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ECONOMIC RELEVANCE OF ISLAM

43 ECONOMIC RELEVANCE OF ISLAM (Dr. Ijaz A. Qamar) The present day world can be broadly divided into three main economic spheres or ideologies, i.e. Communism, Capitalism and Islam. These three systems are contending for supremacy. Capitalism and Communism are openly ranged agaisnt each other, while Islam is waiting for the outcome. Before going into any details, let me stress that the modern study of economis began as a branch of moral philosophy. Adam Smith, the originator of Capitalist theory was a moral philospher. His work entitled Wealth of Nations was not written to show us how to make a lot of money, rather how to promote just and equitable relationship among apeople. Someone has said: economics possesses a hiddden agenda and that agenda concerns the deeper question of quality of life. That’s why historically economics has been a branch of moral philosophy, rooted in ethics and therefore economic questions are ultimately religious questions. The hidden agenda in all economic discourses had to do with human values and the kind of society we want to build. Therefore, burning questions in economics are not those of macro, micro or other economics, but are about quality of life. The question arises whether capitalist system or its rival communist system is adequately responding to today’s challenges. Are these ideologies indivigually or collectively satisfying human needs and aspirations? The simple and straightforward answer is ‘No’ and that is not my answer but the answer of experts. They say both of these systems are on the defensive and in the present struggle between them lies the possibility of the destruction not only of civilization as we know it, but also of the whole life on this planet. Both Communist and Capitalist ideologies differ in philosophy and action but have some similarities as well.- Both are swayed by materialistic philosophy in practice, if not in theory. Both tend to limit their focus of achievement on the physical side of man. Both systems treat human beings as mere units of production and consumption and not relationship beings. Both reject or at least neglect the fact that human beings are made in the image of a superior being. Both seek the 44 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS meaning of life in the abundance of things possessed, but not in the quality of relationship with that superior being God, with one another and with nature. In a recent book entitled Marxism-Thoroughfare or Dead End, Eugene Loeble, a Czechoslovakian Economist, says both Communism and Capitalism have failed to realize the needs of people. The problems of a mature society cannot be solved by Marx. Engels and other reformers of Communism, teachings of the calssics of capitalism and their reformers. The world is facing an economic crisis with double digit unemployment figures in some countries and even negative economic growth in others. The ,problem is in the structure of the current economic system which is centered in the West and controlled by the North, which does not have the same interests as the South and the East. The deficiencies of the system make it unstable and weak. Will today’s form of Capitalism be replaced by state Capitalism, Socialism or perhaps facism with a friendly face? Could the failure of applied Marxism in the East provide valuable lessons for the Capitalist West? We dont know the answers to these questions at least in the short run, but we do know that the world is looking for an alternative. What we need is a new economic order which is equitable and fair to everyone. My thesis in this short paper is that the Islamic order is that alternative and is relevant to the needs and requirements of this age. Islam being a holistic and comprehensive religious order provides for a system which secures the widest and most beneficent distribution of wealth through institutions and devices it has established. As a matter of fact mal-distribution of economic wealth between and among the rich and poor individuals and nations is the basis of most of the animosities and conflicts of today. A full and complete equality, however, may be an economic misnomer and may not be desirable as a public policy. In Capitalism the wealth of a nation is amassed into the hands of a limited few and the rest of the nation becomes their prey. It is on account of this inequality that Communism originated and gained its roots and went to the other extreme. No economic system could be regarded a just system unless it dealt with both the production of wealth and its distribution in such a manner that the wealth does not get amassed in the hands of a few only. Communism tried to achieve equality at a very high and bloody REVIEW OF RELIGIONS 45 cost and tried to allocate wealth according to the needs without even attempting to define needs which have to be catered for. The history of capitalism shows us that the Capitalist countries tend to rob other countries so that they get more and more rich by grabing the rights of individuals and seizing the wealth of other people and nations. As apposed to this, the Communist nations not only ravished and pounced upon the wealth of individuals but also put them to torture. Islam does not at all favour tyranny and injustice. It recognizes the diversity of capacities and talents and consquently the diversity in ‘earnings and material rewards. Islam does not approve of a dead level equality in the distribution of wealth as that would defeat the very purpose of diversity and would amount to denying the favours of God. It is obvious that if the incentives of proportionate rewards of labour,’effort, skill and talent were to be removed, not only would initiative and enterprise be adversely affected, but also intellectual progress would be arrested as well. That is why theoretical doctrines of equal reward irrespective of the diversity of skills etc. has never been maintained for long despite state policies. On the other hand, Islam does not leave the principle of competition and proportionate reward to work itself out mechanically, that too would lead to injustice and hardship. Islam lays down that God has created the means of producing wealth for the good of mankind as a whole. It does not admit monopoly of any one individual or a section of the society. The means of production are open to all without distinction. Natural results of individual capacities are accepted in Islam. It is true that to help others and to work for others is a noble human instinct and Islam takes full account of this side of human nature. Islam is peculiar in establishing equality of opportunity for all human beings. Holy Prophet Mohammad has said: an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor has a non-Arab any superiority over an Arab, nor do the white have any preference over the dark, nor have the dark any preference over the white, excepting, of course, what an individual can acquire by personal qualities, morals, intelligence, and self-effort. Now let us come to some specifics. Islam has banned usury (roughly equivalent to interest). By doing this Islam has destroyed an instrument of upsetting economic balance. For it is this taking of 46 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS interest that destroys the equilibrium between man and man. The institution of interest turns capital into a dreadful monster. If we stop dealing in interest we will find trade and business slipping out of the hands of the few owners. The general wealth of the country will either pass into the hands of the government or become fairly distributed in the whole community. The prohibition of interest also prevents the rich from exploiting the poor. To say that the present day business cannot be run without the institution of interest is an illusion bred by present westridden conceptions. It may be true that the prohibition of interest, if taken in the broad sense, does not fit in the frame of modern world conditions, but the high ideal which Islam brought is not unworkable. After all, before the rise of the West, trade and commerce were carried on in great part of the world without this capitalist device of interest. Under present economic strategies followed by various nations, it may be difficult to operate a zero rate of interest which was first introduced by Islam some 1400 years ago and is being advocated by leading economists of today. Secondly Islam instituted the paying of Zakat which is levied at varying rates on certain assets. This is not a tax on the rich on their income but on a specified limit of capital held by Muslims. The proceeds from this levy are devoted entirely to the service of the poor who have a right to this fund under Islam. This device not only advocates the cooperative basis of society but is also meant to disperse and spread accumulated wealth for the general good. The philosophy behind this levy is that the wealth is mainly due to the industry of the poor. The poor, therefore, have a rightful claim upon the wealth of society. The word Zakat signifies purifications and argumentations. This is because this tax releases the giver from the obligation he owes to those who have been instrumental in the production of wealth and because this adds to the resources of those who recieve it. In addition to Zakat tax, Islam also encourages charity. The idea is that not only should the rich and well-to-do part with a goodly portion of what they have earned with the help of the poor but should also be inspired and actuated by mutual love, affection, sympathy and fellow-feeling. Another device for a fair and equitable distribution of wealth is the Islamic law of inheritance. It lays down that on the death of a property holder, the property must be fairly divided among the near relations. Islam does not recognise primogeniture (i.e. the oldest son inheriting the whole property) and stipulates that surviving spouse REVIEW OF RELIGIONS 47 and children have an equitable and set proportion of the property. It is not merely the division of heritage that is aimed at but a fair and equitable distribution of the national wealth is also the object of the law of inheritance. After this general treatment of the subject and specific injunctions of the Islamic system, let me say that contrary to Capitalism and Communism, one excessively individualistic and the other excessively collectivistc, Islam adopts a via media, combining the good points and discarding the abuses of both. It steers clear of their evil effects and adds its own special provisions to safe-guard society. Islam admits the right of an individual to what he has earned by his effort and at the same time devises a machinery for a fair distribution of the national wealth. It leaves an open door to everyone to make use of the natural resources of wealth. Islam dictates certain acts as obligatory and certain voluntary and strengthens the economic structure with state intervention to correct wrongs being committed. It keeps alive and strengthens sentiments of love, sympathy and fellow feelings and keeps in view the spiritual relationship between the Creator and the created. It should be stated that numerous solutions have been offered to solve world economic problems at the micro and macro levels, over the decades the most constant criticism of capitalism has been its heart lessness. The critics argue that it works for the rich, the achie.vp.rs tho able, the gifted and the privileged. It oppresses and exploits the poor, the weak, the unhealthy, and the disadvantaged. Communism condemned Capitalism but in this attempt debased man further and conceived of man as merely an animal, subject to manipulation and sacrifice’ifor the! collective good of the community. Some reformers have intended to give Capitalism a heart, rather than discard the system altogether. Introduction of labour laws, for example, is such- an attempt. But radical conservatives would defend pure capitalism and say that no wizard need find Capitalism a hear it really has one in the charitable and kindly acts of individuals. To work properly, the arguments says, the economic system must recognize man as an individual governed by selfinterest. Adam Smith contended that individuals seeking self-interest by earning profits would naturally produce what society needs most. Competition would keep profits from becoming excessive. Thus the business-man seeking his own interest would be led by “an invisible hand” to the common good. 48 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS The modern society, however, does not fully trust that invisible hand. A constant and increasing intervention of governments in the economy has been motivated by a desire to improve Adam Smith’s invisible hand on behalf of the less fortunate. Thus current economic system is far from pure Capitalism. It is a mixed system, part governemnt, part private, part non-profit, and part in between. This has urged a well-known Harvard economist Kenneth Galbraith to argue that governments should manage the economy without turning Socialist Communits. It is a fact that Socialism may not be a dirty word it was a decade ago, but is still far from being popular. Another Harvard professor George Lodge proposes comprehensive state planning without state management and ownership. All such ideas are trying to give capitalist corporation a human face by asking it not to consider only its profits but also matters of broader community welfare and interest. There are other new suggestions for improving Capitalism. Thus the stereotyped economic thinking of the past is phasing out. There is more willingness to think innovatively. This willingness to consider alternatives of the prevalent system, to give it a bigger heart or a human face, can be seen by the popularity of such books as British economist E. F. Schumacher’s Small Is Beautiful & Economics As If People Mattered. Schumacher calls for technology and economy with a human face. He suggests that society should think small in regard to organization and the accumulation of material things. The patterns of production and consumption must fit into the laws of the universe. A harmony between those with wealth and power, and those without cannot exist as long as there is no idea of enough being good and more than enough being evil. Schumacher is advocating a life style which accords to material things their proper and legitimate place which is secondary and not primary. This approach is very close to what Islam takes and the moral philosopy it espouses. This takes us back to where I started that the study of economics compels us to concern ourselves more with the questions of quality of life and less with the quantitative aspects. That involves morals, ethics and religion. Islam is the only religion that can be called the most secular religion of all as it guides us in all the spheres of our life from morals and ethics to the production and distribution of wealth. What is Islam? Islam literally means Peace, surrender of one’s Will; and to be in amity and concord; The significance of the name Islam is the attainment of a life of perfect peace and eternal happiness through complete surrender to the Will of God. The Quran — the Holy Book of the Muslims — interprets it to be the religion whose teachings are in consonance with human nature. Islam, as the Quran has stated (5:4), is the completion of the religion inaugurated by Sod in the beginning of the world, on His sending the Quran through the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be on him). As a child is taught his alphabet, so God taught the religion to the world gradually and little by little, by sending His prophets at different times and to different peoples. When the world reached that stage of understanding when it was ready for the final lesson, He sent the last and complete Book through the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be on him).. This Book not only corrects the errors which had found their way into various religions, but preaches the truths which have not been preached before, on account of special circumstances of the society or the early stage of its development. At the same time it gathers together in itself the truths which were contained in any Divine revelation granted to any people for the guidance of men (The Quran 98:4). Lastly, it meets all the spiritual and moral requirements of an ever advancing humanity. This is Islam which is wrongly called Muhammadanism. According to Islam, the object of man’s life is its’complete unfoldment. Islam does not support the idea that man is born in sin. It teaches that everyone has within him the seed of perfect development and it rests solely with a person himself to make or mar his fortune. We created man in the best make says the Holy Quran (95:5). The cardinal doctrine of Islam is the Unity of Godhead. There is none worthy of worship but the one and only God, and Muhammad is His Prophet. He is free from all defects, Holy and Transcendent. He is All Good, All Mercy and All Power. He has no partner. He neither begets nor is He begotten, because these are the traits of frail and weak humanity. Furthermore, Islam helps us to establish a permanent relationship with God and to realise Him during our earthly life as our Helper in all our affairs and undertakings. This Unity of God is the first and foremost pillar of Islam and every other belief hangs upon it. Islam requires belief in all the prophets, including Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Krishna, Buddha, Confucious and Zoroaster. We regard them all (and many more not mentioned here) as heavenly teachers born to reform and regenerate man and lead him to God. Adherents of some other religions may consider it an act of piety to use disrespectful words and heap abuse on the prophets of other religions, but if a Muslim were to show the slightest disrespect towards the founder of any other faith, he does so at the cost of his own faith. He has to utter the respectful benediction Alaihis-Salam (peace be on him) after mentioning the name of every,prophet. Thus Islam establishes peace between all religions. The REVIEW of RELIGIONS The Review of Religion is the oldest magazine of its kind published in English language in the Indo-Pakistan Sub-Continent. Its first issue was published in 1902 and it has been continuously published since. It bears the distinction that it was initiated under the direction of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, the Promised Messiah himself. During more then eighty-six years the message of Islam has been conveyed through this magazine to millions of readers and many fortunate persons have recognized the truth of Islam and accepted it through its study. The articles published in it deal not only with the doctrines and teachings of Islam but also set forth a comparative appreciation of the teachings of other faiths. One of its outstanding features is the refutation of the criticism of Islamic teachings by orientalists and non-muslim scholars. It also presents solutions in the light of Islamic teachings of the problems with which the Islamic world is from time to time confronted. A study of this magazine is indispensable for the appreciation of the doctrines of the Ahmadiyya Movement and the teachings of its holy Founder. Printed by Raqeem Press, Islamabad, Tilford, Surrey GU10 2AQ, U.K. Published by The Review of Religions The London Mosque 16 Gressenhall Road London SW18 SQL