Concept of Wealth in Islamic Economics


Omar Javaid

Islamic economics enables a Muslim society to achieve certain ends. It is not so difficult to understand that material resources are required in order to achieve the objectives or Maqasid of Shariah namely “preservation and protection” of Deen, Life, Family and Intellect. The purpose of Divine Law is to make mankind successful in Akhirah. Therefore protection of the religious and spiritual status of the mankind is the prime objective of Shariah. The remaining objectives are also meant to help toward achieving this bigger goal. In the light of this, it can be said that economic activity which helps in achieving the Maqasid, as stated above, at micro or macro level, would be termed as ‘Just’ and vice versa.

Moulana Abdul Bari Nadvi (r.a) writes:

“It is not vague but vividly clear that whatever purpose of life is asserted within the confines of the material world, they will remain limited to the acquisition of material resources for the sake of preservation and enjoyment of the life in this world. On the contrary if one is aspiring for an unlimited, all rewarding and permanent life, then how worthy are the finite number of breaths left in this momentary world; therefore when economics or politics become an end, life also become meaningless. Islam doesn’t make the worldly life (with all its socio-economic and political constituents) as an End in itself. Instead Islam treats it as a Means towards an infinitely vast afterlife. How can then we expect it to tolerate the treatment of these ‘Means’ like ‘Ends’. This is how the paths of both Islamic and non-Islamic social sciences depart away from each other.” (Nadvi, 2005, p. 26)

It is important to note here that cosmological and ontological viewpoints of modern ideologies, which evolved in reaction to the Dark Ages, reject the metaphysical stance of religion. In the very context, George Reisman strongly asserts:

“It is no accident that the greatest era of capitalist development— the last two centuries—has taken place under the ongoing cultural influence of the philosophy of the Enlightenment. Philosophical convictions pertaining to the reality and primacy of the material world of sensory experience determine the extent to which people are concerned with this world and with improving their lives in it … When, for example, people’s lives were dominated by the idea that the material world is superseded by another, higher world, for which their life in this world is merely a test and a preparation, and in which they will spend eternity, they had little motive to devote much thought and energy to material improvement. It was only when the philosophical conviction grew that the senses are valid and that sensory perception is the only legitimate basis of knowledge, that they could turn their full thought and attention to this world. This change was an indispensable precondition of the development of the pursuit of material self-interest as a leading force in people’s lives.” (Reisman, 1998, p. 19) … “Man needs wealth without limit if he is to fulfill his limitless potential as a rational being in physical reality” (Reisman, 1998, p. 43)

By comparing the two worldviews, it can be seen the extent to which both differ with each other on an ontological and cosmological plane. For one, mankind is a vicegerent of a Higher Being and has been sent for a definite purpose in this world, fulfillment of which will qualify him for a reward in the hereafter or Akhirah, where as the other world view totally rejects this metaphysical notion and defines man’s purpose to materially prosper in physical reality alone.  Material prosperity from Islamic perspective is a test instead as the Holy Quran points toward this, that wealth or rizq is given to mankind as per his needs, some are given more and some are given less and this disparity is to test the piety of the believers. Various verses of the Holy Quran points toward this:

Say, “Indeed, my Lord extends provision for whom He wills and restricts [it], but most of the people do not know.” (Surah Saba, Verse 36)

“And [Allah s.w.t.] will provide for him [the believers of Akhirah and who fears Him, from the context of preceding verse] from where he does not expect. And whoever relies upon Allah – then He is sufficient for him.”  (Surah Talaq, Verse 3)

“Your wealth and your children are only a trial (fitnah). And Allah – With Him is a great reward (Paradise).” (Surah al-Taghabun, 15)

“And know that your possessions and your children are but a trial (fitnah) and that surely with Allah is a mighty reward.” (Surah al-Anfal, 28)

“Beautified for men is the love of things they covet; women, children, much of gold and silver (wealth), branded beautiful horses, cattle and well-tilled land. This is the pleasure of the present world’s life; but Allah has the excellent return (Paradise) with Him” (Surah Aal ‘Imran, 14)

“Say: If your fathers, your sons, your brothers, your wives, your kindred, the wealth that you have gained, the commerce in which you fear a decline, and the dwellings in which you delight, are more beloved to you than Allah and His Messenger, and striving in His Cause, then wait until Allah executes His Decision (torment). And Allah guides not the people who are rebellious (disobedient to Allah).” (Surah al-Tawbah, 24)

This belief makes it pointless for a believer to strive for accumulation for wealth alone just for the sake of it. For the same reason perhaps it is mentioned in the tradition of Prophet Muhammad s.a.w that the believer will be held accountable for how he earned and how he spent instead of how much he earned.

The belief system enables a believer to focus on his actions in a market place (instead of the material results) that whether they are in compliance with Divine Law (Shariah) or not. A person who does not believe so, may possess the tendency to inflict harm on others in the market place, either out of fear of deprivation or greed, and might get away with it. In other words, feelings of fear of deprivation or lust or greed would render into harmful or unfair action only when a person does not have a greater fear of accountability in Akhirah or believe in the Authority Allah (s.w.t) to provide sustenance to him in a specified quantity, which is a test of the belief of the believer. In short, in an Islamic context, unjust or unfair action would be a result of disbelief.

The belief system also works in a reverse direction in view of Moulana Abdul Bari Nadvi (r.a). He has explained while referring to Moulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi (r.a) that often believers are put in deprivation by Allah (s.w.t) intentionally so that fear or deprivation keeps the subjects seeking the mercy of Allah (s.w.t) and abstain from committing a sin. These people would rather go astray if they were made materially prosperous by Allah (s.w.t) (Nadvi, 2005, p. 45).

This signifies the status of material wealth in ontological and cosmological disposition of Islamic worldview. Wealth or material prosperity or misery is only a means to test mankind or achieve certain spiritual ends.

This makes the modernist conception of economics so much at odds with the religious one that Boldeman L., compelled to say that the “contradictions between the world-views of traditional religion and the world-view of THE MARKET religion are so basic that no compromise seems possible.” (Boldeman, 2007, p. 279)

Does Islam Promote Monasticism? While explaining Islamic disposition in a manner stated above, the reader may mistakenly tends to assume that Islam is encouraging monasticism. As a matter of fact, Islam categorically rejects monasticism. Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) himself was a trader so as most of his companions (r.a.a). Emphasis on marriage (Qur’an 24:32) and earning legitimate income (Shu’ab-ul-Emaan, Hadith: 8482), for example, is a proof.

Quran in Surah Maida, verse 87, has emphasized on believers on not making the lawful prohibited, which states “O you who have believed, do not prohibit the good things which Allah has made lawful to you and do not transgress. Indeed, Allah does not like transgressors.”

Indulging in trade in Islam is not only lawful but also recommended. Moulana Hafz-ur-Rehman Savharvi has cited various Hadith and verses of the Holy Quran to show how Islam encourages its followers to earn a legitimate living (Savharvi, 2001, pp. 53-5). In his Ihya Uloom al-Din, Imam Al-Ghazali (r.a) has also cited various references from Quran and Hadith to encourage believers to earn their lawful living (Al-Ghazali, 2007, pp. 108-13).

Further, he explains what intention a Muslim trader would have before going to the market:

“Before the start of trading, it is imperative to correct the beliefs and intentions. To correct the intentions, the trader must not consider his profession as a means of pride. Rather, he should intend to save himself from life of deprivation and beggary by becoming financially independent. Further, he should consider this profession as a means to earn a lawful livelihood, keep himself steadfast on his Deen and provide sustenance for his wife and children. He should also keep the welfare of general Muslim population in mind; prefer the same for other which he prefers for himself, and all his action should be in compliance with the requirements of ‘Adl’ and ‘Ihsan’ (Justice and Excellence – Kindness beyond justice). His position in the market should be of a person who promotes righteous actions and strive against wrong or evil practices. If he successfully corrects his intention and actions, then he is on a successful journey of Akhirah. By resorting to such righteous standards, if he succeeds in the market, then success in life after death will also be at his disposal, however if he couldn’t succeed in the market, then it would be a temporary failure and success and Akhirah will become his destiny.” (Al-Ghazali, 2007, p. 141)

Bibliography

Al-Ghazali, A. H. (2007). Ihya Uloom al-Din (Reprint) (Vol. 2). Karachi: Darul-Ishaat.

Boldeman, L. (2007). The Cult of Market: Economic Fundamentalism and its Discontent. Canberra: Australian National University Press.

Nadvi, A. B. (2005). Ma’shiyat ka Islami Falsafa. Multan: Idara Talifat-e-Ashrafiya.

Nyazee, I. A. (2002). Theories of Islamic Law: Methodology of Ijtihad. Kuala Lumpur: Academe Art and Printing Services.

Reisman, G. (1998). Capitalism. Illinois: Jameson Books.

Savharvi, M. H.-u. (2001). The Economic System of Islam. (S. Rizwani, Trans.) Lahore: Idara-e-Islamiat.

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About Salman Ahmed Shaikh

PhD Scholar in Economics and works as GRA at UKM, Malaysia. He can be contacted at: salman@siswa.ukm.edu.my
This entry was posted in Articles on Islamic Economics and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Concept of Wealth in Islamic Economics

  1. Mr-m Sami says:

    Whosoever enters the market without having sufficient background about the principles of Sharia’a, he will absolutely eat riba, even if he didn’t intend to do.

    Like

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