Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Islam and Economic Solutions -- part III (what makes a solution "Islamic"?)

Over the past half century or more, "Islamic" thought has suggested that the key to improving the situation of Muslims is to find Islamic solutions to all aspects of their lives, political, economic, etc. This gave rise to Mawdudi, Sadr and Qutb coining the term "Islamic economics", the vision of which is still defended today by the likes of Naqvi, Chapra, etc. More pragmatic writers, such as M.N. Siddiqi have argued that the paradigm of "Islamic economics" as an independently aximatized alternative to "secular" or "western" economics is misguided, and argued instead for what amounts to an Islamic filter -- to be used to decide which aspects of conventional economic thought requires adjustment to be harmonized with the Islamic MaqaSid of Shari`a (objectives of the Islamic way of life, as enumerated by Ghazali, Shatibi, and others).

Of course, a careful examination of the Maqasid also illustrates that the bulk thereof are not uniquely Islamic -- with the exception of "preservation of religion", which truly pluralistic societies would also endorse. At least four of the five agreed-upon necessities (preservation of life, property, mind, progeny) can hardly be disputed as social objectives in all sensible social systems. Muslims over the centuries might have devised specific means of protecting those highly valued social assets, but the concept itself is not uniquely Islamic. Moreover, as we examine the historical solutions developed by early Muslim societies, we find that they adopted freely from Persian and Roman legal systems, which were the most advanced systems with which the early Muslims came in contact. In other words, they applied the maxim encapsulated in the Prophet's statement: "Wisdom is the goal of the faithful, his wherever he finds it" (الحكمة ضالة المؤمن أنّى وجدها فهو أحق الناس بها).

ٌYet, we still find Muslims in finance, economics, etc. looking for "Islamic" solutions, and shunning obvious solutions that have been developed by other nations. When pointed to those solutions, they object citing Prophetic traditions that forbid imitating the previous (Jewish and Christian) nations. It is not clear how one can reconcile this attitude with the practice of early Muslims, who borrowed not only from Jewish and Christian (Roman) legal traditions, but also from pagan ones, when the solutions appeared to be in agreement with Islamic principles. One solution is to restrict the general text of the Traditions forbidding imitation of Jews and Christians to matters of dogma/creed, and general approach to religion (excessive veneration of saints and priests, exessive optimism about God's mercy that discourages righteous action, etc.).

In the Arab world, the example of Abdul-Razzaq Al-Sanhuri is quite interesting: When the Azhar scholars refused to codify a new legal system following the fall of the Ottoman empire, Sanhuri undertook the task of applying an Islamic filter to French civil code, giving rise to a legal system that most jurists and legal scholars in Egypt continue to accept as being "in accordance with the Shari`a". Of course, this happened in the early 20th Century, CE, when views of the "west" were quite different. Imam Muhammad Abduh famously said upon returning from Paris: "I went to France, and found there Islam without Muslims, then returned to Egypt to find Muslims, but no Islam". In other words, the general view of the time was that the west prospered precisely because it applied the same basic principles upon which successful Islamic societies were originally built. The solution to the ills of Muslim societies were thus to be found in rediscovering our own heritage, as developed and improved by the currently most advanced societies.

The Islamist program (post Mawdudi, Qutb, Sadr, etc.) rejected this view, and insisted that the only road to reform and progress is through developing genuinely "Islamic" solutions that are derived directly from the Qur'an and Prophetic Tradition. Where this program was taken seriously (e.g. in so-called "Islamic finance"), the result has been at best partial (and grossly inefficient) replication of the western wheel, that has done nothing but enrich a few lawyers and jurists.

In the early days of the 21st Century, CE, it would be to Muslims' advantage to rediscover the pre-Mawdudi program of the early 20th Century, which resembled more closely the example of the early Muslim communities that adopted the best practices that they found -- regardless of origin.


Blogger Muhammad Saeed Babar said...


When you put a filter to something and that remain needs a name e.g filtered water. If Islamic filter is applied to the discipline of economics, finance etc and what is left is called "Islamic", where lies the problem or we are too afraid or ashamed to call something Islamic? If this is case, then call it filtered economics suitable for Muslims only.

"It is not clear how one can reconcile this attitude with the practice of early Muslims, who borrowed not only from Jewish and Christian (Roman) legal traditions, but also from pagan ones, when the solutions appeared to be in agreement with Islamic principles."

The solution has to be in agreement with "Islamic Principles" and that is synonymous to applying an Islamic Filter so why there is hue and cry? If someone calls it an Islamic Solution, he is quite right in all aspects.

4:27 AM  

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