The importance given to the economic problems of nations and states around the world is greater than ever before. The focus of this attention today is the arrival of specialized institutions and books with high-sounding jargon and terms dedicated to Economics as a discipline, accompanied by a growing complexity in the processes of production and supply, as well as access to the basic amenities of life. Strangely enough, this phenomenon is becoming more and more complicated and enigmatic, rather than getting resolved or better understood. Nevertheless, when viewed in a simpler and natural way, shorn of its technical trappings and academic bombasts, the economic issue becomes easier to understand and we can discover the merits and demerits of various measures that have been taken to resolve it.
The Problem of a Partial Approach
In addition to the confusion caused by the bamboozling terminologies and jargon, the economic issue of mankind has become more complicated because it has been removed from the main body of the greater issue facing them as humans and moral beings, and attempts have been made to handle it in isolation as an independent question. This approach has led to the economic question being viewed as the main issue in life. Specialization may be a blessing, but it has led to compartmentalization of life and the inability to take a holistic approach towards issues facing mankind. The human being today has been reduced to a plaything in the hands of the one-eyed experts of different sciences, arts, and crafts. All sciences cover different facets of life. Each one has its own place and role and is part of the same single whole.
Economics covers an important part of his social existence, but he is not merely a social animal whose life can be confined to the basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter. Evidently, a person who desires to understand any issue should not concentrate simply on that area, or look at the whole spectrum of life with a definite bias in favor of that particular issue. One has to look at the broader context without a blurred vision. The correct way is to focus on the entire spectrum comprehensively; keeping in view each minutest detail while pinpointing the afflicted part and the actual nature of the disease. The present difficulty in achieving a correct diagnosis and treatment of the economic problem is a result of this partial approach.
The Real issue
Mankind’s actual economic problem is no more than a question of how best to acquire basic necessities of life, while at the same time trying to maintain the pace of socio-economic progress and ensuring that every member of society has the opportunity to make the best use of his qualifications and potential. So, the real economic challenge facing man is how to eliminate social injustice and tyranny while maintaining the natural rate of progress; how to accomplish nature’s design that every creature should get what it needs for its subsistence; and how to remove the hurdles that cause the energies and potential of the majority of people to go to waste.
The Root Cause of Economic Mismanagement
The factor that is primarily responsible for the malaise was the degeneration of those people blessed with a better economic position into selfishness, greed, stinginess, and dishonesty.
Self-aggrandizement and Luxuries
The rich refused to accept the rights of those in the community who were deprived of their due share of the national wealth. The human capital that could very well have been used in the service of civilization and culture was utilized instead to satisfy their lust and personal egos. These devil’s disciples were not content with callously allowing a large segment of society to suffer morally, spiritually, and physically. They indulged in futile, mean, and harmful pastimes that led to humanity’s doom and destruction; hence misusing material capital too.
Economic resources in excess of one’s needs can be used in one of the following two ways.
- Advancement on interest-based loans
- Investment in commercial and industrial enterprise
These two methods jointly lead to the division of society into two classes.
- The moneyed class of a small group of privileged people, who own more than they need and use their riches to grow even richer.
- The larger segment of the society who have little, just enough for their needs or may have nothing at all. This could give rise to class-conflicts and confrontation in society.
The Element of Antagonistic Competition
With the rise of such an unhealthy race, called antagonistic competition, the number of ‘haves’ in society continually decreases while the ‘have nots’ multiply. This trend of antagonistic competition now crosses national boundaries to globalize an exploitative economic system.
Cartels and Monopolies
The above trend has given rise to a small group of people that includes bankers, brokers and the heads of industrial and commercial cartels and monopolies. This group has so dominated the world’s economic resources that the whole of humanity today appears to be helpless before it.
The Recipe of Communism
Communism came up with a unique solution. It proposed to transfer the means of production of wealth from private to public ownership and also to assign to the community (with the Communist Party as its sole representative) the responsibility for its distribution. But, the result of this prescription is bound to be as deadly as that which it sought to replace.
The natural outcome of communist rule is, therefore, the emergence of one Super Capitalist (i.e. the Communist Party) out of the ashes of many large and small ones in the country and the rise of a single mill-owner and feudal lord who is simultaneously the Czar as well as the capital baron.
An absolute power like this is bound to corrupt its power absolutely. Even if we presume that a group of ruling elites would not go beyond certain limits in their use of absolute power, there is no avenue for the natural growth and development of the personalities of individuals.
The drawbacks of the communist system are going to be far more than the benefits. A group of humans cannot be so knowledgeable and omniscient that they can correctly assess the intrinsic qualities and inborn faculties of countless millions of their fellow humans and then chart out for each of them a perfect course for their growth and development. A ruthless regimentation of this type will be a death blow to human civilization’s diversity and will turn a society into a lifeless monotony; putting an end to the natural growth of civilization and eventually lead to the freezing of human potential and a severe mental and moral degeneration. Communism, therefore, does not offer a correct or natural solution to the economic problems of man.
The Fascist Solution
Fascism and national socialism also claim to offer a solution. Practically speaking, the consequences of this approach do not appear to be greatly different from those of communism.
The Islamic Solution
Now, let us examine the solution that Islam offers for the economic problems of man.
Among the rules is to retain those principles that are natural and, in case of deviation, turn a person back to the natural course. The second rule is to place a heavy emphasis on the reformation of conduct and mentality in order to strike at the root of what is wrong in the human psyche, instead of remaining content with the external precautions of introducing a few rules and regulations into society’s social set up. The third basic rule, which may be found everywhere in the legal code of Islam, is that the state’s coercive power and the force of the law should only be used as and when it is deemed essential.
Let us look at the question of earning money. Islam acknowledges a man’s right to earn a living in this world, according to his aptitude, qualifications, and capabilities. It does not, however, permit him to use anti-social or corrupt means to earn a living. It makes a distinction between the Harām (forbidden) and Halāl (lawful) means of earning money and declares every anti-social means to be Harām.
Islam also acknowledges an individual’s right to own whatever he may have obtained through lawful means. It does not leave him free to use it as he will, however, but imposes certain restrictions on this.
It is unlawful in Islam to spend one’s income in a manner that may be ethically damaging or socially injurious. The best use of money is to spend one’s earnings in a reasonable manner on one’s lawful requirements and let the amount that is saved be used to support those in need.
- Eliminating the Capitalist Trend
The human weakness for money and luxuries can never be completely overcome by mere sermonizing or abstract moral precepts. Therefore, Islam imposes legal restrictions on the use of the wealth that is saved after spending on one’s lawful needs. It prohibits interest-based transactions; consequently, breaking the backbone of the oppressive capitalist system.
- Circulation of Wealth and Social Security
Islam does not approve of people amassing their surplus wealth. By demanding its followers to spend whatever they earn in satisfying their needs, investing in business or lending to others to help them satisfy their needs, it keeps the capital in circulation. However, if one manages to save and pool a surplus out of his earnings, then two and a half percent of the total amount saved will be compulsorily deducted annually as mandatory charity or Zakāh to be used according to a well-devised plan of social welfare. The funds so generated will be deposited in the public treasury (Bayt al-Māl). The Bayt al-Māl will thus be a guaranteed source of help for all those in need of support. The Islamic system of Zakāh is actually the best-known institution of social insurance in human society to date. Another measure is law of inheritance. Islam does not permit wealth to be hoarded. Once the owner dies, his assets are divided and distributed according to predetermined shares.
Points to Ponder
Don’t the Islamic teachings eliminate the drawbacks of private ownership that surface in Muslim society? Then why should we use the communist, fascist or nationalist-socialist models that follow artificial means of economic management, which rather than removing one wrong actually create so many others? If viewed dispassionately and examined incisively, setting aside the biases, prejudices and narrow mindedness inherited from the past and overcoming the trend to be overawed by everything new because of the predominance of non-Islamic systems in the world, I am confident that every right-thinking and clear-headed person will admit that the Islamic economic system is the best and most-suited to solve humanity’s economic problems. This system is closely interlinked with its political, judicial, legal, civil, and social systems based on the Islamic moral code. Even the moral code is not self-sustaining, but depends entirely on faith in the Lord, the All-Knowing and All-Seeing, to Whom each is answerable for all that he does.