By Inas Younis, New Age Islam
02 April, 2014
There is a new kind of entrepreneurship in America, the socially conscious kind. It’s the kind which makes profits by condemning the profit motive. It’s a less controversial form of capitalism which goes by different designations like caring capitalism, creative capitalism and the newest buzzword: conscious capitalism.
Conscious capitalists are on a mission to rebrand themselves by launching philanthropic initiatives at home and abroad. Their motto is, “to create financial, intellectual, social, cultural, emotional, spiritual, physical, and ecological wealth for all their stake holders.” Percolating beneath this orgy of good will lies the suggestion that capitalism is a necessary evil which needs the antidote of consciousness. That resources are finite and those who have more are the reason others have less. Of course the equation is not so simple because the problem of poverty is not material but political. It has never been about a lack of resources, but about the individual freedom to develop technology to convert resources to material wealth. Sitting on top of an oil well does not manufacture petroleum based products. But freedom, the economic kind, does.
Conscious capitalism is America’s apology for a capitalism corrupted by hyphenations. Crony capitalism, corporate capitalism, conscious capitalism are all approximations designed to avoid the reality that we live in a relatively controlled and artificial economy. In a controlled economy, Government interventions force an economy to function in a counterfeit environment, where some are sacrificed for the benefit of others. A government which makes concessions for some and not others, according to the immediate social needs of some and the political needs of others; opening the door to the political corruptions inherent in today’s pressure groups politics. And all this is justified using the argument that in order for capitalism to be compassionate, business must be nudged to make decisions in the public's best interest. The assumption being that our government is more equipped to look out for your interests than a market governed by your dollar. But a big government, like a corporation, will by definition become corrupt because it is built on the highly specialized division of labour where passing the buck is the only path to making one. And unfortunately, many of today’s capitalists are beneficiaries of this artificial environment. They employ government to act as a weight upon which they can leverage productivity and ensure limited liability.
But one cannot argue against the morally superior public friendly business model without advancing the merits of an unconscious profit motivated one. And by making the claim that capitalism is a system of political equality precisely because it is unconscious and oblivious. It is neither caring nor uncaring. It is neutral. Equal economic opportunity is made possible by Capitalism’s blindness. Blindness to your colour , your religion, your political affiliations, your name, your status, your age , your everything, save your actions, your merits, your talents, and your efforts.
Capitalism is oblivious to the distinctions of man on the basis of anything but meritocracy. Capitalism is an extension of the laws of nature, making no concession for anyone, responding only to action not intention. Politically and ideally, capitalism is a system where state and economics are completely separate, and the state’s only role is to protect against fraud, uphold contracts, and act as a police man. Socially it is a system based on the recognition of individual rights and property rights, in which all property, including the means of production, is privately owned. In a capitalist economy the playing field cannot be evened out by human intervention, because freedom is defined as freedom from government, and not freedom from the inequities of nature. A true defender of freedom will fight for equality before the law and not for laws to compensate him for the inequities of nature.
Capitalism is not the cause of poverty. It has lifted men out of poverty wherever it was implemented, in spite of the fact that it has never been fully implemented. And yet it continues to be the convenient scapegoat for every time a policy, which violates its principles, backfires.
Islam and Capitalism:
As a Muslim I am conditioned to equate capitalism with greed. But the aversion to capitalism in the Muslim world is less ideological and more personal. To begin with, corporations have employed the U.S government, using our tax dollars, to forge alliances with the Arab mafias of the Middle East, who are euphemistically referred to as autocrats; all in the name of capitalism. Secondly, the Muslim world is only familiar with a kind of crony capitalism where the privatisation of resources is granted to “entrepreneurs” who are “well connected” either by blood or because they have shed blood on behalf of the dictators who oppress them. And lastly, Some on the far right (emphasis on some), who should ideologically be opposed to the ideals of capitalism (Jesus was not a capitalist), have paradoxically claimed that capitalism is a side effect of their social values and agenda, which includes demonizing Muslims and Islam.
Capitalism has become the camouflage of all the evils being perpetuated against the third world in a not so innocent attempt to keep them from discovering its value. You don’t see anyone starting revolutions with slogans reading –“We want economic freedom.” Or “We want the state to stay out.” And yet the Arab spring was triggered by the cries of a man who was prevented, not from praying, not from protesting against tyranny, but from selling his fruit; the fruit of his labour.
The fact that the majority of Muslims may be opposed to capitalism does not make Islam opposed to it. For Islam is an ideology which stands apart from its adherents in the same way that capitalism is a social system which stands apart from those who commit crimes in its name.
It is not wealth that leads to decadence and corruption. It is wealth divorced from the values which make wealth possible. Values which are espoused by both capitalism and Islam. It’s should not be an oxymoron to add Islamic- capitalism to our list of hyphenations. For Islam is a pro market religion with a pro- capitalism ideology. The principles and spirit of capitalism took root in Islamic civilization long before the seeds were even planted in Europe. Long before there was Adam smith there was ibn Khaldun, who is the father of modern economics. And long before there was John Locke there was Ibn Tufyl, Who is said to have heralded in the scientific revolution. But never mind history. Never mind 800 years of economic prosperity, growth and progress. History is not important. But the Quran and the prophet of Islam is. And what they had to say on the matter matters.
The prophet Mohammed’s (saw) position can be encapsulated in the following Hadith or tradition. When the city of Medina encountered problems resulting in a shortage of food, not healthcare, but food, not childcare, but food, not internet access but food, and there were attempts by the prophet's companions imploring him to fix prices. The Prophet’s response was, “Allah grants plenty or shortage; He is the sustainer and real price maker. I wish to go to Him having done no injustice to anyone in blood or in property.” In other words economics must exist as an extension of natural law and fluctuate as naturally or catastrophically as the weather. Nature can be harsh but it is also predictable. And nature is never as harsh to man as man is to man. Historically every single massive economic disaster was manufactured through government interventions. In Islam, the law or Shariah is the codification of natural law within a particular social context. And natural law is an extension of God’s will. A free market responds to mankind in the same way that nature does. To be commanded it must be obeyed. No exceptions must be made.
The Quran’s position is equally clear in its endorsements. Success is defined as a goal, both in this life and in the next. The Quran emphasizes the contractual nature of human interaction with an emphasis on mutual agreement. And it holds property rights as a sacred trust which must never be violated by the state or other individuals. The Prophet emphasized the importance of property rights in his farewell pilgrimage by declaring to his followers that “Nothing shall be legitimate to a Muslim which belongs to a fellow Muslim unless it was given freely and willingly."
"O you who believe! Squander not your wealth among yourselves in vanity, except it be a trade by mutual consent."
“And in no wise covet those things in which Allah hath bestowed his gifts more freely on some of you than on others: to men is allotted what they earn and to women what they earn"
Islamic civilization's economic infrastructure was not built by the state, but by civil institutions like the Auqaf, which were charitable endowments. Property rights were expanded to include women. And a standard of weights and measures as well as commercial law were a few of the many features which pushed Islamic civilization to the economic front lines. Islam is a religion which took the sacred and applied it to the secular world. But Islam is also an ideology which took the secular (man’s life and his property) and pronounced them sacred.
So if Islam was so ideologically advanced, then why did the Muslim Ummah decline to its present state?
When Muslim governments suppressed the scholarly tradition of Ijtihad or independent critical thinking, they petrified the process of Islamic jurisprudence and replaced it with a process of blind imitation called Taqlîd. Hundreds of year’s worth of intellectual stagnation led to a brand of scholarship where government and religion began to foster an unhealthy alliance. And the qualifications of scholars began to hinge, not on their capacity to discover the world and its natural laws, but on their capacity to renounce them. Unlike the scholars of early Islamic civilization, who were completely independent of the government, the present scholars cannot boast any degree of intellectual freedom. Compare this to the founders of all four Sunni schools of Islam who endured persecution for refusing to collaborate with government entities. Abu Hanifa was imprisoned for refusing to accept a judgeship. Ibn Hanbal was tortured for refusing to endorse the state-sanctioned doctrine. The decline of civilization is the decline of critical thinking, which is almost always a feature of an unhealthy mixture between religion and politics. In Islam this also translates to being a mixture of economics and politics. This because, the economic principles of early Islamic Civilization took their inspiration and guidance from a religious establishment that was divorced from government entities.
Islam is a religion which does not pin a man’s spirituality against his material interests. So if you are reading this sentence right now, you are pro capitalism. If you drink coffee, you are pro capitalism. If you are offended by my words, you are pro- capitalism. For it was capitalism which made your coffee affordable, your lap top possible, your freedom of speech non- negotiable. So in the spirit of capitalism, I will do what every God fearing American does best. I will thank God Almighty for the blessings of this great country which I have not earned, but I will certainly work to preserve, not in spite of being Muslim but because of it. And God bless America.
Inas Younis is a freelance writer residing in Kansas. She has written for Muslim Girl Magazine and her work was featured in the anthology Living Islam Out Loud. She contributed this article to New Age Islam.