Is Islamic Economics for Muslims only?
Many authors are on the record with a negative answer to this
question. They say that the message of Islam is universal, and
teachings of the Quran applicable to all human beings. Our discipline
of Islamic economics should also be universal. After considerable
thought, I have come to believe that at the present, we should limit
our intended audience to Muslims only, and target a Muslim audience
for product development both on the theoretical and the practical
front. It is only at a later stage that efforts to engage with the
West may prove useful. I would like to record the reasons for this view.
The initial lines of the Quran specify that it “contains guidance for
those with Taqwa.” In Surah `abs, the Prophet (s.a.w.) was chided for
turning away from the blind believer to address a group of
unbelievers. Thus there is plenty of Islamic precedent to support that
idea that in many situations, addressing believers primarily is the
main concern. It seems an impossible task to try to convince those who
disagree with us about the fundamentals of Islam about the validity or
rationale of Islamic economics. Furthermore, there is substantial loss
to us from making such an attempt. Islam is indeed universal, but it
is up to us Muslims to demonstrate this by providing a living model.
We cannot ask the West to live according to Islamic principles when we
do not do so ourselves.
Any genuine Islamic Economics must take Quran and Hadeeth as
axiomatic. This assumption is not shared with a Western audience. Any
article addressing a Western audience will necessarily compromise on
this issue. One cannot afford to discuss and establish from scratch
foundational principles, if we are going to build upon them. Some
authors have suggested starting with positive principles of human
behavior described in Islamic texts. This is in line with Quranic
recommendation of starting from common bases when addressing
Christians, or unbelievers. However, the strength of Islam lies in its
normative principles, and this is where conventional economics cannot
hope to match us. To throw away our comparative advantage just for the
privilege of talking to a Western audience seems foolish.
Ultimately, it is not talk or theory which will change the world. The
Prophet s.a.w. started with a society where people used to kill for
trivialities and bury their own daughters. He transformed them into
people who fed others while remaining hungry, as the Quran testifies.
Western social science is descriptive, and the ideal scientist is a
passive and uninvolved, objective observer. In contrast, Islam gives
us the responsibility of transforming our inner beings and thereby the
whole world. Success of Islamic economics will depend on creating a
model of a society of people who care for each other, a living
demonstration of an alternative to the selfish society. Efforts to
communicate with the West at this early stage tie us to their
methodology of observation, description, and neutrality, which is
counterproductive for Islamic economics.
To evaluate the effects of economic actions, Western economists refer
to a fairy tale world populated entirely by cold, calculating and
callous monsters with no social feelings. In this world, everyone is
perfectly informed about all possibilities, there are no transaction,
communication or transportation costs, and everyone calculates, to the
last penny, the actions which will be most beneficial to their selfish
interest. Economists evaluate economic policies solely in terms of
their effects on the wealth of these imaginary individuals living in
this never-never land. In social and political arenas, the wonders of
this imaginary world are idealized and promoted, and aggressive action
to change the world to bring it closer to this ideal are undertaken.
The realization that this ideal will never actually be achieved does
not discourage followers of this economic ideology from struggling to
bring the world closer to their dreams.
Islam offers an alternative vision of a society based on cooperation
and community harmony, people who take care of each other in times of
need, and an economic system to match. Historically, Islamic
civilization has taken much better care of its disadvantaged and poor,
as well as minorities (by offering them religious and cultural
freedom), than any others, including current European civilizations.
Looking at the poor state of Islamic societies today, many are
skeptical and dubious about these statements and regard them as myths
and idealizations of the past. However, it is on the record that abut
one third of the land in the Ottoman empire was devoted to Awqaf,
meant for benevolent and charitable projects, and served entirely by
private citizens. Studies of charity even today show that Muslims give
much more to the poor than comparably endowed communities.
Success in Islamic economics will not depend on theoretical
developments, but will depend on our ability to create a
transformation in our society which serves as a model for others.
Obviously, we cannot hope to create this transformation in the West,
which does not share our ideals and goals. We must first create a
living model within Islamic societies. This is why it is essential to
target our efforts towards Muslims in the first instance.