Islam and Economics (1)
Man has always had to wrestle with the task of exploiting nature’s resources to extract his livelihood therefrom. In the primitive centuries, as Aristotle said, life organised itself socially “to make it possible to live: and continued, to make it possible to live well.” In the last four centuries a “science of economics” has been deduced from the statutes regulating human relations and the exchange of goods which developed through this social organisation. Faced with the vast expansion of a technology and affluence, this “science” has broken into two opposing camps.
On the one side “Capitalism” or “free enterprise” believes that nature should take its course in economics, so that an enlightened self-interest causes the genius of some finally to level out to the benefit of all. This is the doctrine for which the Western bloc stands.
On the other side “Communism” holds that the means of production must be controlled by a proletariat state, so that a just and equal sharing of all the benefits of human endeavour is imposed on society.
The rivalry for absolute power between these two ideologies hangs over the modern world with a menace like the sword of Damocles.
We must ask Marxists whether their “classless society” can be ensured by the single measure of making the means of production joint property and abolishing a moneyed class, when in fact a diversity of classes exists arising from other than economic causes. While in Soviet Socialist Republics no bourgeois propertied class exists, other classes distinguished by occupational and environmental differences do exist: e.g.
factory-workers, agriculturalists, civil servants, clerks, party officials and numberless others. Do physician and nurse receive equal pay? Or navy and engineer?
There are yet other differences amongst people which exist in reality- Lenin’s “reality in which we have to orient ourselves.” People differ in age, sex, inclinations, tastes, physical strength, appearance, reasoning powers, ideas and outlooks.
A Soviet economist recently wrote (“Economics” Vol. 2, p.216): “It is impracticable to impose absolute equality right across the board. If we were to pay professors, thinkers, politicians and inventors exactly the same as manual workers, the only end-result would be the abolition of all incentives to brainwork of any kind.”
Capitalism claims that only by private enterprise and personal property can an economy be achieved such that the standard of living of all classes constantly rises and the difference between rich and poor constantly diminishes. Against this claim must be set the report of an enquiry arranged by Walter Reuther, President of the U.S.A. United Auto Workers Union, in his capacity as chairman of the “American Society to Combat Hunger.” This committee affirms that ten million Americans suffer from undernourishment; and asks the president of the republic to declare a state of emergency in 256 cities, situated in 20 of the states, where the danger is most grave. As causes of this undernourishment, the committee cited the aftermath of World War II coupled with a number of defects in America’s internal economy The Secretary of Agriculture took extreme measures to purchase from abroad and commandeer from within all foodstuffs he could lay hands on to fill the gap (UP).
We are bound to ask, therefore, how far any regime, whatever its claims, has succeeded in equalising the classes, eliminating differences and building a sound and just society?
Both Socialist and Capitalist regimes base their systems on theories which are reverenced without any regard to moral and spiritual values. The aim of each is to increase affluence, and nothing more.
Islam’s philosophy reverences the whole man in his world setting. It orders society’s material behaviour and benefits, while at the same time legislating for moral virtues, spiritual perfections, and a higher standard of living. By this it means, not simply the material, but the mental, the spiritual, the moral, the altruistic, the philanthropic standards which enable all men to live each for all and all for each.
Western law supports property-rights and gives preference to those of capitalists over those of workers. Soviet law, in their own words, exists to strip the individual of all property rights and to extirpate capital as a personal possession, giving preference to the workers’ group throughout. Both systems are grounded in human reasoning and judgment.
But Islam’s law is grounded in Divine Revelation. Its legislation is not a human expedient. It does not set class against class; but helps each group to respect the excellence of other groups. Dictated by the Lord of all creatures for the general good and for the good of all, it permits no class to lord it over others nor allows injustice to break in. A ruler is in it only an ordinary person with a particular set of duties, himself under law, wielding power solely to ensure that the Divine commandments are obeyed in society. Since confidence reigns that God’s Law is sovereign, peace and quiet obtain.
Islam on the one hand opposes Capitalism’s doctrine that the rights of property-ownership lie outside the limits of state control, and its permitting “free enterprise” to exercise aggression and tyranny of the stronger over the weaker in an exaltation of the rights of the individual to the detriment of the rights of society as a whole: and, on the other hand, does regard the sanctity of property as a fundamental.
Prosperity is the stone on which independence and freedom are built within a social order. The common good must be the regulating principle governing personal ownership of property. Islam therefore equally opposes the Communist total rejection of private enterprise and property, which entrusts the key of bounty to the state, reducing the individual to so subordinate a position that he is left with no intrinsic value in himself as a person, being regarded as a state tool – a stomach for the state to fill and thereafter exploit, as a farmer does his horses and cattle.
Communists hold that private property is not natural to man. They aver, without advancing evidence to support the thesis, that the first communities of primitive man held all things in common in cooperation, love and brotherhood, neither did any man say that aught that he had was his own. The human “community” started as communist with everything in common and parted to each as his need required. The claim to personal ownership of anything, they contend, only developed by slow degrees until it reached the terrifying excesses it manifests in today’s world.
Their utopian “Golden Age” is, alas, a pipe-dream : for the facts show that personal ownership is not a result of the development of acquisitive tendencies in a particular environment. Property is coeval with the appearance of man on earth: it is as germane to human nature as all the other innate urges, and no more to be denied than they are. Modern economists say that the universal sense of ownership of property, which is found in every tribe on earth and in every epoch, can only be explained if it is a primal instinct. Man wants to be the sole master of the goods that minister to his needs, in order to feel truly free and independent. Further, a man feels that goods which owe their existence to the hard work of his hands are in a way an extension of himself, deserving of the same respect as he demands for the integrity of his personality. Finally, he feels the inner urge to build up a store to ensure his future and that of his family, developing thereby a thrift and economy which make him lay up a provision against a rainy day: This store he thereafter guards jealously as “his own”. The community’s wealth grows with the increase in private property and productivity, for a social unit subsists by the industry of its individual members. The incentive to hard work lies in its rewards in personal ownership and in increased ease of living. Wherefore society must concede to the individual the right to own what his toil has created, since society’s own welfare is itself a product of that toil.
Islam, with its practical and realistic approach to man as he is, recognises the importance of the urge to own as a creative factor for all social progress; and therefore legislates to secure a man possession of all that his hand has won for him by proper and lawful means, regarding his productivity as the guarantee of his right to ownership.
Islam rejects the contention that oppression, exploitation and violence are inevitable concomitants of private ownership; for they only appear where the legislative power is held by the richest class, and by them, as in Western lands, directed solely to the protection of their own interests. Since Islamic Law derives solely from the supreme overarching Authority of God, it is wholly impartial : so no law can be devised by it with the aim of protecting the rich or injuring the poor. From its inception, Islam has recognised private property, but always only under such conditions that violence and oppression are ruled out of court. Islam holds that it is wrong to wrest factories out of the hands of those who founded them and who, by patient endurance of hardship and toil, built them up to give labour to many, goods to society, and, of course, also profit to themselves. For Islam holds that such resort to violence in removing the means of production from the hands of men of initiative is injurious to social security and to respect for the rights of the individual. It discourages the spirit of invention and initiative and enterprise. Nonetheless the government can and should so control the administration of great industries and the establishment of factories that social justice, equity in profit, public benefits and the government’s own finances are properly cared for.
In sum, Islamic economics gives joint primacy to both individual and community. It equably balances the interests and rights of these two elements by guaranteeing a free economy while safeguarding the freedom of the individual member and the benefit of the whole community simultaneously by certain reasonable and necessary regulations on private ownership. The urge for such ownership it recognises as innate, and therefore germane to human nature, so that the only limits which may be imposed upon it are those dictated by the general interests of the whole society, which of course contains the best interests of each single member. Islam regards the instinct to possess as an incentive divinely implanted to inspire men to hard work for the improvement of the means of livelihood and of their increased production: yet regulates the expression of this incentive with conditions that obviate violence, oppression, exploitation, extortion and other forms of misuse of freedom. These conditions safeguard the interests of society and are limits on individual independence in no way injurious to liberty, since both communal living and individual freedom must impose those limits on behaviour which will guarantee the survival of both individual and community. and must therefore outlaw profiteering, embezzlement, malversation, hoarding, miserliness, avarice, usury, forcible seizure of other people’s property and all similar criminal and anti-social methods of amassing capital.