Capitalism Charity Communism Justice

Economic Justice

37The Review of Religions – May 2004 Ve r i l y, Allah enjoins justice, and the doing of good to others; and giving like kindred. (Ch.16:V.91) In order to understand the concept of ‘Economic Justice’, I will first explain the concept of justice in general – its definition and importance. Then I will discuss its application in an economic system. After establishing the importance of justice in an economy I will discuss the approach that Islam takes to tackle the issue. Finally I will discuss some specific steps that Islam suggests in order to achieve economic justice. For references, I have relied heavily on the Holy Qur’an, and the books Absolute Justice, Kindness and K i n s h i p and I s l a m ’s Response to C o n t e m p o r a ry Issues – both by Hadrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad( r a ), which provided valuable guidance. Justice is not the end, it is the means that will lead to grace and then to a spontaneous expression of love and care as experienced by a mother for her child; who would not want to have a society like that. In fact the desire for this ultimate objective, where the whole society is so harmonious that every one feels about the next person as their kin is a desire that is built in to the human psyche. All laws, philosophies, dogmas try to achieve this objective, Islam provides the way – and the first stop on this journey is justice – that is absolute justice. Absolute justice can be compared to the idea of Equilibrium and Balance in the physical world. An example can be seen in an e c o s y s t e m. A perfect balance exists between the animal kingdom and the plant kingdom; and this balance is responsible for the survival of the whole system. A slight deviation, like cutting some trees, killing some animals or introducing some new ones adversely affects the whole system. Economic Justice by Saad Ahmad – Oshkosh, USA 38 Economic Justice The Review of Religions – May 2004 Justice is in play in all spheres of life and is essential for survival. Human beings are given free will, so the true absolute justice will be defined as a conscious effort to remain on this just path. For an illustration, visualise a bullet jetting out of a muzzle. From then on it is on a fixed path governed by the natural laws. If other factors, such as winds and change of medium, influence the bullet to deviate from this set course and if again the bullet had not only the consciousness but also the ability and strength to resist these influences and continue to maintain its trajectory unruffled, then that conscious effort to remain on the right path is what is termed as absolute justice.1 Now that we have an understanding of the theory of absolute justice, let us explore its application in an economic system. Allah explained the fundamental principles of ‘economic justice’ to Prophet Adam(as) as follows: It is provided for thee that thou wilt not hunger therein, nor wilt thou be naked. And that thou wilt not thirst t h e rein, nor wilt thou be exposed to the sun. (Ch.20: Vs.119-120) Hence, at the economic level, the teachings of Adam ( a s ) c o m p r i s e four fundamental rights granted to man at the very start of the formation of society. They are: • Every person has the right to be properly fed; none will remain hungry. • Every person has the right to be adequately clothed. • Every person is guaranteed a supply of healthy water. • None will be left without shelter.2 This is the paradise of Adam(as) as depicted in the Holy Qur’an. W h y, one would ask, is Islam trying to guarantee these rights? Is is not fashionable these days to say that one needs to earn these basic needs? Is is not an expectation of these fundamental rights termed as freeloading? (A freeloader is an American slang for one who attends social gatherings for free food and drink and has begun to be applied to dependents of state 39 Economic Justice The Review of Religions – May 2004 handouts or benefits..ed). Is not the popular phrase in today’s materialistic society – equality of o p p o r t u n i t y, not equality of equity? Are you not supposed to work for a living? Would not a society encourage laziness by guaranteeing these rights? These are tough questions; for an answer let us turn to the ultimate creation of the Almighty – the human body. First part of the answer deals with the concept of cause and affect: meaning what would happen if these rights were not respected. The natural laws will work against such a society. The members of a society that will utilizse this right may not be the most vibrant contributors to the economy, they may not be paying the most taxes, they may not be the intellectuals and the thinkers; nevertheless they are parts of the same whole. Some parts of a human body contribute more to the bodily functions than others; mind is the king, heart is the government, immune system is the army, kidneys and lungs are the cleaning crew, blood vessels are the post office; all working vigorously toward the survival of the body… and then there is the small toe, lonely toe that no one cares about. That toe may not be contributing as much as the heart or the mind; but nevertheless it has some basic rights to blood, energy, nourishment etc. These rights are not a function of the org a n ’s contribution; because health of the whole body would be adversely affected even if the least important organ is deprived of these basic necessities. Ignoring an injury to the toe may cause tetanus or some other disease causing grave suffering to the whole body. This is what will happen in a society that does not guarantee the basic rights. If it does not guarantee the blood circulation to some organs from the point of view that they have done nothing to earn it, the society as a whole will suffer from painful diseases. We see implications of that every day in every society that does not follow this principle. We see young innocent children turning into gangsters and murderers. We see families losing their fathers to drugs and suicide. We see mothers abandoning their children. We see 40 Economic Justice The Review of Religions – May 2004 abortion on the rise. We see care on decline. We see apathy strengthening and empathy losing – all signs of a sick, infected, and diseased society. Why do we feel surprised on hearing such incidents? Allah has already told us the principle governing these outcomes. Allah has promised us that a guarantee of these rights will make this very world a heaven – consequently a lack of this awareness will make this world a hell. The second part of the answer deals with the ownership of the economy. There is no controversy, for example, over the right to breathe. No one is required to pay for breathing; because air is no one’s property and the mode of its circulation, as chosen by the Almighty does not involve a payment system. Source of material wealth is none other, but the same God. For its distribution, He has established a diff e r e n t system involving human beings as the carriers, just like blood is carried one way in a human body and air as another. God is still the source, so He has the ultimate right to dictate the ground rules for its distribution. Allah tells us about this rule as follows: And Allah multiplies it further for whomsoever He pleases; and Allah is Bountiful is Allah All-knowing. (Ch.2: V.262) If the heart pumps the blood to go toward the feet, no organ in between the two has any right to hoard the blood. No argument may be used to justify such an attitude by any organ, simply because it was not its blood to begin with. At any given time, one organ may be using more blood than the other, it may be using more resources than the other – but at no time is that o rgan the owner of those resources. The wealth of the society does not belong to individuals, as a capitalist might want; nor does it belong to the society, as a socialist may desire. It belongs to God and God alone. He is the only one who has the final right to decide on the methods of its distribution. Now that we have established the definition of absolute justice and its importance in an economic 41 Economic Justice The Review of Religions – May 2004 system, what guidance does Allah provide us in this regard? Hadrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad(ra), the fourth successor of the Promised M e s s i a h( a s ), explained this as follows: ‘In scientific socialism, an attempt is made to level-off the economic soil so completely and perfectly that there are no ups and downs left. If watered such a soil will get its share equally. There is no question of any demand from the have- nots nor any threat to the have- alls from the less fortunate sections of the society to forcibly rob them of their surplus wealth. In the capitalist society, they talk more of equal oppor- tunities, level playing fields and free economies than of equal distribution of wealth. Thus there is always room for the demand of rights and the creation of pressure groups such as trade unions etc. which seek the most out of the government or other capitalists for the sake of the employee and the labourer who always live under a sense of depra- vation. If scientific socialism is implemented ideally, there is no need left for any section of society to make demands. Either that society would be rich enough to equitably distribute national wealth according to the needs or it would be so poor as to have failed to fulfill even the basic needs leaving every member of the society to share equally in the misery. Either way, it would end up as a society where demand no longer has a meaningful role to play. The capitalist system, on the other hand, is demand-oriented. The less fortunate section of the society must be given the right to express its dissatisfaction and a free opportunity to be heard: hence the need for the formation of pressure groups and strikes, industrial strife, lockouts etc. Islam attempts to create an attitude whereby the govern- 42 Economic Justice The Review of Religions – May 2004 ments and the wealthy are constantly reminded that it is in their own ultimate interest to establish an equitable system. They are also constantly exhorted to be on the look out for the rights of others. The weak and the poor should not be denied their fundamental economic rights, such as freedom to chose one’s profession, equal access to opportunities, and the basic requirements of life – as discussed earlier. The lack of this very special attitude has already caused much misery, pain and disorder in the history of human struggle and survival. There is thus greater emphasis in Islam on giving than taking or keeping. The government and the wealthy must constantly be on the lookout lest there be a section of society which is deprived of the fundamental human right to live d e c e n t l y. A truly Godly state would have felt the need and taken appropriate measures for its fulfillment. Before grief turns into crises and protest and before the need threatens peace and order, the cause of grief must be removed and the need f u l f i l l e d . ’3 Islam is guaranteeing the same basic rights that a socialist system also promises but does not use the same coercive means to achieve them. Islam realises that in any society there will be wealthy and poor people, just like in a human body some organs have access to more resources than the others. Islam’s approach is not so cold as dialectical materialism either. The Islamic social system remains deeply wedded to the innate laws of the human psyche. Islam attempts to raise the consciousness and sensitivity of a society, as a whole, to such a degree whereby members of a society as a whole are concerned more about what they owe to the society than what the society owes to them. Prophet M u h a m m a d( s a ), explains these ideas in his various sayings as follows: ‘Give the laborer more than his dues. Pay him what he has earned before his sweat has dried out. Do not put those who serve under you to such tasks, as you cannot perform 43 Economic Justice The Review of Religions – May 2004 yourself. As far as possible, feed your servants with whatever you feed your family. Provide them with similar clothing. Do not transgress against the meek in any way, or you will be held responsible before God. Lest you succumb to false pride, occasionally make your servants sit on the same table with you and serve them.’ (Various Ahadith)4 It is easy to be conscious of the rights of others when the economy is doing well; it is the recession and the economic hardships that make us careless. Allah tells us to spend in good cause even in adversity: And vie with one another in asking for forgiveness fro m your Lord, and for a Paradise whose price is the heavens and the earth, pre p a red for the God-fearing those who spend in prosperity and adversity, and those who suppress anger and pardon men; and Allah loves those who do good. (Ch.3: Vs.134-135) When economy is at a low, the first victim of our budgeting is charity. We think that United Way, Salvation Army, or Red Cross will have to wait for better times in order to receive our monies. The Almighty explains to us that even in the toughest times do not hold back on charity because it is those times that the poor are suffering the most. They need the most help when the economy is at its worst. All civilised societies today have well-established institutions for charity and people do contribute toward those also; but the concept of alms, as generally understood, is double-edged. On one hand, it pays compliment to the qualities of excellence of the donor, but on the other hand, it creates an embarrassing, if not disgraceful, image of the recipient. The very act of receiving alms degrades his status. Islam revolutionises this concept. A fascinating analysis is made of why some people are poor and some are rich in the following verse of the Holy Qur’an: And in their wealth was a share for the beggar (one who asked for help) and the 44 Economic Justice The Review of Religions – May 2004 destitute (for one who could not.) (Ch.51: V.20) This verse is telling the donor that what he gives to the poor, in r e a l i t y, did not belong to him anyway. Something has to be very wrong with an economy where some people are left destitute or compelled to beg for their survival. This is not a sign of a healthy economic system. The message delivered to the recipient is that there is no need for him to be embarrassed because, in fact, God has granted him the fundamental right to survive decently and honourably. So whatever your apparent benefactor is giving to you, is your own right which somehow got transferred over to the donor. As mentioned e a r l i e r, God’s teachings are directly related to the human nature. Any injunction that is likely to disturb the equilibrium is counter balanced by corrective measures. An objection may be raised against this model on the grounds that this idea will promote f ree loading a n d the rights will be provided at the cost of decent behaviour. To remove such ills, Allah turns to the recipients and says: If you are ungrateful, surely Allah is Self-Sufficient, being independent of you. And He is not pleased with ingratitude in His servants. But if you show gratefulness, He likes it in you. (Ch.39 :V.8) Further emphasising the point, the Holy Founder of Islam(sa) reminds the believers: ‘One who is not grateful to human beings is not grateful to God either.’5 The implication is that Allah will not accept gratitude from a person who is ungrateful to fellow human beings. This message of the rights of the recipient is intended to be only a quiet message to the recipients so that they do not s u ffer from any inferiority complex and to safeguard their dignity. The inference is that to express gratitude is not against the dignity of man: on the contrary it elevates him. 45 Economic Justice The Review of Religions – May 2004 On the other hand, Allah tells the donor that it is against his dignity to accept gratitude as if he deserved it. According to Islam, the service to mankind is for a higher purpose than to satisfy the natural urge or earn good repu- tation. The acts of kindness should be for the sake of the Almighty not for any material reasons. About such people Allah says: And they feed, for love of Him, the poor, the orphan, and the prisoner, saying, ‘We feed you for Allah’s pleasure only. We desire no reward nor thanks from you. (Ch.76 :Vs. 9-10) To remove the potential ill of free loaders, Islam encourages spending more than receiving. The Holy Founder of Islam( s a ) o n c e said: ‘The hand of the donor is better than that of receiver.’6 And on another occasion he said: ‘The upper hand is better than the lower hand.’7 When Allah talks about giving and receiving it is not confined to the domain of money. Whatever Allah has given an individual should be spent in His cause. Allah says: Who believe in the unseen and observe Prayer, and spend out of what We have provided for them. (Ch.2: V.4) This covers all faculties, qualities, and also, of course, every type of material possession, human relationship and ties. The phrase also covers such values as honour, peace, comfort etc. By establishing this system Allah is giving us the recipe of a heavenly society where: • People give to others, not for personal gain, but only for the sake of the Almighty. • The donor does not expect any gratitude. He sincerely believes himself to be entrusted with the money so that it is distributed to the less fortunate. • The receiver expresses gratitude to the donor as well as to the Lord. 46 Economic Justice The Review of Religions – May 2004 • People in general want to give more than they receive. • People do not hesitate to donate their time, services, money, comfort, and any other material possession in the way of God. S u r e l y, injustice will not find home in such a society. Understanding of this philosophy makes hearts softer and more receptive to the Divine Guidance. Islam does not stop here, rather it goes a step further and provides some details. Hadrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad(ra) explains this as follows in his book Islam’s Response to Contemporary Issues: ‘Islamic economic system commences with the premise that all that is in the heaven and the earth has been created by God Who has bestowed man various provisions on trust. As a trustee, man will be held accountable for the discharge of this trust. The possession or absence of wealth is a means of trial so that both in abundance and adversity, those who are mindful of their accountability may be distinguished from those who resort to callousness and scant attention to the sufferings of the rest of the mankind.’8 The most prominent tool that Islam uses to promote circulation of wealth in a society is the system of Zakat. Zakat is one of the five pillars of Islam. The Arabic word Z a k a t literally means to purify something and in the context of a mandatory levy would mean that the residual wealth after the deduction of Zakat had rendered it pure and lawful for the believers. Zakat is a ‘tax’ on disposable assets above specific thresholds that have remained in the hands of the owners beyond one year. The exact percentage of this tax is flexible and is a function of the economic situation. The money thus collected can be utilised only for certain categories of expenditure – which have been spelled out in the Holy Qur’an as follows: The alms are only for the poor and the needy, and for those employed in connection therewith, and for those whose 47 Economic Justice The Review of Religions – May 2004 hearts are to be reconciled, and for the freeing of slaves, and for those in debt, and for the cause of Allah, and for the wayfarer – an ordinance from Allah. And allah is All- Knowing, Wise. (Ch.9: V. 60) The treasury is bound by this ordinance. No room is left here, for example, for using the collected tax for debt financing or anything of the sort. Money is collected and distributed, just like blood is distributed in the body. With Zakat, Islam sets forth another ordinance – that being the prohibition of interest. According to Islam, money is meant to be cir- culated not hoarded. Expectation of growth of money without circulation, as expected by inter- est, is like storing blood in one part of the body, expecting that it will grow. Such blood will not grow – rather it will cause clotting and may lead to death. Islamic economic system promotes joint- ventures, investments, partner- ships, share-holdings, business etc. – all means of circulation of wealth. The system of Zakat, where idle money is taxed, is intended to promote this system of circulation. If idle wealth is going to be taxed, people will be tempted to invest money into the society thus improving the health of the society. The system of the interest on the other hand promotes hoarding of wealth. The borrower is expected to pay the interest regardless of the economic condition. This encourages the companies to save for diff i c u l t periods rather than investing into society. Interest is like a parasite that eats away the very fibre of the economic system. I will end this paper with some verses from the Holy Qur’ a n which summarise the basis of this philosophy: And to Allah belongs the Kingdom of the heavens and the earth; and Allah has power over all things. (Ch.3:V.190) Allah has favored some of you above others in worldly gifts. But those more favoured will not restore any part of their w o rdly gifts to those whom 48 Economic Justice The Review of Religions – May 2004 their right hands possess, so that they may be equal sharers in them. (Ch.16:V.72) Verily, Allah commands you to make over the trusts to those entitled to them. (Ch.4:V.59) Verily, your wealth and your children are a trial. (Ch.64:V.16) Their flesh reaches not Allah, nor does their blood, but it is your righteousness that reaches Him. (Ch.22:V.38) Allah will abolish interest and will cause charity to increase. (Ch.2:V.277) In the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the night and day there are indeed signs for men of understanding; those who remember Allah, standing, sitting, and lying on their sides, and ponder over the creation of the heavens and the e a rth, say ‘Our Lord, Thou hast not created this in vain; Nay, Holy art Thou; save us then from the punishment of the Fire. (Ch.3:Vs.191-192) 1. Hadrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, A b s o l u t e Justice, Kindness and Kinship. Islam International Publications, p 26 2. Hadrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, A b s o l u t e Justice, Kindness and Kinship. Islam International Publications, p 116 3. Hadrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, I s l a m ’s Response to Contemporary Issues. Islam International Publications, p 115 4. Hadrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, I s l a m ’s Response to Contemporary Issues. Islam International Publications, p 117 5. Hadrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, I s l a m ’s Response to Contemporary Issues. Islam International Publications, p 119 6. Hadrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, I s l a m ’s Response to Contemporary Issues. Islam International Publications, p 123 7. Hadrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, I s l a m ’s Response to Contemporary Issues. Islam International Publications, p 124 8. Hadrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, I s l a m ’s Response to Contemporary Issues. Islam International Publications, p 144