Islam and Economics (2)
Economic historians tell us that at its inception the capitalist system was simple and beneficent : but that the habit of granting loans at interest step by step grew to its present harmful excess. With this came the bankrupting of small concerns and their amalgamation into huge complex companies and financial structures. Islam labels such usury ‘”sin”, as it does also the crises of boom and slump inseparable from the system.
Islam has legislated for a payment of “Zakat” (the Poor Rate) of 20% on capital gains by the rich for the support of the indigent. This helps to level out differences, to draw economic extremes closer together and to curb excessive piling up of wealth. Another Islamic regulation with the same aim and same results is the government’s right to tax wealth for national finances, since Islam holds that God has put His good gifts into this world for the benefit of all, as may be seen by the forests, reedbeds, pastures, desert lands, mountain ranges, mines.*
Estates, too, become public either through the intestacy of a deceased owner or because they are paid as fines in restitution; so that they are as much the property of all as God meant all things to be. Islam’s testamentary laws also curb undue accumulation of property in the hands of one family from generation to generation.
The conditions, therefore, by which Islam limits its respect for the rights of private ownership, are those which are dictated by the need to assure that the individual’s privileges never menace the wellbeing of the Islamic community. Therefore, in emergency or disorder, the just Islamic government can employ the legal powers put at its disposal both to avert dangers which threaten the future and also so to administer society as to meet the needs of the Muslim masses, any time it sees fit.
A country’s land may not fall into the possession of a small handful of proprietors. Indigence and malnutrition of the masses may not be ignored. These points are fixed principles, frankly and firmly, faithfully and forcefully, propounded by Islam. The Faith condemns the injurious intrusion of modem capitalist practices into the Muslim world and bans the greed and avarice which lead to enslavement, war and imperialism.
In the Qur’an it is written (Sura 59-“Al-Heshr”-“The Gathering of Troops” verse 7 in part): “The dispositions we have revealed for the distribution of property . are ordained that capital may not merely circulate round the group of capitalists amongst you.”
In addition to the legal enactments which ensure the correct use of finances and resources by punishing transgressions, Islam also brings entirely new motives to bear, as our Qur’anic quotation hints, by directing men’s aspirations towards God. It therefore streamlines their conduct within the confines of the road that leads to Him. This road has moral fences on either side over which the aspirant desires not to stray. The road is paved with philanthropy, affection, and sentiments of charity and self-sacrifice, which mean that no Muslim will voluntarily be a party to courses of action which lead to injustice to others. Thus the individual’s conscience refuses to pile up excessive capital, and the employer refuses to use tyranny or oppression to compel his workers to produce.
This lofty spiritual challenge, directed towards helping the individual come to a knowledge of God and so to love of his neighbour, is deeply planted within the conscience, so that a man finds his pleasures and his treasures in pleasing his Creator; and these excel all other values for him.
In truth it is the decline of faith today, and the diminution of belief in doomsday and judgment, which led to the greed and cupidity and maleficence and the forms of injustice and oppression which we see around us. Unless men’s relationships are right with God, their relationships will not be right with one another. A revolution of conscience produces a revolution in the soul, in society, and in the world. Such is the lesson of history in practice, as well as the doctrine of religion.
The same considerations apply to the ideology of Communism, and it will be readily seen that Islamic lore is superior to both the Western and Eastern materialist excesses.
Modern philosophers like William James, Harold Laski, John Strachey, Walter Lippmann, criticise Communists’ total abrogation of personal and social affairs in favour of the state authority, saying that the individual’s personality and initiative are suffocated in such an ambience. While on the other hand capitalist democracy over-emphasises individual freedom to the detriment of social progress. This creates an oligarchy of the rich, making them masters of the means of production and turning all men into slaves of economics. From opposing angles they come to a common conclusion that individuals must impose an inner discipline on themselves if they are to enjoy true freedom, contradictory as that may seem, and that the welfare of society depends upon the responsible exercise by its members of that self-disciplined freedom. What is their conclusion other than a restatement of the doctrine which Islam has been preaching for 14 centuries? It is time that the lessons of history, the conclusions of the philosophers and the doctrines of religion were made the guidelines for the conduct of men and communities everywhere.
In AD 1951 the Paris College of Law devoted a week to the study of. the Islamic “Feqh” (Canon Law). They called in experts from Islamic lands round the world for elucidation of particular points, e.g.:
1. Islamic Canon Law on property;
2. Conditions for filing deeds of exchange on property to preserve the welfare of society and the public;
3. Criminal responsibility;
4. The reciprocal influence of Islamic faith and Canon Law on each other.
The head of the Parisian Lawyers’ Society chaired the conference and summed up at the end thus: “Whatever our earlier ideas about Islamic law and its rigidity or incompetence in documenting transactions, we have been compelled to revise them in this conference. Let me sum up the new insights – new I think to most of us – the conference has given us, in this week devoted particularly to the Feqh, Islamic Canon Law. We saw in it a depth of rock-bottom principle and of particularised care which embraces mankind in its universality and is thus able to give an answer to all the emergencies and events of this age. In our final communique we say. ‘Islam’s Canon Law should be made one of the formative elements of all new international legislation to meet present-day conditions, since it possesses a legal treasure of stable universal value which fits its Feqh, amongst the modern welter of religious views and pronouncements, to cope with the exigencies imposed by the new forms of living arising in the modern environment’.”
* The arid sunbaked expanses of the Islamic belt of territory which stretches from the Mauritanian Atlantic coast nearly 6,000 miles through the Soviet Muslim Republics of the Western Gobi, can support only a scant human population, while the paucity of vegetation forces a nomad migratory way of life upon livestock-owners, if they are to find pasturage. Hence our author’s list of the publicly owned benefits of God’s gifts : while his omission of sunlight and rain. which are natural in the thought of Westerners as free for all, are not mentioned because that belt has always too much sunshine and too little rainfall (Translator’s note)