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The Core Issue & its Redressal

That being the point of departure, it is submitted that the real problems that humanity faces today relate to the basics of moral and human situation. A Western philosopher has very beautifully put it when he says, “that we have learned to fly in the skies like the birds, and to swim in the oceans like the fishes but we have not learned to live on poor earth as good human beings”. That is the real issue. What is a human being? A human being is a composite of soul and body. The moment the soul comes out of the body we are a carcass, which begins to smell and stink. Its only disposal is burial in the earth. The flaw is in the very approach of the West to human life and destiny. Secular civilizational paradigm is at the root of all the problems of our age. Whether it is economics, social disciplines, or political order, all are concerned with the physical aspects only, as if the soul does not exist. As if spirit has no existence. As if nothing exists beyond this physical dimension. Ethics and morality give way to expediency and vested interests. Need is sacrificed at the alter of greed. Religion is rejected as irrelevant. Competition takes over compassion. Piety is eclipsed by profit. Freedom drives towards anarchy. All this because of one fatal error: Forgetting the Creator and consequent split between material and moral, between physical and spiritual.

To be human, one has to recognize his God, his Creator, his Master. If man is living by severing his relationship with his Creator, then whatever be the extent of material affluence or scientific innovation and technological development, the end result is bound to be disastrous. It is not just a matter of expression or language. The 20th Century has been the century of mass destruction of human beings. As stated earlier, if you consider all the world wars known to history over several thousand years taken together, then the human toll only in the 20th Century was more than that. And in wars, mass destruction alone is not the main form of human suffering. Poverty, hunger, disease, vandalism, violence, crime, genocide, class warfare, racial discrimination, gender exploitation, ethnic cleansing – name them and they are there in full measure. And I humbly submit that it could not have been otherwise. If one does not look towards his life and problems in the perspective of the Divine Guidance, and from the moral dimensions of life, ignoring the organic reality of the body-soul integration, the results cannot be different. The Qur’an makes it very clear that departure from the Right Path produces disruption, corruption and repression in the lands and seas. And that it is only through Allah’s remembrance that hearts attain contentment.

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Verily it is only in the remembrance of God that the heart attains contentment.”

Islam’s response to these challenges is very simple and very direct. It wants to make all humans into better human beings. It is only by adopting a human and moral approach that man’s problems, political, social, economic, national, international can be solved. That is the key. Islam has given comprehensive guidance in respect of all dimensions of life including economics. The movement for Islamic Economics is a part of a total human effort towards Islamization of life and culture. Islamic economics cannot be seen in isolation. It is the heart that needs to be taken care of. It is the motives that have to be influenced and purified. It is the objectives of life that have to be recast. Then only will one seek human fulfillment, not merely by making skyscrapers but by alleviating human misery and ensuring that along with one’s own well being, the well being of others, in fact of all human beings and the human habitat take place. It has to be realized that we all belong to one human family in which we have to share. We have no right to aggrandize wealth and power by cutting others’ throats. We all can prosper if we learn to live with each other and for each other. This is the real transition that Islam wants us to seek. This represents a major stage in the moral evolution of man – in man’s rendezvous with destiny.

Islam achieves this objective by making all economic efforts take place within a moral framework. This is done by establishing a just socio-economic order. Compassion, brotherhood and sharing are its motivating and cementing forces. But Islam does not believe merely in charity, which is a very limited concept. In Islam, giving others their due is a right, not simply an optional virtue. With regard to Zakah, the Qur’an says that Zakah is a haq i.e. a right of the poor on the wealth of the rich.

“And in their wealth and possessions is the right of the needy, (the one who may ask), and for those who suffer deprivation (and might not even ask)”

Ignoring the rights of orphans is regarded by Allah as equivalent to the denial of the very din, the shari’ah and the Day of Judgement. The Qur’an says:

“Have you seen him who denies the din (i.e. all moral law and the Day of Judgement)? He is the one who repulses the orphan and urges not the feeding of the needy”

The message is very significant. What constitutes denial of din, i.e. the moral law, the code of Islamic life, and the Day of Judgement, is not confined to refusal to subscribe to the faith. Actions, which involve denial of rights of others under the Divine Law, have the same consequence. This is the beauty of the Qur’anic approach. See how the moral and the material are integrated. The Qur’an says:

“O you who believe! When the call is proclaimed for the Salat on the day of Friday, come to the remembrance of Allah and leave off business, that is better for you if you did but know! And when the prayer is completed, disperse in God’s land and seek His bounty (i.e. fruits of economic effort) yet remember Allah profusely so that you may prosper.”

So, Allah’s zikr and economic effort go together. Life is one integrated whole. Moral and material are two sides of the same coin. When they go hand in hand, they are a blessing. When that link is not there, material wealth can become a monster. Today’s economic problems are there because that link has been severed with the result that we have made a monster out of economics. Yet the monster is not uncontrollable. We can tame it and make it subservient to the moral and the human, if we once again bring it into the framework of Allah’s zikr. Then economic power and affluence can become a blessing. Islam has not stopped at guiding man at this morally motivated and human well-being centered approach. The shari‘ah has provided essential guidelines for man’s economic and collective life as well as personal ethics.

Of course, Islam has given detailed guidance, clearly spelling out what is permissible and what is forbidden about property rights, about economic efforts, about how to fight poverty, about social security, about elimination of Riba, about business ethics, about distributive justice, about the economic role of the state. All of this is there. It is not possible to give all the details in this short presentation. These are part of our literature. My effort is to concentrate upon the core issue. Details can be worked out and have been amply articulated by the ulama and Islamic economists, particularly in the last three decades. This has been done in a language that can be easily understood by economic practitioners of our time.

The message that is to be conveyed is to rediscover the link between the moral and the economic, the spiritual and the material. The unique ethos of Islamic economics is characterized by this integrated and holistic approach. Right of property is a central issue in all economic systems. The uniqueness of the Islamic approach lies in laying down that one who owns, controls or manages property is a trustee and not sovereign owner or its master. All our belongings are with us as a trust and as trustees, we have a right to use them but to do so within the moral framework laid down for us. Our position in this world as Muslims is that of God’s deputies and vicegerents (khulafa). Istikhlaaf is our real status and mission. Khalifa is one who lives and strives in accordance with the guidance and value framework which Allah and His Prophet (pbuh) have given. This is what Istikhlaaf means. It is a very positive concept to make the world in the light of the Divine Guidance. It cannot brook any form of renunciation, abdicating or renouncing of life. It is a positive concept, grooming men and women to face the challenges of life and history. We have to strive for the achievement of a noble mission. It is a calling to build the world, to create history that moves us towards the fulfillment of the prophetic mission. The Muslim ummah can never even think to withdraw or be despondent. Our obligation is to strive and to be always hopeful. Allah says:

“You are indeed the best community which has ever been brought forth for the good of mankind: you enjoin the doing of what is right and forbid the doing of what is wrong and you believe in God.”

The great event in the life of the Prophet (pbuh), known as ‘Isra and Mi‘raj must have been in the knowledge of all. On that occasion, just a year before the historic hijrah to Madina, the Prophet (pbuh) was taken by Gabriel from Makkah to Al-Quds and then to the high heavens. In this ascension, the Prophet (pbuh), reached so close to Allah Subhanahu wa Ta‘ala, that even Gabriel had to part ways at a stage. A great mystic of India, Hazrat Abdul Quddus Gangohwi while reflecting on this event says, that:

“Muhammad (pbuh) was a strange man, after reaching that close to Allah he came back. Had I been there, I would have never come back.”

Alama Muhammad Iqbal invites us to reflect upon it. The great mystic represents the limited approach to religion: seeking personal salvation. What would be a higher glorification and state of illumination for a slave of Allah to be that close to Allah, the Master. For him this is fulfillment. Nothing to go beyond. Not for Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). The uniqueness of the Prophet (pbuh), lies in the fact that after reaching that close to Allah and seeking illumination from the Lord, he comes back to the world so as to illuminate the world, to produce a new man, a new society, a new history, a new civilization – that is Islam! That is the prophetic approach to life and society. That is the Islamic calling! And it calls us to a challenging and uphill task.

There are people who are scared of the challenge. The submission in this context is that one should neither be unrealistic nor in any way despondent. Those who believe in Allah cannot be despondent.

“Oh you servants of Mine who have transgressed against your own selves!  Despair not of God’s mercy: behold Allah forgives all sins.”

We have to have hope. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Allah has promised success if we discharge our duties diligently and sincerely. We have to fulfil our part by being Mumin and then things will change. They will not change without effort and sacrifice, without struggle, without Jihad. But they are destined to change. If we strive and fulfil our duty and seek Allah’s guidance and help, things will change.

Those who are overwhelmed by the apparent economic and military power of the dominant civilization, they should look into history to see how great powers of the past have ended up in the dustbins of history. There had been dominant powers in every age. Yet history is a graveyard of 36 world powers and great civilizations whose story has been recorded. In our own times, we have seen the fate of the Great Britain, which once ruled over more than 1/4th of the world. America was a British colony only two centuries back. King George III was the supreme ruler of what was to become a superpower at the end of the 20th century. The British were so proud of their world dominance, so arrogant of their position, that they coined new idioms in the English language like, ‘Britannia rules the waves’, and that ‘ The sun never sets in the British Empire.’  But where is that Britain of the 19th and early 20th century. Britannia had to waive the rule and now there are days and even weeks, when the sun never rises in what has been left of the British Empire!

America was a colony until the mid 18th century, then it emerged as a regional power. And now the only superpower, or call it hyper power. But what about Soviet Russia? Most of us have seen the power and the glamour of Russia as a superpower. Need I remind you that Russia’s powerful Secretary General Khrushev, was so arrogant in his claim to bury Capitalism that in the UN General Assembly, he put his foot on the desk. But where is that Soviet Union? Even that name does not exist. East Europe and Central Asia have become free. The Soviet Empire has disintegrated. It is now begging for loans to meet its earlier commitments. This is how days and nights change, not for humans only but also for super powers. America, at the end of the Second World War in 1945, controlled 50 per cent of the total world wealth, but now it controls around 24 per cent of the world GDP. This great power could not fight and succeed in Vietnam. Despite superior technology, once the American casualties passed a certain limit (50,000), the superpower had to retreat. They could not fight in Lebanon, where 287 marines were killed in one guerrilla attack and the US President called for unilateral withdrawal. They could not fight in Somalia where only 30 US soldiers had died. If a nation is not prepared to die for its ideals, only economic wealth or technological superiority will not keep it as a superpower forever. So why be despondent? We are weak today, this is a fact. We should not gloss over realities. But history tells us that the weak of today can be the strong of tomorrow, and the powerful of today could be thrown in the dustbin of history the day after, provided, and this is important, provided that we do what is required of us. We were strong yesterday. But we did not do our duty and fell off. We are beginning to rise again. But this process can culminate in glory and power, only if we follow Allah’s laws. This lesson is very clear. Allah says:

“By the token of time, verily Man is in loss, except those who believe and do righteous good deeds, and who commend one another to the truth, and recommend one another to patience.”

This is a Divine commitment. This provides us with an agenda for progress and salvation. Faith, righteous behavior and a life of struggles commending righteous deeds to one another and supporting one another with patience and perseverance. This is the path to success. We may see the light of glory with our own eyes if we follow this path. Things are bound to change. While struggle in the path of truth and virtue is its own prize, but Allah has also promised that we shall succeed only if we are true to our faith.

“Be not, then faint of heart, and grieve not, for you are bound to succeed if you are truly believers.”

While one’s eyes should always be on the real reward in the life to come (Akhira) there is every hope Muslims shall rise high and Allah’s will shall prevail in the world, if Muslims are prepared to do the needful. If Muslims are committed to do that, things will change and bear fruits in their lifetime and beyond, insha’Allah. Muslims are assured of success here and salvation in the hereafter. Allah’s Sunnah and Muslims own history are witness that results do appear and things do change, provided a people make ceaseless effort!  Present is struggle, future is Islam – insha’Allah.


Source: Contemporary Economic Challenges and Islam, Khurshid Ahmed. Republished with permission.