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Objectives of the Islamic Economic System

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Islam urges Muslims to enjoy the bounties provided by God and sets no quantitative limits to the extent of material growth of Muslim society.
Islam is not an ascetic religion and does not aim at depriving Muslims of the good things that God has provided. It takes a positive view of life considering humans not as born sinners eternally condemned for their original sin, but as vicegerents of God for whom everything on earth has been created.

 

Virtue in Islam, therefore lies not in shunning the bounties of God, but in enjoying them within the framework of the values for "righteous living" through which Islam seeks to promote human welfare.

 

The values for righteous living that Islam propagates permeate all sectors of human activity. There is no strictly mundane sector of life according to Islam. Action in every field of human activity, including the economic, is spiritual provided it is in harmony with the goals and values of Islam.

 

It is really these goals and values that determine the nature of the economic system of Islam. A proper understanding of these is therefore essential for a better perspective of the economic system of Islam. These goals and values are:

 

a. Economic well-being and the moral norms of Islam;

b. Universal brotherhood and justice;

c. Equitable distribution of income; and

d. Freedom of the individual within the context of social welfare.

 

This list of goals is by no means complete but should provide a sufficient framework for discussing and elaborating the Islamic economic system and highlighting those characteristics which distinguish the Islamic system from the two prevalent systems,

capitalism and socialism.

 

Economic Well-Being & the Moral Norms of Islam

 

We read in the Quran these verses:

 

[Eat and drink of that which God has provided and act not corruptly, making mischief in the world] (Al-Baqarah 2:60).

 

[O you who believe! Forbid not the good things which God has made lawful for you and exceed not the limits. Surely, God loves not those who exceed the limits. And eat of the lawful and good that God has given you, and keep your duty to God in whom you believe] (Al-Ma'idah 5:87-88).

 

These verses of the Quran, and there are many others like these, strike the keynote of the Quranic message in the economic field. Islam urges Muslims to enjoy the bounties provided by God and sets no quantitative limits to the extent of material growth of Muslim society.

 

It even equates the struggle for material well-being with an act of virtue.

[When the prayer is ended, then disperse in the land and seek of God’s bounty] (Al-Jumu`ah 62:10).

 

The Prophet Muhammad has also said:

 

"If God provides anyone of you with an opportunity for earning livelihood, let him not leave it unexploited until it is exhausted or becomes disagreeable to him." (Ibn Majah)

 

"Any Muslim who plants a tree or cultivates a field such that a bird, or a human being, or an animal eats from it, this act will be counted as an act of charity." (Al-Bukhari)

 

Islam goes even further than this. It urges Muslims to gain mastery over nature because, according to the Quran, all resources in the heavens and the earth have been created for the service of mankind. (Luqman 31:20)

 

From this, one cannot but infer that the goal of attaining a suitably high rate of economic growth should be among the economic goals of a Muslim society.

 

This would be the manifestation of a continuous effort to use, through research and improvements in technology, the resources provided by God for the service and betterment of mankind, thus helping in the fulfillment of the very object of their creation.

 

Islam has prohibited begging and urged Muslims to earn their livelihood. From this premise one may infer that one of the economic goals of a Muslim society should be to create such an economic environment that those who are willing to and looking for work are able to find gainful employment in accordance with their abilities.

 

If this is not accomplished then the  Muslim society cannot succeed even in its spiritual aims, because those unemployed would be subjected to a life of extreme hardship unless they depend on the dole, or resort to begging or immoral practices, all of which, particularly the last two, would be repugnant to the spirit of Islam.

 

This stress of Islam on economic well-being springs from the very nature of its message. Islam aims at making life richer and worth living and not poorer, full of hardships.

 

We read in the Quran the following verses:

 

[O mankind! There has come to you indeed an admonition from your Lord, and a healing for what is in your hearts, and for those who believe a guidance and a blessing] (Yunus 10:57).

 

[God desires ease for you and desires not hardship for you] (Al-Baqarah 2:185).

 

On the basis of these verses of the Quran, Muslim jurists have unanimously held that catering for the interests of the people and relieving them of hardships is the basic objective of the Islamic jurisprudence.

 

Imam Al-Ghazali, an Islamic philosopher, contended that the very objective of the Islamic jurisprudence  is to promote the welfare of the people which lies in safeguarding their faith, their life, their intellect, their posterity and their property; and that therefore whatever ensures the safeguard of these five serves public interest and is desirable.

 

Ibn Al-Qayyim, another Muslim scholar,  emphasized that the basis of the Islamic jurisprudence is wisdom and the welfare of the people in this world as well as the Hereafter.

 

This welfare lies in complete justice, mercy, welfare and wisdom; anything that departs from justice to oppression, from mercy to harshness, from welfare to

misery, and from wisdom to folly, has nothing to do with the Islamic jurisprudence.

 

This article is excerpted from the book, Islam: The Meaning and the Message, first published by Islamic Foundation. It is republished here with kind permission and some editorial changes.

 

Dr. Mohamed Umer Chapra is Senior Economic Adviser to the Saudi Monetary Agency. He has also served as Assistant Professor in an American University, as Senior Economist, Pakistan Institute of Development Economics and as Associate Professor, Institute of Islamic Research, Pakistan. Published work: Economic System of Islam, London and Karachi, 1970; Towards a Just Monetary System, Leicester, 1985; Islam and the Economic Challenge, Leicester, 1992. Dr. Chapra received the prestigious King Faisal Award for his contribution to Islamic Economics, 1990. He also received the Islamic Development Bank prize for his book, Towards a Just Monetary System.

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