By Muhammad Hisyam Mohamad
August 12, 2014
Islam gives equal attention to both the material aspect as well as the spiritual aspect of human well-being.
IN today’s world, one of the main agendas of any government is to achieve socio-economic development for the nation.
The reflection of the achievement of socio-development implementation made by a country normally comes in the form of improvement in human welfare, quality of life and social well-being of the people.
The key indicators normally used to measure the improvement registered are the economic growth rate, the literacy rate, the life expectancy rate, etc.
This is also the most widely used and acceptable method for measuring the development of countries worldwide – Muslim and non-Muslim countries alike.
Nevertheless, the method does not seem to be aligned with the worldview of Islam, as it does not take into account the importance of the spiritual aspect in the process of development.
The secular or materialist worldviews assume that human well-being can be best realised if individuals have total freedom in their cause to serve their self-interest and maximise their wealth.
The view stems from a notion that reason is the only truly reliable source of knowledge and revelation or that divine guidance does not have any role in the allocation and distribution of resources, according to Islamic economist Muhammad Umer Chapra.
On the contrary, Islam balances such extreme viewpoints and gives equal attention to both the material aspect as well as the spiritual aspect of human well-being.
Similarly, it does not reject the role of reason in human development.
However, it recognises that human reason has limitations and needs revelation in its premises and conclusions.
Furthermore, the idea of total freedom in pursuing self-fulfilment needs to be toned down by moral values.
This is to safeguard social harmony so that the well-being of the community is not affected in the process of serving one’s self-interest.
Unlike the secular worldview which highly concentrates on worldly and material pursuits, the worldview of Islam is primarily centred on the concept of Tawhid (the Oneness and Unity of God).
Tawhid implies that everything in the universe is created by Allah with a purpose.
Such a purpose gives meaning and significance to the existence of the universe of which human beings are a part.
Thus, Tawhid guides man in his life so that he will live in accordance with the purpose he has been created for.
The Quran clearly states that Allah created mankind for a noble purpose, that is, to worship Him and lead a virtuous life based on His revelation and divine commands. In Sûrah al-Jin verse 56, Allah says:
“And I have not created the jinn and the men except that they should serve Me” (72:56).
The common understanding of the concept of worship (Ibadah) in Islam is to perform ritualistic acts such as Shahadah (declaration of faith), prayers, giving alms, fasting, and pilgrimage to Mecca, etc. Nevertheless, such an understanding is only one part of the meaning of worship in Islam.
In actual fact, the word Ibadah refers to everything one says or does for the pleasure of Allah that is not only limited to rituals and beliefs, but also encompasses social activities, economics, politics, etc.
Furthermore, Islam is a complete way of life which requires one to establish not only “Hablum min Allah” (the relationship between man and Allah) but also “Hablum Min al-Nas” (the relationship among men).
The comprehensive meaning of worship is also in line with the meaning of Islam to voluntarily submit or surrender to the Will of God.
This can be inferred from verse 161 to 162 of Sûrah al-An’am when Allah declared:
“Say (O Muhammad): “Truly, my prayer and my service of sacrifice, my life and my death, are (all) for Allah, the Cherisher of the Worlds: No associate has He; and this am I commanded, and I am the first of those who submit.” (6:161-162)
The result of this voluntary submission is that all of one’s activities should conform to the instruction of Allah and one’s life should be modelled according to the teachings of Islam in every aspect, ritually or otherwise.
Ultimately, by conforming to the divine rules and guidance, human beings are capable of attaining true well-being (al-Falah) in their worldly life and the Hereafter.
Being the core of the Islamic worldview, all Muslim activities and endeavours must essentially begin with Tawhid.
This also applies to the concept of development in Islam – in which the sources of its underpinning framework and principles must be the Quran and the sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad.
Perhaps, a statement by Islamic economist Khurshid Ahmad explains the concept best, as “comprehensive in character and includes moral, spiritual and material dimension.
“Development becomes a goal and value-oriented activity, devoted to the optimisation of human well-being in all these areas.”
The implication of the comprehensiveness of the concept makes the attainment of al-Falah the principal goal of Islam.
According to Chapra this well-being includes physical satisfaction because mental peace and happiness can be achieved only by means of a balanced realisation of both the material and spiritual needs of the human personality.
Therefore, if Muslims are to succeed and attain true well-being in all spheres of life, worldly and beyond, they must first have firm faith in Allah.
Full submission to Him will definitely have a significant impact on how human beings act and perceive the world.
Only by adhering to the way of life as interpreted and guided by Revelation will happiness and well-being be ensured in its true context to humanity.
Muhammad Hisyam Mohamad is Fellow at Ikim’s Centre for Economics and Social Studies.