Economic Values

Human behaviour is regulated, to a large extent, by socially approved set of values and beliefs. No study of human behaviour can be true, if it is detached from the perspective provided by the values of the society. The received doctrine in economics studies human behaviour but the set of values in which it has been conceived is rarely made explicit. The various theories of economics have been evolved in the West on the basis of the studies made of the behaviour of the people living in the Western societies. These theories are, therefore, relevant and understandable to a Western reader without any explicit statement of the values and beliefs. It is only when these theories are studied by the Eastern readers that a proper and explicit description of the values of Western society needs to be made so that the analysis is understood in its perspective. But this is hardly ever done and the content of knowledge is often transmitted without specifying its value assumptions. To avoid this fallacy we shall like to make our value premises explicit.           

The Islamic society regulates the behaviour of people by a certain set of values. Some of these values influence economic behaviour of people in a vital way. By economic, we mean activities of the people relating to production, exchange and consumption of goods and services. These values lay down a pattern of desirable behaviour which is socially approved and confirmed. For a respectable living in an Islamic society a normal Muslim will like to adhere to this behaviour pattern. The real function of these values is to sustain the legal framework. The law can be enforced in its true spirit only when there is a willing sub mission to it. This voluntary submission is obtained by educating people in a socially desirable pattern of behaviour. The Shari‘ah has instituted the concept of ‘amr bil ma‘ruf wan nahi ‘anil munkar (exhorting the good and warding off the evil). A social conscience is built through this institution to act as a watchdog on the people. Departure from the approved course is met by social rebuke. Pressure is built on the person who aberrates from the desirable behaviour. The grip of social approval has been strengthened by the institution of ‘family’ which includes all near and distant relations. Each family acts as an overseer of the behaviour of his members. Thus a person can adopt an ‘unapproved’ course at the risk of being ‘outlawed’ by the family. Not only this, he may also be liable to legal action if he violates any law. But the force of law operates only in extreme cases.

The economic values of Islam can be divided into two parts, positive and negative. The positive values define the desirable course of action. For example, one is required to adopt the policy of ‘adl (jus­tice), ihsan (magnanimity), amanah (honesty), ta‘awun (cooperation) and hospitality etc; with others. In personal matters he is expected to remain steadfast and show perseverance at moments of economic distress. Instead of indulging into haram activities one should adopt virtues of sabr (patience) and qan‘aa (contentment). It does not mean, as understood by most of the orientalists, that one should be fatalistic about his economic conditions. It only means that the framework of halal-haram should not be violated in any case. Within that framework all efforts are valuable.           

The negative values define those traits of behaviour which should be avoided. For example one should not cheat others in mutual dealings. Similarly, hirs (greed), iktinaz (amassing wealth) shu‘h (niggardliness) zulm (depriving others from their due rights) are some of the examples of negative values.           

The economic values of Islam are a pre-requisite for successful functioning of an Islamic economy. Through an educational process these values will have to be inculcated in the people before any serious effort is made to implement the economic teachings of Islam.

1) Abu Huraira reported that Allah’s Messenger (Sall Allah-o-alaihe wa sallam) said: “One who makes efforts (for earnings to be spent) on a widow and the destitute is like a striver in the cause of Allah”; and I think he also said: “He is like one who constantly stands for prayer and observes fast without breaking it.”

2) Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger (Sall Allah-o-alaihe wa sallam) as saying: “He who alleviates the suffering of a brother out of the sufferings of the world, Allah would alleviate his suffering from the sufferings of the Day of Resurrection, and he who finds relief for one who is hard pressed, Allah would make things easy for him in the Hereafter and he who conceals (the faults) of a Muslim, Allah would conceal his faults in the world and in the Hereafter. Allah is at the back of a servant so long as the servant is at the back of his brother, and he who treads the path in search of knowledge Allah would make that path easy, leading to Paradise for him and those persons who assemble in the house among the houses of Allah (mosque) and recite the Book of Allah and they learn and teach the Qur’an (among themselves) there would descend upon them the tranquility and mercy would cover them and the angels would surround them and Allah makes a mention of them in the presence of those near Him, and he who is slowpaced in doing good deeds, his (high) descent does not make him go ahead.” 

Abu Huraira reported that a person said: “Allah’s Messenger, I have relatives with whom I try to have close relationship. but they sever (this relation). I treat them well, but they treat me ill. I am sweet to them but they are harsh towards me.” Upon this he (the Holy Prophet) said: ‘If it is so as you say, then you in fact throw hot ashes (upon their faces) and there would always remain with you on behalf of Allah (an angel to support you) who would keep you dominant over them so long as you adhere to this (part of righteousness).”

3) Abu Sa‘id al-Khudri reported: “While we were with the Apostle of Allah (Sall Allah-o-alaihe wa sallam) on a journey, a person came upon his mount and began to stare on the right and on the left. (It was at this moment) that Allah’s Messenger (Sall Allah-o-alaihe wa sallam) said: ‘He who had an extra mount should give that to one who has no mount and he who has surplus of provisions should give them to him who has no provision and he made mention of so many kinds of wealth until we were of the opinion that none of us has any right over the surplus’.”


Source: Economic Teachings of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him): A Select Anthology of Hadith Literature on Economics, Muhammad Akram Khan. Republished with permission.
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