. (18: 46.)

And it is clarified that wealth does not necessarily mean everything:

"Do they think that because We have granted them abundance of wealth and sons, We would hasten them on in every good? Nay, they do not understand." (23: 55-56)

Wealth is not to be monopolized, and every effort is to be made to make sure that the needy get their share:

"What Allah has bestowed on His Messenger (and taken away) from the people of the townships, belongs to Allah, to His Messenger and to kindred and orphans, the needy and the wayfarer; In order that it may not (merely) make a circuit between the wealthy among you. So take what the Messenger assigns to you, and deny yourselves that which he withholds from you. And fear Allah, for Allah is strict in Punishment." (59: 7)

Dangerous economics

The Qur'an establishes a three-dimensional system comprising fundamental rights, fundamental duties and fundamental prohibitions. Economics related to fundamental prohibitions has become massive in the current world order leading to serious problems at the individual, family, social, national and international level. I have coined the term dangerous economics for the economics related to prohibitions because this is responsible for the death of at least 60 million human beings every year. These include death related to sex transmitted diseases, abortions, alcohol and gambling related problems. Dangerous economics relates to the businesses related to sex, alcohol, gambling, usury, etc, which Qur'an prohibit. The verses related to these are very well known.

Qur’anic philosophy of peace economics

To understand the true nature, scope and extent of the Islamic philosophy of economics however, we will have to discuss in detail what Qur’an intends and how the aims of Islamic philosophy are different from the current philosophy.

1. The current economic philosophy that rules the world revolves around economic fundamentalism, which dominates all the spheres of life. Its overriding influence can be seen in all the programs at every level and in every field. Islamic economic philosophy is based on the supremacy of peace, which is a comprehensive state covering individuals, family and society; human peace, health, security and welfare are the guiding factors, and howsoever strong are the economic reasons, any activity that threatens comprehensive peace cannot be permitted.

2. In Islam, economics cannot be seen or developed separately from the grand objectives of the system; the economic system has not only to work within the framework of fundamental rights, fundamental duties and fundamental prohibitions but has to play a proactive role in achieving those objectives. In the current economic scenario, market forces rule and play the most decisive role in determining what is good or bad for society; their interests are often directly opposite to the interests of a healthy, secure and peaceful society.

3. In Islam, all actions are economic activities but it makes a clear distinction between prohibited, undesirable, desirable and highly desirable activities depending upon their effects on society. An activity that is prohibited cannot be allowed to take place; if it takes place, the culprits will have to be punished in accordance with the procedure of Law, the punishment being proportional to the dangers posed by the activity. In the current international system dominated by the market, only an activity that is supportive of the market interests is a desirable economic activity; other activities are either totally disregarded or are given minimal importance. I will give a few interesting examples. Suppose, a patient comes to a doctor friend and receives medical care worth $20. But the doctor obliges him by not taking any charges from him. In return, the patient, a car mechanic, rectifies his car, an activity for which he would normally charge $20. But he obliges his doctor friend by not charging anything. Now, these activities will not find any place in the Gross Domestic Product of the country, as no currency has been exchanged. If on the other hand, the mechanic would have given the doctor $20 and the doctor would have given the mechanic $20, an economic activity of $40 would have been recorded. If a woman serves food to her husband, she performs no or an insignificant economic activity but if she serves food to a customer in a hotel, this becomes a significant economic activity. If one sleeps in one's own house, howsoever palatial it is, he does not perform a significant economic activity, but if he sleeps in a hotel, howsoever cheap it is, it again becomes a significant economic activity.

4. The aims and objectives of Islamic philosophy of economics are for the whole world, not just for the Muslim world. Its aims are: (1) To ensure the overall peace in society at every level: individual, family, national and international; (2) To ensure that no individual or group of individual indulges or is made to indulge in any activity that is dangerous to their own health or the health of others or for the general level of peace and security of society; (3) To ensure that all the activities are duly rewarded in accordance with their benefices for society or punished in accordance with their hazards. (4) To ensure that while individuals are given adequate freedom to engage in economic activities of their liking, society acts proactively to reverse any large scale disparities and prevent all forms of exploitation; (5) To ensure that the disabled, the less privileged, the needy and the ones who sacrifice themselves for larger aims are duly protected, socially and economically; (6) To ensure that the diverse abilities of individuals are given societal and economic support.

Unfortunately, "Islamic Economics" has been reduced to Islamic finances meant for Muslims and has failed to address the needs of the world. An article, "Islamiceconomic jurisprudence", appearing on Wikipedia and "Islamic Economics" says:

"Islamic economics is economics in accordance with Islamic law. Islamic economics can refer to the application of Islamic law to economic activity either where Islamic rule is in force or where it is not; i.e. it can refer to the creation of an Islamic economic system, or to simply following Islamic law in regards to spending, saving, investing, giving, etc. where the state does not follow Islamic law." The definition fails to capture the Qur’an's philosophy of economics and does nor indicate the basic aims of the Islamic economics. In the following definition, I have tried to capture the true nature of Islamic economics:

"Islamic economics refers to the establishment of a world order where people, individuals or groups, are free to earn their livelihood through rightful use of the provisions of God and their abilities, natural or acquired, without the violations of the true goal of Comprehensive Peace that Qur’an envisages, that is within the boundaries of the three-dimensional system of fundamental rights, fundamental duties and fundamental prohibitions, and the establishment of a system that ensures comfortable living for each and every human being including those who are in a disadvantageous position, temporarily or permanently, due to some reason."

It needs to be emphasized that economics is not just about the currency but is also about the work and services; it is not just about the goods and services produced by the big industry but also about the services of all kinds and goods of all kinds produced by all the individuals and all the groups, small or big; and it is not just about the calculation of Gross Domestic Product, annual growth and per capita income but also about the effects produced on individual's health, family peace, social order and national and international peace. The position taken in the above statement is quite different from the current international definitions of economics as well as from the so-called Islamic economics. The modern economic system dominated by market economics is not ready to accept anything that restricts its functioning, does not care about the adverse effects of economic activities and is not interested in helping the needy at the cost of the interests of the market; if it makes any concessions it is only for political reasons so that their position does not face any substantial challenge from society. "Islamic Economics" on the other hand is more or less the continuation of the modern economic system with minor adjustments to suit the religious requirements so that the money of Muslims can be attracted and the clerics are kept in good humor. Islamic finance simply involves legal tricks to make it look compatible with Shariah in finer details without changing in any substantial degree the economic philosophy behind the system, which continues to be nearly the same as that of the market economics. It is only a legal exercise, nothing better than the other famous Shariah tricks like Halala and Tamleek. The effects of such a financial system, especially in absence of a coexistent fiscal policy based on the spirit behind the Qur’anic directives, are only marginally different from that of the modern financing systems. In addition, it is an abysmal failure in influencing in any way the direction of the globalization, which revolves around the commercialization of not only human strengths but also of human weaknesses. — The author is executive chairman, International Centre for Applied Islamics, Director PEACE & Chief Editor, "Islam, Muslims & the World". He has authored more than a dozen books including "The Devil of Economic Fundamentalism:, "The Killer Sex", "Islamic Model for Control of AIDS", "Family Planning in Islam", "Islam means Peace" and "Rediscovering the Universe". His coming books are "Scientific and Social Concepts derived from Qur'an" and "Westernism: the Ideology of Hegemony.”

 

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