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Islam and Capitalism by Abdul Q Kundi

Some of you may not agree but personally I believe Islam is the most rational religion. I arrived at this conclusion through research studying other religions and especially after talking to many converts. Whenever I asked them what made them convert most of them would respond that it is the clarity and simplicity of the message. How do you become a Muslim? It is a simple process by reciting there is no God but God and Mohammad (PBUH) is the prophet. The first part is the faith and the second a social contract. The idea of a first cause or one superior creator is not something proposed by Islam but even earlier and later philosophers Aristotle, Plato, Socrates and Descartes arrived at the same conclusion. Here I am not proposing that message of Islam can be equated with science, logic or mathematics where empirical evidence and confirmation of laws is needed to accept it as verified. All I am saying is that Islam is most rational when it is compared with all other religions. It appeals to the intellect of a person rather than demand blind following. Most past religions and prophets had to rely on mythology or miracles to establish their authority. For instance Prophet Ibrahim (AS) had to walk through fire; Prophet Solomon (AS) conversing with animals and Jinn; Prophet Yousef (AS) was divinely charismatic to mesmerize those around him as well as interpret dreams; Prophet Younus (AS) survived in the belly of a whale; Prophet Musa (AS) using his staff to swallow snakes of the magicians or parting of the sea; and Prophet Issa (AS) had a virgin birth as well as raised dead. Similarly other major religions Hinduism and Buddhism rely heavily on mythology like incarnation of Buddha after death and humans with animal or super natural powers respectively. The rationality of Islam in a way is God’s reassurance that humanity has arrived at an intellectual level where there is no need to rely on miracles or mythology. This is evident from the scientific progress made in last 1400 years as compared to the advancement before it. Airplanes, smartphones, drones, space travel are some examples that are unmatched any other time in human history.

The sad part is that although Islam is the most rational religion but Muslims on the other hand are most irrational when it comes to practicing their religion and organizing their societies. They lack knowledge of the religion and have become intellectual salve to the dogma. There are many causes for it. First is to have a sense of superiority over other religions. When I listen to any sermon or read explanation of a verse almost half of it is spent justifying how superior Islam is to other religions. It is understandable to have pride in one’s faith but this expression of superiority is actually demonstrating a sense of insecurity and doubt. Superiority of a religion should express in deeds rather than words just like the companions of the Prophet (PBUH). The other hurdle is reverence. Religious scholars of Islam demand conformity to their explanation of the religion and look down upon critical inquiry of the message. A research scholar cannot start his journey of exploration with preconceived biases of faith. A scholar has to wipe the slate clean to have a fresh look at the information presented to him/her. Then he has to design bench marks and validation of ideas before arriving at a conclusion. It is because of this lack of critical inquiry and research among Muslims that most scholarly work on Islam is done by the West or other non-Muslims.

I recently finished a book by Benedikt Koehler titled “Early Islam and birth of Capitalism”. I was interested in the subject because in my own book “Islamic Social Contract” I had proposed that Islam supports capitalist economy. I needed a reconfirmation of those ideas. Mr. Benedikt has proposed the theory that the birth of modern capitalism occurred in Medina during the times of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). Some features of this economy were no price control by the state; introduction of venture capital to fund trade caravans; emergence of trust to fund social welfare programs, mosques and madrassahs. He believes that the system of university endowments practiced today is a modern form of madrassah trust (waqf) established during the times of first four caliphs. He has suggested that banking in those days derived their profits from services rendered to the clients rather than interest. He has suggested that Venice emerged as a trading center adopting many of these same features. The book proposes that Muslims and Europeans had extensive trading relations even during crusades and there was an unwritten agreement among warring sides not to hinder it. The currency system introduced by Byzantine Empire was perfected by Muslims that was based more on the goodwill of the state rather than a gold standard alone. In other words modern currency system was first introduced by Muslims. He covers all aspects of the economy applied by early Muslim rulers including fiscal policy; beneficial trading rights; customs and tariff; and tax policy.

The book offers wealth of information about Islamic economic model. The content and style could have been better as there is a lot of repetition of same ideas. I hope that Universities in Muslim majority countries will adopt modern method of research to understand the social and political message of our religion. We can’t allow narrow minded politicians serving on Council of Islamic Ideological (CII) to dictate to us what religion does or does not mean. There is struggle between values and ideology going on in the world. Chinese Confucianism, Western liberal democracy, Hindu spiritualism and Islamic welfare democracy are seeking to provide answers to our 21st century issues to introduce peace, progress and growth of humanity. We can’t establish validity of our Islamic values until we understand and implement them in our societies.

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