By Inas Younis
September 17, 2018
I am writing this on my MacBook Air made by
Apple, using software made by Microsoft, drinking coffee brewed by Starbucks
all while contemplating how capitalism has afforded me the time and energy to
write about capitalism. How profits have given us the luxury to condemn the
profit motive and how modern innovation has given us the audacity to condemn
From the plastic cup to the flushing
toilet, one must know the difference between biting the hand that feeds you and
chopping it off. Biting is okay. Chopping is anachronistic and not part of our
Sharia (but more on that later).
Anyone who comes from the resource-dense
third world intuitively understands that the problem of poverty is not material
but political. It has never been about a lack of resources, but about the
individual freedom to develop technology to convert resources to material
wealth. You may not see anyone starting revolutions with slogans that read “We
Want Capitalism!” or “We Want the state to stay out!” And yet the Arab Spring
was triggered by the cries of a man who was prevented, not from praying, not
from protesting, but from selling his fruit; The fruit of his labour.
To be fair, the modern day distaste for
capitalism in the Muslim world while misguided is not totally unwarranted. For
one, the Muslim world is only familiar with a kind of crony capitalism where
the privatization of resources is exclusively granted to so called “entrepreneurs”
who are “well connected,” either by blood, or because they have shed blood on
behalf of the dictators that oppress them.
If an average citizen wishes to open a
business in a country like Egypt for example, he will need a license which he
can only obtain by belonging to or being close to a member of the ruling elite.
And even if one is able to obtain a license they would have to bribe or “share
their profits” with crooked officials euphemistically referred to as
Furthermore, Corporations have a long
history of employing the U.S government, using American tax dollars, to forge
alliances with mafias in the Muslim world, who are euphemistically referred to
as autocrats; All in the name of capitalism.
But capitalism is not just an economic
model but a social one where certain values like individual rights, freedom of
speech, rule of law, objectivity and most importantly, property rights have to
Without the mechanisms of enforceable legal
representation, you get the brand of capitalism that we have today. The brand
where men employ the government to act as a weight upon which they can leverage
productivity and ensure limited liability. In other words, you get Donald
Trump’s capitalism. A Capitalism designed to give privileges to some not based on
a system of meritocracy but plutocracy. A system which makes concessions for
some and not others, opening the door to the political corruptions inherent in
today’s pressure group politics.
Is Islam Pro-Capitalism
The fact that many Muslims today oppose capitalism
does not mean Islam is opposed to it.
For Islam is an ideology that stands apart from its adherents in the
same way that capitalism is a social system which stands apart from those who
commit crimes it its name.
Islam is a pro- market religion with a
pro-capitalism ideology. The principles and spirit of capitalism took root in
Islamic civilization long before the seeds were even planted in Europe. Long
before there was Adam Smith there was the father of modern economics, Ibn
Khaldun. And long before there was John Locke there was Ibn Tufyl, who is said
to have heralded in the scientific revolution.
The prophet Muhammed’s Position on the free
market can be encapsulated in the following tradition or Hadith:
When the city of Medina encountered problems
resulting in a shortage of food, not healthcare, but food, not internet access,
but food, there were attempts by his companions imploring him to fix prices.
The prophet’s response was this:
“God grants plenty or shortage; He is the
sustainer and real price Maker. I wish to go to him having done no injustice to
anyone in blood or in property.”
In other words, economics must exist as an
extension of natural law and fluctuate as naturally or catastrophically as the
weather. Nature can be harsh but it is also restrained by the immutable laws of
cause and effect.
In Islam, the law or Sharia is the
codification of natural law within a particular social context. Natural law is
an extension of God’s law and a free market responds to mankind in the same way
that nature does. To be commanded it
must be obeyed.
The Quran’s position is equally clear in
its endorsements. Success is defined as a goal both in this life and the next.
The Quran emphasizes the contractual nature of human interaction with an
emphasis on mutual agreement. And it holds property rights as a sacred trust
which must never be violated by the state or other individuals. Nor does it
condone government ownership of property. The prophet emphasized the importance
of property rights in his farewell pilgrimage by declaring to his followers
shall be legitimate to a Muslim which belongs to a fellow Muslim unless it was
given freely and willingly.”
“O’ you who
believe. Squander not your wealth among yourselves in vanity, except it be a
trade by mutual consent.”
“And in no wise covet those things in which
God hath bestowed his gifts more freely on some of you than on others; to men
is allotted what they earn and to women what they earn.”
Islamic civilization’s economic
infrastructure was not built by the state, but by civil institutions like
charitable endowments (Awqaf). Property rights were expanded to include
women. And an objective standard of weights and measures as well as commercial
law were a few of the many features which pushed Islamic civilization to the
economic front lines. Islam is a religion that not only took the sacred and
applied it to the secular world, but took the secular (man’s life and his
property) and declared them sacred.
So, if Islam was so philosophically
advanced and consistent with free market principles, why did the Muslim world
decline so rapidly?
When Muslim governments suppressed the
scholarly tradition of Ijtihad or independent critical thinking, they petrified
the process of Islamic jurisprudence and replaced it with a process of blind
imitation called Taqlid. Hundreds of years’ worth of intellectual stagnation
led to a brand of scholarship where government and religion began to foster and
unhealthy alliance. Unlike scholars of early Islamic civilization, who were
completely independent of the government, the present day scholars cannot boast
any degree of intellectual freedom, which is why modern day Muslims like me no
longer recognize their authority. Even many independent mosques in many western
countries hire Imams or scholars who are beholden to board members and exist
simply to reinforce and lend credibility to the subjective decision-making
process of a largely patriarchal and power wielding establishment.
Compare this to the founders of all four
Sunni schools of thought in Islam who endured persecution for refusing to
collaborate with government entities. Abu Hanifa was imprisoned for refusing to
accept a judgeship. And Ibn Hanbal was tortured for refusing to endorse a
state- sanctioned doctrine.
The decline of a civilization is the
decline of critical thinking, which is almost always a feature of an unhealthy
mixture, not just between religion and politics, but of economics and politics
too. Early Islamic civilization took their inspiration and guidance from a
religion establishment that was divorced from government entities.
Capitalism is not the cause of poverty. It
has lifted men out of poverty whenever it was implemented in spite of the fact
that it has never been fully implemented. And yet it continues to serve as the
camouflage for all the evils being perpetuated against the third world.
Islamic jurisprudence does not condemn
wealth because it does not see wealth as something that exists independently of
the values that make wealth possible. Values which are espoused by both
capitalism and Islam.