Economics and Pro-Social Behaviour


Salman Ahmed Shaikh

A great number of empirical studies now challenge the position of conceptualising human behaviour only in the framework of a rational, utility-maximizing homo-economicus. Yet, this framework is used for the purpose of simplicity and tractability in situations where abstraction does not result in major loss of focus and information at hand. Nonetheless, it is appropriate to acknowledge selflessness resulting in sacrifices, pro-social behaviour and pure altruism. Excluding China, the Asian economies with rich cultural and religious values feature prominently in the World Giving Index 2016 despite having low per capita incomes. As per World Giving Index 2016, Iraq leads with the highest percentage of people helping strangers, and Turkmenistan, the highest percentage of people volunteering time.

Indeed, if preferences are amenable and social behaviour is learned like other behaviours, then we ought to acknowledge this. This could help in cooperative pro-social campaigns; lasting and fruitful social partnerships; and strengthening of social capital that could potentially relax pressure from the public sector. In weakly governed countries, social networks assume roles typically provided by market-based financial intermediaries or the public sector. In economics education, acknowledging these differences, experiences, success stories and alternate visions of policy, broadens the perspective and enriches the solutions toolbox to meet sustainable development challenges which require strong mutual understanding and efforts of diverse cultures towards a common vision of future.

The causal mechanisms through which culture and institutions mould and constrain human agents remain unexplored in neoclassical economics.  It is worthwhile to be cognizant of the role of cultural factors, social norms and spiritual stimuli in analysing and theorizing economic behaviour. For instance, Confucian beliefs affect one’s outlook about work and consumption habits in East Asia, where individuals tend to work harder and longer, with greater labor force participation rates. As per the Lifecycle Consumption Hypothesis, higher propensity to save depends on the proportion of working age people in a society. From growth theory, we know that savings is the most crucial variable affecting growth, along with other macro and institutional variables. Thus, remaining cognizant of the effects of values, cultures and norms will help avoid missing positive phenomenon.

Values and norms can be positively utilized in achieving development goals where commercial interests are not good stimulators. According to The Hunger Project, 2.4 billion people do not have adequate sanitation, and every day, nearly 1,000 children die due to preventable water and sanitation-related diarrheal diseases. This is partly because sanitation is not good business as compared to cellular services and life’s other comforts and luxuries. Interestingly, according to the 2015 report of Food and Agriculture Organization, globally, per capita food supply increased from about 2,200 kcal per day in the early 1960s to more than 2,903 kcal per day by 2014. Thus, redistribution of resources is vital to enhance income as well as the capacity to earn sustainable incomes. This requires income support programs, basic health and education as well as microfinance to build small enterprises.

Overreliance on Pareto efficiency paralyses equity and ethical concerns of development policy change. According to Pareto efficiency, it is inefficient to help make millions of poor better off, if a single rich person becomes worse off. Sustainable development goals have assumed poverty, hunger and inequality as important goals. However, economics education by and large outsources the realization of these goals to development agencies and governments. If aid is inefficient as argued by Nobel Laureate Angus Deaton, then the neoclassical toolbox is virtually empty. In a society where people regard ending hunger as the ultimate value to prioritize, then we can end hunger when the aggregate sum of endowments equals what is needed to feed everyone. Else, if we regard consumer sovereignty as the ultimate value to prioritize, like we do today, then no wonder we are setting goals for ending hunger by 2030 despite a global food surplus.

In economics education and discourse, our results suggest that expenditure can be on self-consumption as well as on consumption of others including dependents, family, neighbours, social circle and society in general. If an individual prioritizes certain ethical goals, e.g., contributing money and time in social causes over self-aggrandizement, then theorizing should not assume it away. Furthermore, leisure should not necessarily imply ‘non-work’. People can choose to donate more time in response to increase in wages since they may have a desire and inclination to help others. Situations often enable people to transform these traits into pro-social actions. Thus, leisure is better understood as non-market saving of labor hours which can be spent on self-entertainment as well as on volunteering.

Likewise, philanthropy should not be envisioned in the framework of reciprocity alone. It is not necessary that people dis-save lifetime endowments on self-consumption; they can leave philanthropic bequests and endowments, and are not necessarily following reciprocity in such actions. Rather, they may have a strong desire and willingness to help others even when not reciprocated. There are countless examples of people like Mother Teresa and Abdul Sattar Edhi who lived their whole lives serving humanity. Externalities between utility functions can create envy as well as compassion. Humans have the potential to be envious as well as compassionate. Even as neutral observers of the positive phenomenon, we should acknowledge supporting evidence that people help strangers, pay anonymously in charities, and sacrifice their wealth and even their lives in the pursuit of being a good person.

Published in Journal of Philantrhopy, Vol 1, Issue 1 – July December 2017

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Towards an Integrative Framework for Understanding Muslim Consumption Behaviour


In a new paper recently published in Humanomics (Vol 33, Issue 2), an attempt is made to integrate Islamic and mainstream economics framework towards a more realistic understanding of Muslim consumption behaviour. First, the paper gives an account of the descriptive postulates about human nature in Islamic texts. Then, it gives an account of moral principles in Islamic texts regarding overall consumer behaviour encompassing the pursuit of earning incomes to spending these incomes.

Based on this discussion, the paper highlights the points of distinction and compatibility between the Islamic and mainstream economics framework. The distinction comes in the decision horizon and additional moral filters on choice set. The distinction is even deeper in values whereby the Islamic framework encourages contentment, pure altruism and self-less behaviour while, the mainstream economics framework is at best neutral between moral content of economic choices.

Nevertheless, the paper shows how some of the Islamic principles and institutions can be integrated in the mainstream economics framework, especially in research studies where the objective is to understand and describe reality rather than persuasion and idealization.

The paper attempts to use Zakat Augmented Overlapping Generations Model (ZA-OLG) to present an example of integrative theoretical framework for understanding Muslim consumption behaviour. The model incorporates some of the Islamic institutions like period-wise deduction of Zakat from endowments. It also includes bequests which could be significant given the Islamic injunctions on inheritance distribution and the significance placed on the institution of family.

In ZA-OLG model, the institution of Zakat ensures contemporaneous redistribution from endowment surplus households (those having Zakatable endowments above Nisab) to endowment deficient households (those having Zakatable endowments below Nisab). On the other hand, bequests affect inter-temporal redistribution.

Even after incorporating some of these Islamic institutions, we arrived at a comparable Euler equation as in the original OLG model. But, the difference is that the levels of choice variables would be different, i.e. the actual quantity of consumption today and tomorrow. The lifetime resources are scaled down for endowment surplus households due to the payment of Zakat in both periods and leaving bequests in old-age period, while the lifetime resources are scaled up for endowment deficient households due to the receipt of Zakat in both periods and receiving the bequests in youth.

So, a Muslim consumer who pays Zakat, who wants to leave family in a non-poor position after the end of his/her life and who wants to contribute in charity even during his/her lifetime in general would still use the (scaled down) lifetime income acquired from Halal sources whereby among the two substitute Halal consumption goods, he will buy the cheaper (all else equal) and among the two Shari’ah compliant investment options, he will prefer the one with highest return over risk (all else equal). The difference will be in the levels of consumption (contemporaneous and inter-temporal), but the analysis will be at the margin given the Islamic injunctions are satisfied and in the presence of Islamic institutions.

Full paper can be downloaded at: Towards an Integrative Framework for Understanding Muslim Consumption Behaviour

Interested readers without access to Emerald publications can also contact for the full paper at: islamiceconomicsproject@gmail.com

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Exploring Meaning of Life


This book aims to understand the position of science and faith on questions of meaning in existence. Mutual understanding of original views of both camps is necessary for the mutual progress and co-existence of both reason and values in a healthy, progressive and spiritual society.

Science should not be at the service of faith, but dedicated to identifying natural cause and effect relationships. Nevertheless, we hope to show that faith does not frustrate that purpose. Science should be universal and its established knowledge through evidence should benefit all mankind and should be developed and contributed in by people from diverse backgrounds.

No religious text is a pure science book nor any religion claims as such. On the other hand, understanding and explaining the deeper meaning of life is beyond the domain of science. Science cannot be an arbiter in philosophical, moral, social and political matters.

It is hoped that this essay will clarify the epistemological boundaries. It supports non-overlapping Magesteria and makes a case for mutual co-existence of both reason and values in the future of society.

Salman Ahmed Shaikh

Download Link: Exploring Meaning of Life

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Need for a Well-Directed Muslim Response


Salman Ahmed Shaikh

Some of the non-Muslim contemporaries of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) used to tease Him (PBUH) during His life. Qur’an mentions that people who did not believe in Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) called upon Prophet (PBUH) in words which had dual meanings and their hearts implied the meanings which tease (2:104). God forbid, they used to call Prophet (PBUH) a poet, fore-teller and magician (69:41-42). God forbid, they even called Him (PBUH) as mad (15:6) and Muftari, i.e. forger or liar (16:101).

Qur’an denies these claims and mentions that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was on a exalted standard of character (68:4) and sent as blessing for all worlds (21: 107). Qur’an also guides towards the right response. “God knows all that is in their hearts; so ignore what they say, admonish them and speak to them in such terms as will address their minds.”(4:63). Quran says: “Invite to the Way of your Lord with wisdom and fair preaching.” (16:125). Qur’an says: “So remind them, you are only a one who reminds. You are not a warden over them.” (88:21-22). Qur’an also says: “Don’t insult those whom they worship besides Allah… (6:108).”

Few years back, Muslims shared some information on Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) using #WhoIsMuhammad hash tag. Many hundreds of non-Muslims also shared the messages on social media platforms and they were amazed to know such information. We must recognize that their most often instance of engagement with Islam is not through Qur’an, but through meeting Muslims. We need to educate ourselves on the right mindset required from us. Qur’an says that there is no compulsion in religion (2:256), preach with wisdom (16:125), be just even with enemies (5:8) and know that killing a human is like killing humanity (5:32). Tolerance will come in our society if right education is received.

Qur’an mentions that capital punishment can be given in the case of murder or in the case of Fasad-e-fil-Ard (5:54). Fasad-e-Fil-Ard refers to mischievous activities which harm people’s lives, wealth, honour and rule of law in society. The punishments pronounced by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as head of state to some individuals belonged to one of these categories. Kab ibn Ashraf was punished not instantly when he started blasphemy, but when he indulged in high treason against the state. Likewise, Abdullah ibn Khatal killed his sub-ordinate. Islamic laws prescribe capital punishment for murder of a human being. Abdullah Bin Ubai, who was a hypocrite, but who did not indulge in murder or Fasad-e-Fil-Ard, was never prosecuted and punished and he died and buried as a Muslim in this world.

Maulana Zahid Ur Rashidi in Al-Shariah journal (Oct, 2011) explains how Abdullah Ibn-e-Abbas (rta) and Hanafi jurists like Imam Abu Yousuf, Imam Tahawi and Ibn-e-Abidin viewed blasphemy. As per them, capital punishment does not apply to non-Muslims and even when it is applied to Muslims, it is pardonable upon repentance.

Qur’an credits Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as having best morals. His (PBUH) life explains that. He (PBUH) pardoned and forgave those who plotted plans to harm and kill Him [God Forbid], those who tortured Him (PBUH) emotionally, physically and financially, those who banished Him (PBUH) and those who misbehaved and harmed His (PBUH) family members including wife (rta) and daughters (rta).

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “A Muslim should speak the truth when he says anything, and fulfil his trust when he is in position of trust.” He (PBUH) said: “He is not one of us who dies without having shown kindness to our young ones and respect to our older ones.” He (PBUH) defined a Muslim as: “One from whose tongue and hands, others are safe”. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) looked at Ka’aba and said: “You are sacred, but the life of a human being is more sacred than you”.

Silence is also a conscious stance. We will be judged for our actions, intentions, mindset and conscious efforts in understanding the true message. As per Qur’an, on Judgement Day, not even blood relations will share each others’ burden, let alone any thought leaders. The contemporaries who did not believe in Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) practiced political correctness. Their fate and Qur’an’s verdict on them shows us that there is no benefit in political correctness when the need is to be clear and decisive. Spare a thought to understand what it means to be a Muslim in the words of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). He said: “A Muslim is one from whose tongue and hands, others are safe”.

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A Dialogue with Atheists


Salman Ahmed Shaikh

A lot of people these days present themselves as ‘Realists’ and ‘Atheists’. Often, they do not understand the basic premise of religion. Religion concerns itself first and foremost with the question of ‘Why’ rather than ‘What is’ and ‘How it is’. In answering the question of ‘Why’, Islam’s basic demand is ‘tazkiyah-e-nafs’ (ethical purification of actions) and ‘ibaadat-e-ilahi’ (submission to Allah and worship only Him) in a person’s life.

Allah asks in Quran, ‘Were they created by nothing, or were they themselves the creators?’ (At-Tur: verse 35). If we have been created, then the intellect with which we discover knowledge about matter in physical sciences to answer the question of ‘What is’ and ‘How it is’ and the conscience with which we differentiate between right and wrong, both are  bestowed by Allah.

Inner conscience, intellect and external guidance through Prophets are all given by Allah. Atheists deny Prophets and commonly shared history of more than three-fourths of human beings belonging to Abrahamic religions, but do not answer where the conscience and intellect come from?

Some Atheists refer to their doctrine as Secular Humanism. The basic source of knowledge and guidance then becomes conscience alone. That still begs the question that who created conscience and why it does not go through a biologically evolving process. Another problem with conscience only approach is that it cannot settle conflicting moral axioms and it also does not answer at all the purpose of existence and why exactly one should follow the righteous path if one can avoid material law, especially if there is no life after death.

Animals wake up, find food, eat, sleep and wake up again. As per Atheism, humans are also supposed to have only that same purpose. If I believe in this life only, then as long as I can avoid conflict with material law, control legislation by funding political cronies and muster military and diplomatic strength, I can commit genocide, kill, steal, rob for 50 years of my life and the victims and society cannot do anything unless they gain same power and make me powerless and define a different standard of justice and ethics.

According to this belief, a murderer who died before punishment or who committed more than single murder cannot be given absolute justice and victims cannot be given life again since this life is the only life. Belief in afterlife accountability promises absolute justice for any tiny act of evil or kindness in this life.

Conscience may not err in helping to differentiate between right and wrong, but the right ethical choice may not be chosen by a person if it conflicts with self interest. If I believe that this life is the only life, then why shall I use my limited time, income, abilities and resources to help others? Altruism and sacrifice shall be nonsense. Belief in Atheism entails evading responsibility and encourages pursuit of absolute freedom.

Atheists sometimes argue that science and its advancements have dispelled the need to use religious explanations to events and how things work. First, it must be understood that religion concerns with the moral conscience and strengthening it to elicit positive actions and behavior. Belief in the Creator without seeing Him personally does not mean that one can believe in all types of magic, superstitions, miracles and dogma.

Science concerns with the question of ‘What is’ and ‘How it is’. Any physical explanation of matter, either correct or incorrect, complete or incomplete, does not answer ‘Why it is’. Religion answers the question about purpose of existence and that can help humans to use matter in ways that can result in societal well-being. Else, the same technology bestowed by scientific advancement can be used to kill millions and millions of people instantly with the latest weaponry. Every civilized society with law accepts freedom with responsibility. When that responsibility is determined and guided by the Creator Himself, belief in Tawheed enables a person to be free from being subservient to anyone else except the Creator. Belief in Tawheed ensures equality since every human being is the creature of Allah like everyone else.

Religion has a distinct worldview. It does not have to borrow it from any other doctrine. Science is not a worldview since science is just a way to simplify the understanding of matter in a way to be able to make use of it. The intellect with which we discover nature’s wonders is created by Allah. If religion is not used to suggest lawmaking, then we will be using collective conscience of human beings which is again created by Allah. The Creator of conscience and the Creator of intellect has also provided a third source of guidance through the pious Prophets. Religion does not argue for ‘Creation’ doctrine alone. It gives a worldview which explains the meaning and purpose of life which is ‘aboodiyat’ (submission to Allah) and ‘tazkiyah-e-nafs’ (ethical purification of actions) and which will bring deterministic rewards with absolute justice in afterlife. The alternate worldview to religion is emptiness and anarchy of mind, soul and action.

It is correct that conscience is a powerful source to guide towards the straight path. Conscience is created by Allah. The important thing is that having knowledge of the right path, what will encourage righteous action. When someone believes that there is no Creator and that there is no afterlife and one musters diplomatic, media and military strength, then even if genocide is committed, how shall absolute justice be ensured in this world? What makes the conscience functioning? Religion is not just a source of information to know right and wrong. Religion gives a worldview that explains the purpose of life. Belief in afterlife accountability promises absolute justice which is not possible in this world for crimes like genocide or crimes for which criminals could not be convicted or punished in proportion to their nature of crime because of informational, legal, time and other natural constraints. The promise that every action and even intention will be given full justice by the Creator makes the ‘static conscience’ created by Allah a ‘self-regulated functioning conscience’.

The objective of religious guidance is submission to Allah alone and ethical purification of one’s actions and it should be reflected in one’s duties to the Creator and the environment (which includes other humans and animals of present and future generations).

Atheists often argue that why would Atheists doing good acts not get anything in afterlife from Allah. If a person does not believe in Allah and afterlife, then, it is important to understand what will have been the motive of that person for good actions. Among other reasons, it may be one of these things: 1) helping others and to see their lives improve IN THIS WORLD, 2) getting a good name and die in good records TILL THIS WORLD ENDS and 3) gain self-satisfaction TILL THE LIFE ENDS. These can be some of the broad objectives for a person who does good act and who knowingly does not believe in Allah and afterlife. As far as this world can provide justice, all of these objectives will be achieved to a certain extent. If not achieved or if a person anticipates that the world will not be just enough to reward good actions and right intentions; then, one has to explore as to how the ‘aspiration of absolute justice’ can be fulfilled. Religion promises absolute justice for every willful action and intention in afterlife for everyone. To expect any gain from Allah in afterlife, one already believes that there is Allah and that there is afterlife.

Human mind wants absolute justice, but it is not possible for natural reasons like an army general cannot be given equivalent punishment for committing genocide and in cases where the oppressed are in weak position legally, diplomatically, politically and militarily. Human conscience wants justice for oppressed and for all events where there is injustice. But, this aspiration is not possible to be realized in totality in this world for natural, informational, political and legal constraints. Belief in afterlife accountability gives meaning to the life and what we and others do in it. Else, in an Atheist paradigm, it is just the game of survival of the fittest. Animals play it as well as humans with no difference between the two.

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Some Misconceptions about Jihad in Islam


Salman Ahmed Shaikh

Jihad is a broad term and besides armed struggle against injustice, it encompasses academic, diplomatic and moral support to the righteous cause. In the specific meaning of armed struggle, Holy Quran says that Jihad in the meaning of armed struggle can only be undertaken for the sake of eliminating injustice [Surah Al Hajj: 39].

It is not a fight against non-Muslims. It is a fight against injustice. It can only be undertaken as a last resort to eliminate injustice. It can only be undertaken by the government and cannot be done privately. Jihad cannot be undertaken for the expansion of the state, against innocents, against non-combatants and against any contract of peace.

According to Islamic worldview, Allah sent His messengers who invited mankind towards Tawheed (belief in no Creator except One), belief in afterlife accountability and to engage in righteous conduct in all spheres of life. Some of these messengers were sent as ‘Rasool’. According to the Sunan-e-Elahi (law of Allah) of divine appraisal of chosen nations, several Rasool came in this world and established this Sunan-e-Elahi based on the will of Allah.

The struggle of any Rasool goes through these steps: 1) Dawat (initial stages of preaching), 2) Dawat-e-Aam (preaching publicly on a large scale) and 3) Itmam-e-Hujjat. Itmam-e-Hujjat refers to the situation where truth is explained in its complete form and where subsequent denial remains only due to prejudice, pride or communal interests.

After Itmam-e-Hujjat, the direct recipients had to accept the message received or if they refused the truth, then they had to face punishment in this world. According to the Islamic worldview, this world is a place for test where the objective of creation of man is obedience to Allah. Those direct recipients of the Rasool who disbelieved without any reason and remained disobedient and thankless to their Creator were punished by their Creator. Those who were obedient, steadfast and morally upright were rewarded by their Creator. This divine appraisal concerns all human beings. But, the direct recipients of Rasool who denied the message of Rasool without any reason were punished in this very world as well.

Since the direct recipients got the message of truth firsthand, so if they denied the truth after Itmam-e-Hujjat, they were punished in this world. Establishment of this Sunan-e-Elahi becomes a way of remembering divine appraisal in Qiyamat (judgement day) for all human beings to come. This is Sunan-e-Ilahi and this was commonly and consistently applied to Qaum-e-Noah, Qaum-e-Aad, Qaum-e-Samoud, Qaum-e-Lot, Qaum-e-Shuaib, Qaum-e-Younus, Qaum-e Musa and Qaum-e-Isa before Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

Non-believers of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), a Rasool, were also dealt in the same way by Allah. The only difference is that in the case of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), this divine punishment to the non-believers who fought against Muslims came in the form of defeat of non-believers in the armed struggles with believers. It is because in the case of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), there were enough followers and these armed battles also became a way to distinguish between true believers and munafiqeen (hypocrites).

In verse 17 of Al-Anfal, Allah says:

“You killed them not, but Allah killed them. And you [Muhammad (pbuh)] threw not when you did throw but Allah threw, so that He might test the believers by a fair trial from Him. Verily, Allah is All-Hearer, All-Knower.”

In various time periods, Rasool of Allah came with undeniable signs to their nations and when their nation decided to not accept the message received directly and clearly with undeniable signs, then the non-believers were punished by Allah in the form of natural calamities if the believers were fewer in number or through the triumph of believers over non-believers who fought against them as in the case of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). The specific verses in Holy Quran describing jihad in the meaning of armed struggle against non-believers of those times are clear from the context that they refer to this Sunan-e-Elahi we explained above. When Rasool come with clear signs, they establish this Sunan-e-Elahi which is a divine appraisal of their nation the way it will happen for all people on the Judgement day.

This history is common heritage of all Abrahamic religions which represents almost three-fourths of all human population. Quranic verses about Jihad specifically with non-believers are often misunderstood by West and also misunderstood by some minority Muslims as well when they generalize these verses out of context.

From a community of 1.5 billion people spreading in 7 continents of the world, individual instances from a small minority of deviants are picked in an effort to embarrass and tease peaceful mainstream Muslims. Close to 100 million Muslims live in developed regions alone. There has to be acknowledgement and understanding of this fact that Islam and Muslims are two different things.

There can be difference of opinion, but selectively picking particular types of arguments, peoples and actions and generalizing them over 1.5 billion people is unjustified. The objective of religion of Islam is not its political enforcement. The basic thesis of religion is to inform people about their role and relation with Creator and what attitudes, behavior and actions can lead them to success in life hereafter.

A faith must never be studied from the followers’ actions. Christianity is not to be studied in the light of holocaust, colonization, slavery in Africa and crusades. In the light of teachings of Jesus (pbuh), these events were wrong as per the true teachings of Christianity.

Likewise, we shall not judge liberal democracy or secular humanism based on two World Wars, invasions, transnational wars, undue sanctions, embargoes, political interference to topple democratic governments, advancement in race to produce ever more destructive weapons of mass destruction, and paying lip service to thousands and thousands of people suffering genocide in Bosnia, Kosovo, Burma, Gaza, Kashmir and at other places. Indeed, these actions by the authorities do not represent the aspirations, values and views of common man in west.

Quran says in verse 256 of Al-Baqara ‘There is no compulsion in religion”. Indeed, as per Islamic worldview, people are created and for the specific purpose of testing their thankfulness to their Creator and would be judged on merit by their Creator when they return towards Him after death in this world. However, this test period has granted freedom to people in this world and hence Islam does not direct Muslims to make everyone else Muslim in this world by force. Allah says to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in verse 21-22 of Chapter Ghasiya “So remind them, you are only a one who reminds. You are not a dictator over them.” In verse 125 of Chapter Nahl, Allah says “Invite (mankind, O Muhammad ) to the Way of your Lord (i.e. Islam) with wisdom and fair preaching, and argue with them in a way that is better.”

Islam does not teach hate and violence. It is a source of spiritual contentment and fulfillment for a quarter of world’s population. It teaches a believer in Islam to never tease, hurt or inflict any harm with hands or tongue to humans, animals and environment and no matter whether there is any law about it and whether it is being enforced because all people for all their intentions and willful actions shall be accountable on the Day of Judgment.

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How Did Islam Abolish Slavery?


Salman Ahmed Shaikh

Islam grants equal human rights to all people. In verse 13 of Chapter Al-Hujurat, Allah says:

“O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, so that you may know one another. Verily, the most honorable of you with Allah is the most pious. Verily, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware.”

It is to be understood that 15 centuries ago, the institution of slavery was common in Arabs and when Islam spread, Islam took measures to get rid of the institution of slavery in a gradual process. Quran is very clear on freeing slaves in the later revealed verses. In verse 12 and 13 of Chapter Balad, Allah says:

“And what can make you know what is [breaking through] the difficult pass? It is the freeing of a slave.”

In Zakat rules, there was a fiscal head allocation for freeing slaves. Also, as an alternate to pecuniary punishments, freeing slaves was encouraged. In verse 33 of Chapter Nur, the final verdict comes like this:

“And such of your slaves as seek a writing (of emancipation), give them such writing, if you know that they are good and trustworthy. And give them something yourselves out of the wealth of Allah which He has bestowed upon you.”

Not only this verse points towards freeing slaves if they so desire, but also to help them with resources so that they can afford their livelihood independently.

Meanwhile, in the transition period, several verses and Ahadith ensured that slaves were dealt humanely. A Hadith says that while fasting, Muslims should work with their subordinates and reduce their working hours.

William Muir (a non-Muslim) in his biography about Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) writes:

“Zaid, the freedman, was so strongly attached by the kindness of the Prophet, that he preferred to remain at Makkah rather than return home with his own father. ‘I will not leave thee,’ he said, clinging to his patron, ‘for thou hast been a father and mother to me.”

In Muslim world later on, the institution of slavery was abolished quite late. However, the sources of Islam, i.e. Quran and Hadith are very clear in their principle stand on slavery and Islam took steps to get rid of slavery in a gradual process. The gradual process was adopted as an economic need of transition so that an abrupt change must not bring about massive levels of economic hardships for the slaves.

But, even in the transition period, imbued with the spirit of kindness, compassion and submissiveness, people treated slaves humanely which resulted in their acceptance of Islam. In fact, one of the arguments of non-believers was that how can Islam give such generous rights to slaves. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) describing how to treat slaves once said: “feed them with food you eat yourself, clothe them with clothes that you wear yourself.” [Bukhari]

It must be understood in the light of history that it was during the colonization and post colonization period when Western powers treated slaves like animals with brutal torture and adopting un-human ways.

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Risk Management Tools in Islamic Banking


Salman Ahmed Shaikh

In this article, we discuss the major risks that Islamic banks face in their commercial operations and the tools with which they mitigate these risks.

Credit Risk

Credit risk is generally defined as the risk that the counterparty fails to meet its obligations in accordance with agreed terms. Credit risk includes the risk arising in the settlement and clearing of transactions.

But, since clean borrowing is not possible in Islamic banking, Islamic financing is asset backed and adequately collateralized. Furthermore, the title of ownership rests with the bank in Ijarah and Murabaha until the actual sale transaction is made. Therefore, an Islamic bank can foreclose the asset in the case of default.

Tools to Manage Credit Risks

  • Pledge of Assets as Collateral

Any asset owned by the client could be taken as collateral. The client may not be able to sell that asset without bank’s permission. However, the ownership of the asset will remain with the client.

  • Third Party Guarantee

If the client’s own guarantee is not completely reliable, then the bank can ask for third party guarantee, especially when the client is an associated company or a subsidiary company or when the majority owner is a conglomerate.

  • First and Second Charge on Assets

First and second charge rank the order in which the proceeds of the liquidated asset(s) are used to pay off liabilities. If a financier has a secondary charge, then his turn to be paid back from the client’s liquidation of asset(s) will come second or later than the first. All else equal, financiers will prefer to have first charge.

  • Takaful

Takaful can be used to insure a tangible movable or immovable asset. The insurance cost can also be added back in sale price or rentals.

  • Hamish Jiddiyah

As an alternative to down payment or security deposit, some advance rental could be taken which may be adjusted for future rental payments. It could also be used as partial settlement price for the sale of asset. However, any amount received in this case at the beginning of the contract cannot be taken as income for that period.

Market Risk

It refers to the risk arising from adverse movements in interest rates, commodity prices and FX rates. Commodity risk is also present in Murabaha, Ijarah and Salam.

Tools to Manage Market Risks

  • Parallel Contract (if permissible)

To mitigate the storage risk and avoid inventory cost, parallel contract can be done for the same date in the case of Salam.

  • Binding Promise

Binding promise which is unilateral (one-sided) can be taken to ensure contract enforcement and to guarantee seriousness of purpose on client’s end before the bank invests depositors’ funds to provide financing to the clients.

  • Takaful for Asset Risk

Takaful can be used to insure a tangible movable or immovable asset. The insurance cost can also be added back in the sale price or rentals.

Equity Risk

It refers to adverse changes in market value (and liquidity) of equity held for investment purposes. It covers all equity instruments including Mudarabah and Musharakah.

Tools to Manage Equity Risks

  • Seek diversification of capital contribution.
  • Use restricted Mudarabah.
  • Use Musharakah than Mudarabah together where possible.
  • Limiting period of contract.
  • Plan exit strategies.

Liquidity Risk

Liquidity risk is the potential loss to the Islamic banks arising from their inability to meet their obligations as they fall due without incurring unacceptable costs or losses.

Tools to Manage Liquidity Risks

  • Diversify Sources of Funds

Increase in non-remunerative deposits can reduce the cost of raising funds from the public. Reliance on few big deposits is risky. It is better to have a widespread deposit base.

  • Reduce Concentration of Funding Base

It is better to have efficient liability mix with adequate availability of short term and long term deposits. Maturity matching on both sides of balance sheet can solve much of the problem systematically.

  • Rely on Marketable Assets

It is better to finance those assets on priority basis that have secondary market and that are somewhat standardized and widely used in the real sector of the economy.

Legal Risk

It refers to inadequate legal framework, conflict of conventional and Islamic laws and conflict between Shariah rulings and legal decisions.

Tools to Manage Legal Risks

  • Documenting agreements to make them enforceable.
  • Binding undertakings.
  • Covering contingencies in design of agreements.
  • Documenting the details of rights/duties in agreements.
  • Strong internal compliance, due diligence and audit.

Displaced Commercial Risk

It refers to the risk that the Islamic banks may confront commercial pressure to pay returns that exceed the rate that has been earned on its assets.

Tools to Manage Displaced Comercial Risks

  • Floating rentals so that increase in benchmark rate is absorbed effectively on both sides of the balance sheet.
  • Using profit equalization reserves.
  • Using Hibah.
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Islam and Institution of Interest Based Lending


Danial Pirani

In modern times, the institution of interest is regarded as critical for the stability of an economy. Nearly all the economic and financial institutions are, in one way or the other, connected to the interest based transactions. Interest is considered as an incentive to save money. Secular economic theory claims that the whole interest mechanism guarantees an efficient allocation of available funds. It keeps the flow of credit stable in the economy.

Today, nearly all financial institutions work on interest based transactions. They all share a common belief that interest based systems provide good incentives to invest and simultaneously earn as per the standard requirements, the result of which ultimately leads towards capital formation and economic growth.

But in practical world, this is not the case every time. What if a person bears a loss? Or what if he cannot afford to pay above the principal amount he borrowed? In both the cases, one becomes a permanent slave of the creditor. He loses his identity and becomes bound to obey what the creditor commands. Today, Pakistan has to pay half of its tax revenues in paying interest alone.

In the earliest times in recorded history, Aristotle – who is considered as a pioneer figure in secular philosophy – criticized the institution of interest. Thomas Acquinas also stated that the just price of money lent is nothing more than the principal amount lent itself. All Abrahamic religions denounced the institution of interest in clear terms. Even great thinkers like Martin Luther said: You cannot make money just with money.” Making money with money is referred to as earning something in trade by selling what does not exist.

Thomas Aquinas said: “To take usury for money lent is unjust in itself, because this is to sell what does not exist and this evidently leads to inequality which is contrary to justice.”

In the interest based lending, the lender bears no risk in the enterprise of borrower and yet demand and is guaranteed a fixed return. Hence, it leads to an inequitable distribution of income.  This can be seen by taking an example.  Suppose there are three people who consume all of their income in a given year. One of them starts with $1,000 in savings, a second with $100 and a third with zero.  At 10% interest per annum, by the end of the year, the first person has $1,100, the second has $110 while the third person has zero in his account.  If the same scenario follows in the next year, the first person will have $1,210, the second will have $121 and the third will have zero.  One can see how the wealth distribution between them gets unequal every year.  This scenario ultimately leads to an autonomous inequality in society generated by no one, but suffered by everyone. Note that those in debt paying interest that grows every year have not been added to the picture.  In their case, as interest rate continues to grow, more and more of their overall income will be consumed by interest and therefore, further exacerbating the skewed distribution of income.

On the behavioral side, the one receiving interest indirectly tags money as risk-free and work-free. This leads to a lifestyle mainly based on consumption. But more importantly, it leads to a very irresponsible attitude towards one own self and the society.

On the social equality front, the one paying interest becomes a slave of those who lent him money since the burden gets bigger over time. This leads to dependency and leaves self-empowerment as mere fantasy and ultimately leads towards loss of self-identity, self-honor and destruction of humanity.

John Maynard Keynes, a well-known economist of the west, who unveiled the mysteries behind the greatest economic crisis on earth (Great Depression on 1930s), also argued that the best way to revive the economy is to increase the money supply so that the rate of interest falls. A fall in the rate of interest would lead to higher investment, employment and output. In fact, Keynes held that ultimately an ideal economy is one wherein interest does not exist.

Economists like Milton Friedman, Kindle Berger and H.C. Simon regard fixed interest rates to be responsible for economic instability. Friedman contends that changes in rate of interest bring about either inflation or deflation and both are harmful to the society. He therefore argues “Our final rule for the optimum quantity of money is that it will be attained by a rate of price deflation that makes the nominal rate of interest equal to zero”. This proposition is known as Friedman’s Rule, and it is one of the most celebrated propositions in modern monetary theory.

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Limitations of Mainstream Consumer Theory in Economics


Salman Ahmed Shaikh

Mathematical tractability has restricted economic analysis of consumer behavior within a confined boundary of certain axioms. Often, these axioms are found to be empirically false. Even more importantly, these axioms and the analytical framework based on them is incapable of explaining economic choices in environment goods, public goods and social sphere. Studies in behavioral finance have also documented information processing incapacities and biases that challenge some of the rationality assumptions.

In traditional mainstream neoclassical consumer theory, the consumer is supposed to maximize a utility function subject to some budget constraint. To conduct maximization analysis, certain axioms are imposed on the consumer choice set that enable mathematical tractability and optimization analysis. These axioms can be summarized into the following: completeness, transitivity, invariance of preferences, convexity, continuity of the utility function and monotonicity or local non-satiation.

Apart from Economics, other social sciences are not always thrilled to restrict consumer behavior analysis within such a framework which is only used for mathematical tractability in economics. Lehtinen & Kuorikoski (2007) defend the neoclassical methods for analyzing consumer behavior by arguing that the false assumptions are not potent reasons to abandon the mainstream methods and analysis. It is the empirical validity of predictions with observed behavior which gives the mainstream tools and methodology the credibility and wide acceptability.

However, the relevance and validity of these axioms are not trivial to Gowdy & Mayumi (2001). They opine that if consumer behavior does not conform to the set of axioms adopted in neoclassical theory, then one cannot make the leap from maximizing utility to constructing welfare measures of consumer surplus using Hicksian or Marshallian demand curves.

Thaler (1980) explains that since mainstream consumer behavior theory is based on a rational maximizing model, it describes how consumers should choose given the model and its assumptions; however, not necessarily describing how they do choose. Mainstream consumer behavior theory is normatively based and it only claims that it is also a descriptive theory.

But, in many cases, the mainstream consumer theory fails to predict the economic choices either because of rigid axioms or simplistic preference structure.

Sen (1977) explaining the shortcomings in the structure in neoclassical approach comments as follows:

“A person is given one preference ordering, and as and when the need arises this is supposed to reflect his interests, represent his welfare, summarize his idea of what should be done, and describe his actual choices and behavior. Can one preference ordering do all these things? A person thus described may be “rational” in the limited sense of revealing no inconsistencies in his choice behavior, but if he has no use for these distinctions between quite different concepts, he must be a bit of a fool.”

Gowdy & Mayumi (2001) correctly argue that monotonicity axiom is irrelevant in environment goods where the balance and coherence matters more than abundance. Health goods also require a balance for their effectiveness. Same is true when consumption is analyzed with respect to health effects. Moreover, just like the consumer choice implicitly maintains or should maintain a balance with regards to health effects of consumption, the mainstream consumer theory will be much better off by giving due importance to the balance with regards to ecology, biodiversity and intergenerational equity. This may require incorporating the attribute of ‘commitment’ in consumer theory (Sen, 1977).

Using an example from social choice, Sen (1977) states that even when individual voters have limited probability of affecting actions and when the costs of casting votes could be substantial in particular circumstances, people still take the pain to cast votes to document their true preferences. Sen argues that if this desire reflects a sense of commitment, then the behavior in question would be at variance with the view of man in traditional economic theory.

Furthermore, ‘Ultimatum Game’ reflects the fact that people tend to look at their choice outcomes relatively. Prisoner’s Dilemma highlights the fact that choices by each player in a self-centric way are not necessarily going to be best for them either individually or collectively.

On the other hand, there is another critique on the rational consumer theory that it is overly optimistic about the information processing capability of the consumer. On this, Simon (1957, p. 198) wrote:

“The capacity of the human mind for formulating and solving complex problems is very small compared with the size of the problems whose solution is required for objectively rational behavior in the real world — or even for a reasonable approximation to such objective rationality.”   

Furthermore, recent evidence in behavioral finance and consumer psychology points to the fact that consumer information processing capabilities are limited and prone to error. Alias paradox (1953) and Ellsberg paradox (1961) are good examples of this phenomenon.

References

Gowdy, John M. & Mayumi, Kozo (2001), “Reformulating the foundations of consumer choice theory and environmental valuation”, Ecological Economics, 39, pp. 223–237.

Lehtinen, Aki & Kuorikoski, Jaakko (2007), “Unrealistic Assumptions in Rational Choice Theory”, Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 37, pp. 115 -137.

Sen, Amartya K. (1977), “A Critique of the Behavioral Foundations of Economic Theory”, Philosophy and Public Affairs, 6(4), pp. 317 – 344.

Simon, Herbert (1957), “Models of Man”, Wiley: New York

Thaler, Richard (1980), “Toward a Positive Theory of Consumer Choice”, Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, l, pp. 39 – 60.

Allais, M. (1953), “Le comportement de l’homme rationnel devant le risque: critique des postulats et axiomes de l’école Américaine”. Econometrica, 21 (4), pp. 503 – 546.

Ellsberg, Daniel (1961), “Risk, Ambiguity, and the Savage Axioms”, Quarterly Journal of Economics, 75 (4), pp. 643–669.

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