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The Position of the Economic Question

No doubt, Islâm is opposed to monasticism and views the economic activities of man as quite lawful, meritorious, and sometimes even obligatory and neces­sary. It approves of the economic progress of man, and considers "lawful or righteous livelihood " ( ) as "an obligation next to the obligation" ( )— that is to say, an obligation of the secondary order. Notwithstanding all this, it is no less a truth that it does not consider "economic activity" ( ) to be the basic problem of man, nor does it view economic progress as the be-all and end-all of human life.

Even common sense can suffice to show that the fact of an activity being lawful or meritorious or necessary is one thing, and its being the ultimate goal of human life and the center of thought and action is quite another. Many misunderstandings about Islâmic economics arise just from confusion between these two distinct and separate things. It is, therefore, very essential to make the distinction as clear as possible at the very outset. In fact, the profound, basic, and far-reaching difference between Islâmic economics and materialistic economics is just this— according to materialistic economics, "Livelihood" is the fundamental problem of man and economic developments are the ultimate end of human life, while, according to Islâmic economics, these things may be necessary and indispensable, but cannot be the true purpose of human life. So, while we find in the Holy Qur’ân the disapprobation of monasticism and the injunction to "seek the munificence of Allâh" (   - 62:10), while we find the honorific terms like "the munificence of Allâh" ( ) for trade and commerce, "good things" ( - 100:8; 38:32; etc.), and "what Allâh has caused to be your sustenance" ( - 4:4) for possessions, "the clean and pure things by way of nourishment" ( - 7:31) for food, "adornments from Allâh" ( - 7:31) for dress, "place of rest" ( - 16:80) for dwellings, we at the same time find an expression like "allurement or delusion" ( - 3:185) for worldly life. And all these things in their totality have been designated as "ad-Dunyâ" ( - "the mean") – a term which, in its literal sense, does not have a pleasant connotation. Even from the total context of the Holy Qur’ân one can infer the meanness and worthlessness of the thing so designated.

On this particular point, shortsightedness may easily lead one to suspect a contradiction in terms. But, in fact, the secret behind the apparent contradiction is that, according to the Qur’ânic view, all the means of livelihood are no more than just stages on man’s journey, and his final destination lies beyond them — and that destination is the sublimity of character and conduct, and, consequently, the felicity of the other world. The real problem of man and the fundamental purpose of his life is the attainment of these two goals. But one cannot attain them without traversing the path of this world. So, all those things too which are necessary for his worldly life, become essential for man. It comes to mean that so long as the means of livelihood are being used only as a path leading towards the final destination, they are, "the munificence of Allâh", "good things", "adornment from Allâh", and "place of rest"; but as soon as man gets lost in the mazes of this pathway and allows himself to forget his real destination, the very same means of livelihood turn into an "allurement or delusion" ( ), into a "trial" ( - 8:28), into a veritable "foe" ( - 64:14).

The Holy Qur’ân has enunciated this basic truth very precisely in a brief verse— "Seek the other world by means of what Allâh has bestowed upon you" ( - 28:77). This principle has been stated in several other verses too, but it is not necessary to cite them all before this learned gathering. The writer believes that if this attitude of the Holy Qur’ân towards the economic activity of man and its two aspects are kept in view, it would be very helpful in solving many problems of Islâmic economics.


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Last modified 08/12/05 09:25 AM - Iqra - ISSN #1062-2756