Islam being the last great monotheistic religion of Semitic chain has a very broad, deep and comprehensive set-up of its own. To a large number of its believers, it is not a religion in ordinary sense of the word; not a collection of rites and rituals only but a complete code of life. It is wide enough to cover all the aspects of life. It is a SYSTEM.
Now what is a system, it is an intricate complex of all-inclusive and clear-cut rules and regulation regarding all fields of life ;from dietary principles to family laws, from social norms to cultural ideals, and, from political models to economic guidelines. And this structure is organized, well-built, fixed and rigid.
To some experts on the other hand, Islam is not a hard and fast system; it is an ethical code only which has provided mankind with some axioms and guiding principles. It is flexible enough and has room for picking and lifting, adjustment and adaptability. According to this school of thought, Islam is capable of absorbing and accommodating modern trends without any undue friction. These groups within the framework of Islam are known as fundamentalists and liberals respectively. However, there are a number of internal rifts and contradiction in both. As there is no categorical consensus, what Islam actually is, the phrase chosen for this paper is ‘Muslim World’ rather than Islam. The various brands of Islam with which we are familiar are definitely not true Islam, but they, nonetheless, are the representative shades and hues of Muslim opinion and mode of action.
This paper intends to show that Muslim World (not Islam) partly accepted modernity and partly resisted it. Its attitude remained selective. This selection, however, was based on the interests of ruling classes. Unfortunately Muslim World always remained in the iron fist of dictators, who manipulated Islam according to their own whims and desires. Same is the case with capitalism. Being an economic system it was welcomed by the ruling elite as it provides room for private property and unlimited accumulation of wealth. For this purpose again Scripture was interpreted ‘selectively’. In our own times, Islam was used as a synonym of capitalism, so much so that the proxy war of capitalist bloc against former USSR was fought against in the name of Islam; while communism stood as a synonym of atheism.
Though, going too far for the promotion and support of capitalism, yet Muslim World assimilated it only partly and badly rejected its logically necessary derivatives, that is, liberalism and democracy. As a consequence, despite large human and natural resources, the Muslim World is still groaning under the clutches of extreme poverty, rigid conservatism and worst dictatorship. This selective rather vested- interests- bound approach has practically kept Muslim World at a pre-modern level till date and earned a negative impression for Islam as an opponent of modernity and incompatible with the liberal tradition and democracy.
To exploit capitalism for keeping the masses deprived and backward, certain Qur’anic concepts were specifically highlighted and brought into prominence, for instance, fate (taqdeer) and promised or pre-ordained subsistence (rizq-e- mauood). Since poor and illiterate people may be easily shackled into the yoke of dictatorship; hence for the very purpose it is essential to suppress liberal thought and education as much as possible. The above mentioned concepts may serve competently to justify poverty hence promoting backwardness and illiteracy.
Let us have a brief glance over the capitalistic orientations of Islam. As far as sustenance is concerned, Allah in Qur’an has categorically asserted that He is responsible for provision of food for every living organism. See the following verse: “There is no creature that moves in the earth but it is for Allah to provide it with sustenance. And He knows its lodging and its home. All (this is recorded) in a clear Book”[i].
Two points are clearly evident from this i) Sustenance is promised (mauood) by Allah, ii) Sustenance in either quantity is pre-determined (muqaddar) by Allah, as it has already been written in a Holy Book! This idea has been consistently exploited not by upholders of capitalism as such but by those who want to justify unequal or unfair distribution of resources, since the advent of Islam. Another relevant verse follows as, “………and that you kill not your children for (fear of) poverty— it is We Who provide you for and for them…..”[ii] (It is one of the verses quoted frequently by opponents of family planning and birth control). At times Allah provides you from where you do not expect, “And will provide for him from where he expects not”.[iii]
At places the Qur’an has rationalized the economic disparities and inequalities in the human society—– consider this verse as a proof, “Is it they who distribute the mercy of thy Lord? It is We Who distribute their livelihood in the present life, and We exalt some of them above others in degrees (of rank) so that some of them may make others subservient (to themselves). And the mercy of thy Lord is better than that which they amass”.[iv] Another similar verse reads, “And Allah has favoured some of you above others in sustenance. But those who are more favoured will not restore (any part of their worldly) gifts to whom their right hand possesses, so that they may be equal (sharers) in them. Will they then deny the favour of Allah”?[v]
The purpose of this paper is strictly not to portray Islam as a tool of reaction or exploitation. We are just having the review that Islam is through and through capitalistic in its economic approach, and has not stressed on equal distribution of resourced. Yes it has emphasized on charity and sympathy for the under-privileged again and again, which will be discussed later on. Zakat is based on the principle of taking wealth from the rich and returning it to the poor. One of its functions is to chastise the money being utilized by the rich. However, eradicating poverty is not Divine design, because classes have been produced by Allah Himself through uneven distribution of sustenance. Allah gives to some without measurement and to some He gives in small measured quantities as is evident from following verses.
“………Allah bestows sustenance on whomsoever He pleases without reckoning”[vi].
“……….Surely Allah gives to whomsoever He pleases without measure”.[vii]
“……….Allah does provide whomsoever He pleases without measure”[viii]
“Allah enlarges provisions for whomsoever He pleases and straitens (it for whomsoever He pleases)”.[ix]
“Surely thy Lord enlarges provisions for whomsoever He pleases and straitens (it for whomsoever He pleases)”.[x]
“………..It is indeed Allah Who enlarges the provision for such of His servants as He pleases and straitens it (for whom He pleases)”.[xi]
“Allah enlarges (the means of) sustenance for such of His servants as He pleases and straitens (them) for whom (He pleases). Surely Allah has full knowledge of all thing”.[xii]
“Have not they seen that Allah enlarges His provision to whomsoever He pleases, and straitens (it to whomsoever He pleases)? In that truly are the Signs for those who believe”[xiii].
“Say verily my Lord enlarges the provision for (whomsoever) He pleases, and straitens (it for whomsoever he pleases); but most men do not know”.[xiv]
“Say, ‘Surely my Lord enlarges the provision of such of His servants He pleases and straitens (it) for such of them as (He pleases). And whatever you spend, he will replace it; and He is the best of Providers”.[xv]
“Know they not that Allah enlarges the provision for whomsoever He pleases and straitens (it to whomsoever He pleases)? Verily, in that are the Signs for a people who believe”.[xvi]
“To Him belong the keys to the heavens and the earth. He enlarges the provision to whomsoever He pleases, and straitens (it to whomsoever He pleases). Surely He knows all things full well”.[xvii]
“Allah is Benignant to His servants. He provides for whom He pleases. And He is the Powerful, the Mighty”.[xviii]
“And if Allah should enlarge the provision for His servants, they would rebel in the earth; but He sends down according to a (proper) measure as He pleases. Indeed He is All-Aware and All-seeing with regard to His servants”.[xix]
In the face of the abundant evidence above there is no doubt that economic inequality is part of eternal Divine scheme and sustenance is measured and pre-determined for every soul by the sweet will of the Lord. However, He has to fulfill His promise of provision, for which the rich are obliged to give charity to their less fortunate brethren. This will purify their wealth; otherwise they will have to burn in the hellfire eternally. Moreover, those whose sustenance has been straitened are exempt from many religious duties with pecuniary implications. See the following verse as an example, “Let him who has abundance of means spend out of his abundance. And let him whose means of subsistence are straitened spend out of what Allah has given him. Allah burdens not any soul beyond what He has given him, Allah will soon bring forward ease after hardship”.[xx]
This is known as ‘trickle down’ or ‘spin off’ effect in modern capitalistic Economics of which the roots and foundations may be traced within Islam. Hence the capitalistic nature of Islam is established beyond any reasonable doubt.
In support of the above assertions, following contention of Syed Abu Ala Maudoodi may be quoted: “The economic scheme presented in Qur’an is based entirely on the idea of individual ownership in every field……..The mere fact that it mentions in one place that ‘the earth belongs to God (7:129)” is not enough to conclude that it either denies or forbids private ownership of land and sanctions nationalization.”[xxi]
He further writes, “It is equally erroneous to draw from verse xIi, 10 the inference that Qur’an desires to distribute all the means of livelihood in the earth equally among all men……….For the purpose of this interpretation the verse is wrongly rendered to mean that ‘God has put in the earth its means of sustenance proportionately in four days, alike for those who seek’. But even this wrong translation does not serve the purpose”.[xxii]
“ The fact that as in other things , all men do not enjoy equality in sustenance and means of earning, is described in the Qur’an as a feature of God’s providence. Extravagant disparities devised by various social systems aside, natural inequality, as it goes, is described as the outcome of His wise apportionment, issuing from his own dispensation. The idea that this inequality is to be leveled up and substituted by dead equality is alien to the Book of God”.[xxiii] Another verse of the Qur’an with the similar effect reads, “……And He it is Who has made you successors (of others) on the earth and has exalted some of you over others in degrees (of rank)……..”[xxiv]
So far as Islam is in complete harmony with capitalism; but same is the point of divergence, where Islam comes in contrast with Western tradition of the same as well as modernity. This is the high time to show how Islam has selectively assimilated some aspects of modernity including capitalism and left the other. Unfortunately this selective attitude was /is basically a defensive shield and safeguard for the interest of the non-representative ruling classes and the forces of reaction. We have seen earlier that liberalism and democracy are logical corollaries of capitalism. These liberal and democratic traditions flourished in the West and led to free, open, egalitarian and welfare oriented societies in spite of unequal distribution of resources and economic disparities. But the same could not happen in the Muslim World and every one knows what treatment was meted out to liberal and democratic thought in the Muslim World! Till date out of 57 independent Muslim states of the world almost all are languishing under the clutches of monarchies or military dictators. So called democracies of the few are the changed garb of the same, and, are weak and untenable.
Here I would like to turn your attention to some assertions made in the beginning of this paper, please read the following once again in the light of above discussion:
“…….This is probably because modernity came to be known in the Muslim world in the wake of colonialism when Muslims found themselves on the defensive. To the Western colonial regimes Islam was not compatible with modernity and hence it was to be reformed or modernized or else marginalized. Muslims, therefore, generally conceived modernity, modernism and modernization not only as Western and alien but also hostile and threatening”.[xxv]
The reality is rather different and very harsh, because Islam neither was, nor is incompatible with modernity, nor is modernity threatening, hostile or alien to it. The fact is that modernity is actually hostile to the interests of Muslim rulers which are incompatible with the interests of Muslim masses. Hence to keep their own people subjugated, submissive, compliant and docile, elite classes have spread this notion that modernity is incompatible with Islam. They do accept those aspects of modernity including capitalism which serve their interests and reject those which are pro-masses. A very shrewd and opportunist intelligentsia has very successfully helped them in this selective approach. See the later part of the quote from Iftikhar H. Malik once again which reads, “In some cases modernising yet non-representative regimes have themselves coopted and promoted fundamentalist groups”[xxvi]. Why? Because enlightened, liberal. Modern and pro-masses thought does not suit them. Moderate intellectuals have never found favour with non-representative Muslim regimes.
He further asserts in the same regard, “……..while issues of political marginalization, economic adversity and warfare in all Muslim regions continued to be ignored. The Muslim ruling elite—monarchs, dictators and pseudo-democrats–sat aloof, biding the time, while the fundamentalists offered a reductionist palliative to mundane hardships”[xxvii]. He states categorically, “For example, on the one hand, political Islam may stipulate resistance to western hegemony; but at the same time many of its current forms are equally totalitarian”[xxviii].
Fazlur Rahman in the chapter ‘Contemporary Modernism’ of his famous book has analyzed the same features more critically with much focused approach. He has written, “But in the situations where masses were ignorant and illiterate and a relatively small modern-educated elite claimed to be working on their behalf for their material prosperity, political freedoms were often curtailed both in ‘socialistic” and “liberal” countries, since the rulers felt that political games would thwart quick economic development and in some cases threaten the “security of the state”.
“ The salient features of this new situation from our present perspective are 1) that the governments of these countries, whether democracies or dictatorships, socialist-oriented or “free-economy”-oriented, are largely self-styled brokers on behalf of their masses; 2) that the governments consider themselves agencies of development; 3) that by “development” is meant exclusively “economic progress”; ………….6) that the masses in these countries are uneducated, ignorant and extremely conservative……….there is, in this respect at least, hardly any effective communication between their broker governments and themselves. Finally and most important, 7) this political, social and moral situation is aggravated and made far more pernicious by the extremely low priority given to education because of the myopic vision of progress as being purely material.[xxix]”
Now we shall see how Muslim regimes have used very tenets of capitalism against liberalism and democracy quite in contrast with Western liberal democratic tradition sprouting from the same source. I slightly disagree here with Fazlur Rahman; the vision of Muslim governments is not “myopic” rather very sharp. They have deliberately kept their masses uneducated and illiterate because an educated, enlightened and aware public is very lethal to their own power and interests. This “far-sightedness” hidden in this agenda is to keep us backward in the field of education. The greatest evidence being that no university from the Muslim world falls in the first 500 advanced academic institutions of the world!!
Another interesting observation here is that Communism had always been declared un-Islamic despite the fact that it is quite dictatorial in nature, because it ensured economic equality which is against Divine order! Capitalism was accepted with fervour but its off-shoots of liberalism and democracy were ruthlessly crushed because they did not suit Muslim regimes hence incompatible with Islam.
Before concluding this study, it will be fruitful to have a short appraisal of the proposed political system of Islam in the words of Syed Maudoodi. The Political System of Islam is generally known as Caliphate (vicegerency), which is though not strictly democratic is not as autocratic and authoritarian as depicted by the vested –interests groups. The major tenets of Caliphate are as under:
- All the powers that man possesses in this world are in fact not his own, but have been endowed on him by God Almighty………..Man is thus not an independent master but a vicergent of the real Sovereign;
- Every nation that acquires the power and authority to rule over any part of the world is in reality a vicegerent to God in its domain;
- This vicegerency, however, cannot be rightful or lawful unless it is subservient to the commandments of the real Sovereign. Any state independent of Him and not subservient to His commands is not a vicegerency. It is really a revolt against the Lord. (Al-Qur’an, 24:55, 35:39);
- The powers of a true Caliphate do not vest in any individual nor in any clan, class or community, but those who believe and do good. The text of xxiv, 55 that ‘” God has promised to those of you who believe and do good that He will most certainly make them His vicegerent on the earth….” is quite clear on this point. According to this verse, every good Muslim is fit to hold the position of a caliph. It is this aspect of Islamic caliphate that distinguishes it from a kingship, oligarchy, and a theocracy. It is different even from a modern democracy. There is a basic difference between the two. The edifice of democracy is raised on the principle of popular sovereignty; while in Islamic caliphate the people themselves surrender their independence to the sovereignty of God and of their own accord limit their power within the four corners of the Divine Law and the promise of vicegerency has been held out to them only if they are morally good.[xxx]
There is a well-known verse in Qur’an which reveals sovereignty of Allah regarding bestowing His vicegerency upon any one He pleases. The verse reads as: “Say, ‘O Allah, the Lord of Sovereignty, thou give sovereignty whomsoever Thou please; and Thou take away sovereignty from whomsoever Thou please. Thou exalt whomsoever Thou please and Thou abase whomsoever Thou please. In Thy hand is all good. Thou surely have power to do all things.”[xxxi]However, this is the most frequently used verse of the Qur’an by autocratic dictators, authoritarians and totalitarian Muslim rulers who whenever grab power through any means and methods always declare it Divine decree or will of God.
Another similarly misinterpreted verse is as follows, “O ye who believe! Obey Allah and obey the Apostle and those of you who are in authority…..’[xxxii] It seems that it offers license to the ruling classes to demand absolute obedience from their subjects. Whereas the case is entirely different as is evident from this passage of Syed Maudoodi: “The government of a State established with a view to running an Islamic Caliphate cannot claim an absolute or unlimited obedience from the people. They are bound to obey it only in so far as it exercises its powers in accordance with the Divine Law revealed in nature and the Sacred Book. There can be neither obedience nor cooperation in sin and aggression” (5:3)[xxxiii].
Moreover, the Caliphate is not a dictatorial institution as envisaged by those whom we have called vested-interest groups. A number of eminent political thinkers and scholars such as Al-Mawardi , Abu- Yala and al-Baghdadi have spoken of elections by notables (Abu Bakar’s case), designation by the incumbent (Umar’s case), nomination by Electoral College (Uthman’s case) and direct election by people (Ali’s case) as valid forms of instituting a Khalifa.[xxxiv]
It is interesting as well as regretful to note that attitude of Muslim World is also selective towards Islam and Qur’an and not only to modernity or capitalism alone!
[i] Al-Qur’an, 11: 7
[ii] Ibid, 6: 152
[iii] Ibid, 65:4
[iv] Ibid, 43: 33
[v] Ibid, 16:72.
These verses were extensively quoted by Islamic political parties of Pakistan against Z.A. Bhutto when he adopted Socialism as economic system of Pakistan in early 1970s. Socialism was painted as atheistic because it rebelled against ‘divine disparities’ and opted for equality not ordained by Islam. Later this argument was developed to its logical limits and culminated in overthrow of Bhutto regime through a reactionary religious movement in 1977, subsequent Afghan Jihad in 80s and dissolution of Soviet Russia in 1991.
[vi] Ibid, 2:213
[vii] Ibid, 3:38
[viii] Ibid, 24:39
[ix] Ibid, 13:27
[x] Ibid, 17:31
[xi] Ibid, 28:83
[xii] Ibid, 29: 63
[xiii] Ibid, 30: 38
[xv] Ibid, 34:40
[xvi] Ibid, 39:53
[xvii] Ibid, 42:13
[xix] Ibid, 42:28
[xx] Ibid, 65:8
[xxi] Abul Ala Maudoodi, “Economic and Political Teachings of the Qur’an”, A History of Muslim Philosophy, Vol. I, ed. M.M. Sharif, (Karachi: Royal Book Company, 1983), 179.
[xxii] Ibid, 179
[xxiii] Ibid, 180
[xxiv] Al- Qur’an, 6: 166
[xxv] See P. 2 above
[xxvi] See P. 2 above
[xxvii] Iftikhar H. Malik, Islam and Modernity: Muslims in Europe and the United States, (London: Pluto Press, 1984), 4.
[xxviii] Ibid, 5.
[xxix] Fazlur Rahman, Islam and Modernity: Transformation of an Intellectual Tradition, (Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press, 1984). 88-89.
[xxx] Abul Ala Maudoodi, “Economic and Political Teachings of the Qur’an”, A History of Muslim Philosophy, Vol. I, ed. M.M. Sharif, (Karachi: Royal Book Company, 1983), 193-94.
[xxxi] Al-Qur’an, 3: 27
[xxxii] Ibid, 4:60
[xxxiii] Abul Ala Maudoodi, “Economic and Political Teachings of the Qur’an”, A History of Muslim Philosophy, Vol. I, ed. M.M. Sharif,(Karachi: Royal Book Company,1983), 194
[xxxiv] Dr. Mohammad Shah, Pan Islamism in India & Bengal, (Karachi: Royal Book Company, 2002), 21-22.
As we have seen in depth that Muslim World accepted modernity and its related features partly and partially. There is no doubt about it that no trend, idea, scheme or plan may be accepted in toto. One has to tailor or adopt it to some extent. Hence if Islam has not fully embraced modernity, capitalism, liberalism or democracy, it is not a major objection per se. Nothing is wrong even with this selective absorption. The real trouble lies with the modus operandi of the selectors. The choosers and selectors have made selection, picking and lifting not pragmatically or in the wider interest of Islam. Quite the contrary their sole criterion was the propagation of personal agenda. The autocratic Muslim rulers did not hesitate from arbitrary and torn -out –of- context interpretations of Qur’an for their tendentious designs; liberalism and democracy being their worst targets. Muslim States rarely allowed/allow freedom of speech, opinion, belief and expression, equality of opportunity, gender equity, political rights, open society and individualism to their subjects (not citizens).
Post World Wars I & II situation, decline of Turkey, lack of power, occupation of territories and resources robbed Muslim masses of their self-esteem and dignity; whereas made their rulers heavily dependent on US and West for support. This propaganda was supported, promoted and strengthened by the world powers that Islam is incompatible with modernity, liberal tradition and specially democracy.
Our topic, however, precisely was Islam and Capitalism. In the end, it is only to summarize the contents of above discussion in few lines that Islam is in perfect harmony with capitalism rather its foundations and roots may be traced inside the earlier Islam; hence there is no question of its rejection by Islam. However, most unfortunately Islam irrigated it very diligently and painstakingly as a nascent sapling but refused its ripe fruit in the form of liberal outlook and representative democratic institutions. Islam accepted its waste, harmful by-products or you may say least useful elements. This situation led to the Muslim world, where it is today. Poverty, illiteracy and backwardness are its fate. Oil rich Gulf and Arab states are not poor, but, nonetheless, backward in technology and education besides being highly authoritarian.
In the nutshell, it may be said that the fault or responsibility lies neither with Islam nor with capitalism, rather with the hopeless attitude of the Muslim World specially its so-called leaders.