(Al Quran 96:1-4) Read in the name of your Lord who created. Who created man from a clinging form. Read! Your Lord is the Most Bountiful One. Who imparted knowledge by means of the pen. Who taught man what he did not know. But man exceeds all bounds when he thinks he is self-sufficient.
These were the first verses revealed to Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, the command to "read" followed by the use of pen emphasizes human attribution to acquire knowledge and educate others. It is our human attribute to acquire knowledge that made the angels bow in honor to Prophet Adam (alaihi salaam) when Allah ﷻ asked him to recite "names" (Al Quran 2:30-34). It is this which makes us a unique creation and responsible for our existence on earth, the use of its resources and accountability in hereafter. No other creation has been granted such responsibility. It was based on guidance from the Quran and our human potential that Muslims brought one of the greatest scientific revolutions in human history during the Islamic Golden Age. The beginning of this revolution started from 8th century Baghdad and by the 1100 CE, there were 75 madrassas (Islamic Universities) in Cairo, 51 in Damascus, and 44 in Aleppo. There were hundreds more in Muslim Spain at this time as well. It was these madrassas where students were taught religious sciences along with secular subjects the purpose of which was to integrate faith with knowledge. These educational havens in which suppressed European minds of dark ages also sought refuge from their Church. The Quran praises those who integrate faith with knowledge because such educated are truly humble and grateful for their learning: (Al Quran 35:28)…Of all His servants, only such as are endowed with [innate] knowledge stand [truly] in fear of God: [for they alone comprehend that,] verily, God is Almighty, Much-Forgiving.
With emphasis on attribute of knowledge, we are also reminded about our nature to become arrogant if learning process and progress is not guided by faith in Allah ﷻ and sense of His consciousness: (Al Quran 96:1-4) But man exceeds all bounds when he thinks he is self-sufficient - Knowledge is power and power makes one feel self sufficient but it also has the potential to corrupt. The foremost and primary purpose of education in Islam is to ensure that learning process is based on consciousness of our Creator, the primary cause of our existence and human abilities. Today mainstream education is largely divorced from such consciousness which is bound to result in ignorance and arrogance of the educated that causes them to deny accountability in the hereafter before their Creator. The Quran addresses this ungrateful attitude: (Al Quran 36:77-79) IS MAN, then, not aware that it is We who create him out of a [mere] drop of sperm - whereupon, lo! he shows himself endowed with the power to think and to argue? And [now] he [argues about Us, and] thinks of Us in terms of comparison, and is oblivious of how he himself was created! [And so] he says, "Who could give life to bones that have crumbled to dust?"
So how does God consciousness or godlessness impact our learning process?
The best parable is given in the words of Imam Ghazali (1058-111 CE): “Education is like rain water which comes down pure. Trees, plants and leaves drink that water which assumes different natures according to their different kinds. Water increases bitterness in a plant that is bitter and sweetness in a plant which is sweet. People acquire education and change it according to their conduct and desires. One whose object of learning is to boast increases his boast by education. One whose object is to increase God-fear increases his God-fear by education.” (Ihya ulum id deen)
The Quran not only places great emphasis on education which is one of our greatest human attributes but also guides on purpose and use of education which is more important than just education. Hence revelation of the Quran not only impacted the world of education in human history but also guided on how to responsibly make use of it.
It is was the Quran that encouraged scientific inquiry which inspired medieval era Muslims to become pioneers in several fields of knowledge. It was verses such as these that inspired them to explore and benefit from Allah's creation: "Verily in the creation of the heavens and of the earth, and in the succession of the night and of the day, are signs for men of understanding, who standing sitting and reclining, bear God in mind and reflect on the creation of heaven and earth; and say ‘O Our Lord! You have not created this in vain." (Al Quran 3:190-191) In Islam religion & science complement each other and this was one of the primary factors that Muslims were at the forefront of almost all sciences, making new discoveries and building on earlier ones. Names like Ibn Sina, Ibn al-Haytham, Ibn Khaldun, and al-Farabi come to mind when people think of the giants of Islamic science. Quran is a book of guidance and it mentions several prophetic miracles like those of Prophets Isa curing illnesses like modern medical professionals (Al Quran 3:49), Prophet Musa's like a mechanical engineer transforms his stick into a large snake like a robot (Al Quran 36:45), Prophet Suleiman like a pilot traveling at the speed of a modern aircraft and covering a months journey within few hours (Al Quran 34:12). However, the primary reason why those miracles are all included in the Quran, the final revelation, implies a breakthrough in science that humanity will achieve in the future and only the Quran will explain their possibility. Simultaneously, their mention also serves the purpose of morally guiding us towards making the right use of those scientific achievements.
For instance the miracle of healing that Prophet Isa (alaihi salaam) displayed: "I heal him who was born blind, and the leper, and I raise the dead by God’s leave" (Al Quran 3:49) - The Quran is particularly advising humans, especially doctors and medical professionals, to follow Isa (alaihis alaam) morality and through his life incidents also implies possibility of current breakthrough in medical sciences that gave humanity the hope of possibility to be healed from severe illnesses. By advising professionals on the possibility of finding cures for illnesses it advises them never to forget that their achievements were as a result of Allah’s help. Always be grateful and not be ungrateful by assigning their accomplishments, solely to their own efforts, or worst exploiting this knowledge for personal benefits such as hoarding wealth, quite commonly done by the pharmaceutical industry or as the rich governments are busy hoarding COVID-19 vaccines while developing world struggles to gain them with their limited resources.
While encouraging scientific inquiry and hinting towards a technological future, Allah ﷻ continues to remind us throughout the Quran that this could not have been possible had He not gifted us with a creative mind, as opposed to all other living beings, and it is this mind that we use for inquiry in to nature which helps us benefit ourselves and everyone else: "And He has made subservient to you, [as a gift] from Himself, all that is in the heavens and on earth: in this, behold, there are messages indeed for people who think!….Whoever does what is just and right, does so for his own good; and whoever does evil, does so to his own hurt; and in the end to your Sustainer you all will be brought back." (Al Quran 45:13-15)
Imam Ghazali, 9th century philosopher & sufi says that the very objective of Shariah (Islamic Law) is to promote the welfare of the people which safeguards their faith, wealth, property, families, lives, intellect and anything that serves larger public interest. As per Islamic jurists the primary objective of Shariah is catering for the interest of the people and reliving them of hardships including economic hardships. The economic well being of any society is inseparable from their welfare which obviously cannot be achieved with out a just economic system.
Introduction to Islamic Economics
The Quran encourages economic activity and recognizes it as part of the Islamic society, it reminds the business owners to always be conscious of their spiritual relationship (taqwa) with Allah ﷻ while doing business: (Al Quran 62:10) Once the prayer is over, disperse throughout the land and seek the bounty of Allah. And remember Allah often so you may be successful. - Additionally the Quran reminds of the moral responsibility towards general public required from those engaging in business activities: (Al Quran 26:181-183) [Always] give full measure, and be not among those who [unjustly] cause loss [to others]; and [in all your dealings] weigh with a true balance, and do not deprive people of what is rightfully theirs; and do not act wickedly on earth by spreading corruption... - A wealthy businessman or entrepreneur deserves the right to earn wealth and have protection but the rights of labor and interest of the consumers also need protection. In the modern age very less attention is given to labor and consumers, which are common people. Hence, an Islamic State encourages wealth creation but also ensures that redistribution of wealth should be free of exploitation and interference of the rich and influential few.
Dr. Muhammad Umar Chapra, an expert Islamic Economist, explains that the redistribution of wealth primarily consists of three parts: One, providing assistance for gainful employment to unemployed, a fair earnings for those employed and that they are able to find employments in accordance to their talent and abilities. Second, acquiring wealth and making profit is a strong human motivation which provides incentive for individuals to make use of necessary resources to do business and generate economic activity: (Al Quran 45:13) He has subjected all that is in the heavens and the earth for your benefit, as a gift from Him. - Therefore providing a safe environment and making resources available for individuals to conduct business is the responsibility of the Islamic State. Third, Islam obligates system of zakat and law of inheritance, a distribution of the deceased person's wealth to parents, spouse, children and other relatives, after bequeathing 1/3rd of the assets to anyone the deceased had wished to. Zakat is a systematic redistribution of income from the rich to the poor so that: (Al Quran 59:7) wealth does not circulate only among the rich - Zakat is a 2.5% tax on a persons owned wealth (bank deposits, property, land, shares, jewelry etc.) in addition to other taxes (land taxes - ushr (agriculture tax), kharaj), that the state charges the wealthy to pay the needy due to their disabilities such as physical or mental or circumstantial such as unemployment, that prevents them to attain respectable earning by their own effort. For instance if a millionaire has a net worth of 150 million then by charging 2.5% on their wealth (150,000,000 x 2.5% = 3750,000) would generate more than 3.5 million and if thousands of millionaires in a 200 million population paid zakat, that would generate more then enough revenue for allocation towards public welfare. In fact it is quite interesting to note that in order to bridge the ever increasing gap between rich and poor in the U.S, Elizabeth Warren, a democratic 2020 presidential candidate unveiled her economic plan to tax 2-3% on every American that held a net worth of $50 million and $1 billion.
Islamic Economic vs Capitalism
Capitalism encourages individual property ownership, but unlike Islam there is no moral restraints on modern capitalists regulating their position in the commerce which results in exploitation by the wealthy of those who are less influential and common. A major difference between Islamic Economics and Capitalism is that the latter is largely supported through global banking industry which is completely based on usury (lending money on rent or interest) and not real capital. Banks are authorized by governments to create fictitious money and loan them on interest rates (finance) to big businesses, corporations, public and also the governments. If banking system in owned by private individuals or families then they become the real owners of the indebted economy. Today the modern banking system emerged in the West and dominated the entire world. The currency used for international trade between nations is US dollar and the Euro, issued by the Western banking system. IMF and World Bank, global financial institutions dominated by the West, loan out billions to the developing world (in South America, Asia, Africa etc.) and due to inequality in the currency exchange (e.g. $1 = 160 Pak rs or 1 Euro = 416 Nigerian Naira) the developing economies, with their political problems and consistent political interference by West, are unable to ever fully recover and pay off their hefty debts. This causes an entire nation to become permanently enslaved by their foreign creditors. Even if some of them were able to pay off, this one-sided international monetary system continues to exist and is the source of wealth inequality in the world.
It is this system condemned by Islam in the harshest terms: (Al Quran 3:130) Devour not usury, doubled and multiplied but fear Allah, (Al Quran 2:274 - 275)… those who devour usury become like the one whom satan has bewitched and maddened by his touch … - & (2:278) if you do not do so then take notice of war from Allah and His Messenger - Islam discourages slavery and all leading factors towards it such as economic exploitation. The freeing of slave is the highest point of honour to which Quran invites man (Al Quran 90:13). Slavery is very active in our age through prevalence of Capitalism causing the gap between rich and poor to widen more than ever before. Through its debt based economic system the wealth has gradually flown to the few rich at the expense of common people who have been reduced to slave like conditions. First, it caused a huge wealth gap in the West such as 0.1% elite (wealthiest 75000 households) in America own as much as bottom 90% (of 130 million total households). Increased debt (mortgage refinance, consumer credit, and student loans) is said to be the primary consequence of diminished wealth of bottom 90%. Second, it has continued to increase gap between the wealthy and the common people across the world. Oxfam’s 2020 report, ‘Time to Care’, claims that the world’s 2,153 billionaires have more wealth than the 4.6 billion people who make up 60 percent of the planet’s population! The report shows governments are massively under-taxing the wealthiest individuals and corporations and failing to collect revenues that could tackle poverty and inequality. Due to increase in poverty around the globe millions have been subjected to slavery such as prostitution, forced labor, forced in to crime or recruited for conflicts resulting in a boom in the multi-billion dollar human trafficking business. In reference to this debt based economic system that Russian writer Leo Tolstoy said: "Money is a new form of slavery, and distinguishable from the old simply by the fact that it is impersonal – that there is no human relation between master and slave." When governments, banks and corporations form an alliance at the expense of the majority then that elite influences all social, political and economic policies in the societies. Hence private ownership can only benefit the society under a just economic system that carries the strength to prevent the wealthy from committing fraud, cheating, exploitation, practicing usury, monopolizing and similar evil tactics.
Why Socialism is Un-Islamic?
On the other hand, in the alternative socialism economic model the ownership of assets and wealth is discouraged which actually deprives freedom of will, something that lowers human beings to the state of animals which is condemned in the Quran. What Socialism demands, is a complete equality among all humans, which is unnatural for humankind as per divine decree and defeats the spiritual purpose of our existence on earth: (Al Quran 6:165)… (He) has raised some of you by degrees above others, so that He might try you by means of what He has bestowed upon you. - The Islamic jurists agree that if a Muslim earns by rightful means and from his own wealth fulfils obligations towards welfare of his society by paying zakat and other contributions, there is nothing wrong in his possessing more wealth than other fellow Muslims. Ownership of wealth provides an opportunity to gain blessings by spending: (Al Quran 2:177) however much he himself may cherish it - upon his near of kin, and the orphans, and the needy, and the wayfarer, and the beggars, and for the freeing of human beings from bondage (of debt). - Along with permitting individual property ownership, the Quran warns against exploitation of weak which can result in many social and economic ills, and for this Islam places certain moral restraints on money making motives by encouraging us to seek hereafter but: (Al Quran 28:77) without forgetting, your own [rightful] share in this world; and do good [to others] as God has done good to you; and seek not to spread corruption on earth.
Waqf vs Banking Industry
A very important part of Islamic heritage and a prime factor that assisted the economic welfare of the Islamic societies was the system of Waqf which means "charitable foundation". These institutions were donated by generous Muslims devoted to charitable purposes with no intention to reclaim. They donated a land, building, or a cash waqf (that collected money donations) mainly used for a public and charity services, such as running a madrassah (university), providing capital to the needy for personal use such as marriages or business use, freeing slaves, building roads or bridges, constructing mosques etc. The inspiration for these institutions came from the Quran which encourages charity and remitting of debts for who are genuinely unable to pay, in contrast to hoarding wealth and making money off of loans to the needy (Al Quran 274-280). In fact, in 2011 the Wall Street Journal suggested during the ongoing economic crisis that led to big protests in USA, that waqf (plural awqaf) created by the Muslim civilizations and used effectively by the Ottomans could be used in part to resolve crises. It is these waqfs in the Islamic world, largely replaced by modern banking system today, that were the prime generators of economic activity. Unfortunately, these are largely missing from todays Islamic world. Modern Muslim governments need to revise their national economic policy and introduce such institutes which will at least help them eliminate much of the internal debt that these countries owe to the local banking industry. Large external debt (owed to IMF & World Bank) and internal debt (to commercial banks) are the major reasons for devaluation of a developing country's currency (against international US dollar or Euro) which causes its economy to remain weaker in the international world and inable to compete against stronger economies.
Hence Islam offers a middle and just path between the 2 models. It allows the private ownership of property and resources that play a major role in the economy but reminds the wealth owners that their ownership is a trust from Allah ﷻ because: (Al Quran 2:284) to Allah belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth - Secondly, man is a vicegerent of Allah ﷻ (Al Quran 2:30) and the wealth he owns is bound by conditions of that trust i.e. the moral values of Islam, the values of haraam (illegal) and halaal (legal) which allows the Islamic state, under the guidance of Islamic jurists, to advise the nation and enforce them, if and when necessary, to protect the welfare of the Muslim society. This explains, the manner in which Islam creates a harmony between the material and the moral, by urging Muslims to strive for material welfare but stressing simultaneously that they place this material effort on a moral foundation thus providing spiritual orientation to the entire effort, this is what is mainly missing from both economic systems, especially the global capitalist as well as the alternative socialist. Both are either secular or morally neutral or even immoral.
1. Islam, Its Meaning and Message, Third Edition 1999, The Islamic Foundation pg. 173 - Objectives of the Islamic Economic Order, Muhammad Umar Chapra, University of Karachi, 1971.
2. The Truth, Siddeeq Ahmad Nagrah, Usury & Debt, pgs 92 & 112, National Book Foundation Islamabad
3. WHAT IS CAPITALISM (BANKERISM)? By Mehmet Kurtkaya, July 9, 2016 - http://endcapitalism.org/whatiscapitalism.htm
4. "The top 0.1 percent ... own about the same wealth as 90 percent of America." POLITIFACT, The Poynter Institute, By Jon Greenberg, January 31, 2019 -https://www.politifact.com/factchecks/2019/jan/31/elizabeth-warren/warren-top-01-own-about-much-bottom-90/
5. Why Do Banks Loan Money to Companies? By David Ingram - https://smallbusiness.chron.com/banks-loan-money-companies-73687.html
6. World’s billionaires have more wealth than 4.6 billion people, OXFAM International, 20th January 2020 - https://www.oxfam.org/en/press-releases/worlds-billionaires-have-more-wealth-46-billion-people
7. The Institution of Waqf as a Solution to the Economic Crisis, Muslim Heritage, by Cem Nizamoglu, 11 August, 2011, https://muslimheritage.com/waqf-as-a-solution/