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The importance of the economic goals

No doubt, Islam is opposed to monasticism, and views the economic activities of man quite lawful, meritorious, and sometimes even obligatory and necessary. It approves of the economic progress of man, and considers lawful or righteous livelihood an obligation of the secondary order. Notwithstanding all this, it is no less a truth that it does not consider “economic activity” to be the basic problem of man, nor does it view economic progress as the be-all and end-all of human life.

Many misunderstandings about Islamic economics arise just from confusion between the two facts of considering economics as the ultimate goal of life and considering it as a necessity in order to have a prosperous life through lawful means. Even common sense can suffice to show that the fact of an activity being lawful or meritorious or necessary separate from it being the ultimate goal of human life and the center of thought and action. It is, therefore, very essential to make the distinction as clear as possible at the very outset. In fact, the profound, basic and far-reaching difference between Islamic economics and materialistic economics is just this:

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According to materialistic economics:

"Livelihood is the fundamental problem of man and economic developments are the ultimate end of human life”

While according to Islamic economics:

“Livelihood may be necessary and indispensable, but cannot be the true purpose of human life”

So, while we find in the Holy Quran the disapproval of monasticism and the order to: "Seek the benevolence of Allah." At the same time we find in the Quran to restrain from the temptations or delusion for worldly life. And all these things in their totality have been designated as "Ad-Dunya" ("the mean") — a term which, in its literal sense, does not have a pleasant connotation.

Apparently one might feel that the two commands are contradictory, but the fact is that according to the Quranic view, all the means of livelihood are no more than just stages on man's journey, and his final destination lies beyond them. That destination is the sublimity of character and conduct, and, consequently, the felicity of the other world. The real problem of man and the fundamental purpose of his life is the attainment of these-two goals. But one cannot attain them without traversing the path of this world. So, all those things too which are necessary for his worldly life, become essential for man. It comes to mean that so long as the means of livelihood are being used only as a path leading towards the final destination, they are the benevolence of Allah, but as soon as man gets lost in the mazes of this pathway and allows himself to forget his real destination, the very same means of livelihood turn into an "temptation, or delusion" into a "trial": “And know that your possessions and your children are but a trial” ( 8:28).

The Holy Quran has enunciated this basic truth very precisely in a brief verse: "Seek the other world by means of what Allah has bestowed upon you" (28:77).

This principle has been stated in several other verses too. This attitude of the Holy Quran towards "the economic activity" of man and its two aspects would be very helpful in solving problems of man of Islamic economics.

Source: Dr. Muhammad Imran Ashraf Usmani, Meezan Bank’s Guide to Islamic Banking.