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 ‘Isms’ have no place in Islam

By Israrul Haque



Friday, 17 April 2009  -  21 Rabi Al-Thani 1430 H  



IN the realm of Materialism, wealth, bodily satisfaction and sensuous pleasures are either the only or the greatest values one can attain or seek. It has provided the foundation for the commercial culture, which has gone from strength to strength over the years and has multiplied “wants” far beyond the ability of resources to satisfy.

In this materialistic age, most of humanity has become slaves to wealth, fashion, and other luxuries. Materialism – a logical consequence of the denial of God – holds that matter is fundamental constitute of the universe, which is not governed by intelligence, purpose or final causes.

Any material civilization prides itself on show and parade. In the absence of a moral dimension, material possessions and satisfaction from them become an end to themselves. Satisfaction does not mean ‘need’ fulfillment, but rather ‘greed’ fulfillment, or getting ahead of others. Ostentation and getting ahead of friends and neighbors become the ideal pattern of behavior. But conspicuous consumption creates only temporary satisfaction. Symptoms of disaffection and hostility are reflected in all aspects of life.

Utilitarianism – reinforced by materialism, provides the logical rationale for the single-minded pursuit of wealth and bodily pleasures. It projects ‘consumption’ as the highest purpose of economic life (and ultimate justification of all human effort and toil). Everything done by the individual toward this end is justified, contributing in a major way to general moral decline.

As opposed to materialism is monasticism. Islam condemns monasticism as well and recommends its followers to adopt middle way between these two extremist ways of life.

A spiritual or a monastic lays all the emphasis on moral and spiritual aspect of life and ignores completely material aspect. He regards all economic activity as a vice and economic struggle as a sinful act.

The Qur’an expresses its dislike explicitly for the monastic way of life: O ye who believe! Forbid not the good things which Allah hath made lawful for you, and transgress not. Lo! Allah loveth not transgressors (5:87).

Secularism, on the other hand, reduces religion to a matter of individual preference. It deprives society of a socially agreed filter mechanism needed to create a harmony between individual self-interest and social interest.

Similarly, positivism in the conventional economics sense of being “entirely neutral between ends” or “independent of any particular ethical position or normative judgment” did not find a place in Muslim intellectual thinking. Since all resources at the disposal of human beings are a trust from Allah, and human beings are accountable before Him, there is no other option but to use them in keeping with the terms of trust. These terms are defined by beliefs and moral values.

Human brotherhood, one of the central objectives of Islam, would be a meaningless jargon if it were not reinforced by justice in the allocation and distribution of resources.

Capitalism, which was established on the principle of freedom, only addresses the materialistic side of human life. As for the moral needs such as pride and honor or as spiritual needs such as sanctification of the creator they are not recognized economically, and therefore disregarded and have no place in the economic studies. The poor distribution of commodities and services, which resulted from the concept of freedom that dominates the features of capitalism and even the current financial crisis debunks the myths of capitalism, opening the way for alternative economic systems to emerge, those who have become fascinated with the Western economic system can come to see the corruption of this system.

The United States (and the rest of the West) is dominated by the “Gospel of Acquisition.” Money buys possessions, and by the number and grandeur of possessions a person’s merit is chiefly estimated.

Communism being a part of socialism contradicts capitalism. The powerful emergence of socialism was due to the inequality which the society suffered under capitalism. But owing to its main fallacy and inadequacy regarding identifying between equity and equality it has also eventually collapsed.

Islam establishes equity, fairness and justice in the production and distribution of wealth, and in ownership of means of livelihood.

However, it recognizes that like other natural things there is no equality among human beings as regards the economic means and possession of worldly wealth. This inequality has been presented by the Qur’an as a part of Divine Economic order. The Qur’an does not consider these inequalities in the distribution of Divine sustenance as punishment or reward and does not try to eliminate them, because no two individuals have been blessed with hundred percent equal mental and physical abilities.

Taking the existence of inequalities as a part of divine scheme, the Qur’an advises its followers not to covet those things. By exalting some of you over others in rank or by favoring some of you over others in provisions, Allah in fact tries and tests the human beings whether they are thankful to Him in good circumstances and patient in bad circumstances.

The existence of economic inequalities among the people is not only natural but is also a blessing for the purification of human soul and development of human personality. Those who have scarce means of sustenance should thereby learn to be patient and contented and not to be jealous; while those who have abundant resources should thereby learn to be grateful to Allah, to be kind and benevolent to the poor and to sacrifice their possessions for the cause of Allah.

Islam, in fact, teaches the people to regard the existence of differences in wealth as a test by which Allah tries them in this world.

By granting abundance of wealth to some, Allah observes how they spend it; whether they consider it as their personal property denying the poor any share in that or they consider themselves as trustees in respect of the wealth bestowed by Allah and spend it in the way of Allah for the welfare of their poor brothers.

Allah tries the poor by straitening their sustenance whether they lose their trust in Him and become jealous of the rich or whether they keep their faith in Him and remain patient in the adverse circumstances.

Islam, therefore, does not allow the difference between the rich and the poor reach an uncontrollable limit so as to disturb the peace of society. It believes in fair and equitable distribution of incomes and wealth and ensures that the Islamic state should provide for basic human needs to all of its citizens.

Many legal and economic measures have been provided to bridge the gulf between the rich and the poor and to establish Islamic welfare state which guarantees provision of social security and secures basic needs to its less fortunate citizens.

Here we can safely conclude that Islam believes not in equal distribution but in equitable and just distribution of resources and wealth.

In modern democracies, we are told that it is the fate of minorities to suffer. Strength of numbers here becomes the passport to power and privilege. In Islam, spiritual strength or weakness does not necessarily go with physical or numerical strength.

A civilization which generates maximum human contentment is successful. Otherwise it is a sham. We should not be dazzled by the “glamour” of modern culture, but with an unbiased mind, we should dig into its roots and expose the viciousness of human nature and the dark forces of greed and exploitation which are operating under the glazed surface.

Happiness is a reflection of peace of mind, which is possible to attain only if an individual’s life is in harmony with his inner nature. This happens when both the spiritual and material urges of one’s personality are adequately satisfied. Since the spiritual and the material urges of his or her personality are not separate identities, the desired satisfaction takes place only when a spiritual dimension is injected into all material pursuits to give them meaning and purpose.



– The writer is Lecturer in Economics, Faculty of Healthcare Administration, Batterjee Medical College, Jeddah.



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