L’Imam Khomeini considérait que religion et pouvoir politique formaient un ensemble indissociable, et que la vocation de l’Islam était de promouvoir la justice, de protéger et de défendre les faibles et les pauvres contre les forces d’oppression de toute nature. Extrait de l’un de ses discours :
« Nous sommes maintenant arrivés à une étape délicate de notre révolution islamique. L’étape de la reconstruction… où il faut que la grandeur du système islamique se fasse sentir, où nous devons tous nous unir afin d’anéantir les racines de la misère et de la pauvreté.
Vous devez vous unir et vous mobiliser contre la misère et la pauvreté, et avec la bénédiction divine sauver les démunis et les dépourvus… Le logement constitue l’une des plus graves questions de notre société. Auparavant, la plupart des gens étaient esclaves de leurs toits et parfois toute leur vie tributaires des banques, des usuriers et des pillards. La grande foule des déshérités, qui étaient, eux, complètement dépourvus même d’une telle possibilité, demeurant dans les mansardes, les taudis et les réduits insalubres devaient, la plupart du temps, payer la plus grande part de leur salaire comme loyer. Maintenant ce maudit héritage reste encore comme un fléau de la société. L’ordre islamique ne doit pas tolérer une telle discrimination et une telle injustice. Le logement est le minimum auquel a droit chaque individu.
Tous les pauvres doivent bénéficier de cette faveur de Dieu. Tous les démunis doivent pouvoir posséder un logement. C’est au gouvernement islamique de réfléchir à ce grave problème et d’y apporter une solution. C’est aussi au peuple de collaborer et d’apporter son aide. J’invite tous ceux qui en ont la possibilité financière de contribuer pour la construction de logements nécessaires aux plus démunis. Dans chaque localité du pays, il faut choisir au moins trois personnes parmi les plus pieuses et les plus compétentes, des ingénieurs, des responsables religieux et des administrateurs du gouvernement, afin qu’ils entreprennent avec beaucoup d’économies, la construction de logements à bas prix pour les pauvres tout en supprimant le coût du terrain dans le calcul du prix de vente. J’espère que tous les grands propriétaires fonciers en faisant don des sols propices à la construction et à l’urbanisation coopéreront à cette importante entreprise islamique et humaniste. J’espère aussi que tous ceux qui peuvent faire don de matériaux de construction aident ce projet islamique, que toutes les forces du travail se mobilisent et que le gouvernement prenne les dispositions nécessaires concernant l’urbanisme, la voirie, l’équipement en eau potable, l’électricité, la santé, l’éducation, etc. »
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The missing link between Islamic finance and broader economic development
Ibn Khaldoun, père de l’économie moderne
Perhaps the most well known Islamic scholar who wrote about economics was Ibn Khaldun of Tunisia (1332–1406) who is considered a father of modern economics. Ibn Khaldun wrote on economic and political theory in the introduction, or Muqaddimah (Prolegomena), of his History of the World (Kitab al-Ibar).
Islam being a universalist religion meant for the entire humanity its agenda or solution regarding poverty is not limited to Muslims, but it embraces the rest of the world. However, in the contemporary context, that might be too ambitious. Indeed, we must evaluate the potential of Islamic economics to alleviate the challenge of poverty in the Muslim world rather than aim to embrace the bigger, global Islamic directive.
Islamic economics was conceived in the early part of the twentieth century as an antidote to socialism and capitalism – an Islamic response to what was perceived as Godless western ideologies. The emphasis was on justice.
Freedom from colonial rule and all that it meant in terms of exploitation and oppression was to be accompanied by a return to Islam that stood for elimination of poverty and reduction in inequalities in the distribution of income and wealth. Islam would help securing these goals without socialistic regimentation depriving people of their freedoms and robbing them of their properties. Islamic economy would not allow labor to be exploited by capitalists and the environment to be despoiled by greedy profit seekers.
The advocacy for Islamic economics and re-orienting the economies of the Muslim world on the basis of Islamic ideals and parameters were not merely on the basis of Islamic theological imperative. It was also based on the assessment that the economic teachings of Islam provided a superior alternative in addressing poverty and deprivation as well as achieving development and prosperity. However, notably, the emphasis was quite commonly on economic justice and general welfare of the society.
Muslim jurists have unanimously held the view that the welfare of the people and relief of their hardships is the basic objective of the Shariah. Islam values prosperity and happiness. It teaches the believers to aspire for bounties in both the worlds. The Qur’an, the Prophetic narration and legacy, as well as the period of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs show a remarkable sensitivity to the issues of the poor and disadvantaged.
While it is regularly repeated that Islam is against injustice, exploitation, deprivation and suffering and that historically Muslims have shown remarkable success in dealing with poverty, and linking this success primarily with the institution of zakat, the reality is that except some limited periods, poverty has been widespread in the Muslim world throughout history and rarely it has been dealt with as part of a systematic campaign of poverty alleviation.
However, except for its level of rhetoric, contemporary Islamic finance and banking that has been experiencing phenomenal growth has become primarily a prohibition-driven industry with a legalistic bent, and almost delinked from real economic challenges affecting the majority of the Muslim world.
Indeed, Islamic economics is torn between those who seem to desire simply to ‘Islamize” the current body of economic knowledge that is primarily western and dominated by Classical-Neoclassical-Keynesian thoughts and those who want to reject the conventional economics altogether. The priority of the first group seems to be creating an alternative paradigm in economics that takes the same conventional analytical framework and utilize it to develop something that would be consistent with the fiqhi considerations of Islam. Again, poverty is not the focus of this dominant strand of Islamic economics and finance.
Without constructing any new economics in terms of theories and models, the microcredit movement of Grameen Bank, acknowledging its limitations, has shown a path to addressing poverty. Alternatively, without any new economics, right before our own eyes several East Asian countries experienced their own economic transformation, reducing the incidence of poverty and enhancing the living standard of their populations. In contrast, the edifice of Islamic economics and finance, in all its variations, is focused on constructing a new paradigm, which is worthy and relevant, but taking up the challenge of poverty head–on is not central to their approach.
This lack of a poverty-related focus is not a contemporary phenomenon. Islamic works in general and Islamic economics-oriented literature in particular have not taken up poverty as a challenge that requires a systematic and direct attention. More importantly, our legacy of Islamic scholarship also seems to have not focused on poverty as such an issue. Indeed, the chroniclers of our history seem to have turned the history into annals of the elites and the powerful, not even adequately recording the conditions of the poor and the disadvantaged segments.
Indeed, the scanty works on poverty studies in the Muslim world are almost all by non-Muslims. This is particularly due to the urban focus of the previous historians. Also, notably, such lack of historical accounts of poverty in the medieval Muslim societies is in sharp contrast with the available accounts of other societies of the world.
Such paucity of focus on poverty is understandable in the historical context of a fundamental shift in early Muslim societies, which is also known as the “counterrevolution” reflected in the shift from a representative, accountable, participatory and constitutional governance (khilafah) to hereditary monarchy and dictatorship. While the period of the Rightly Guided Caliphs (khulafa-i-raashidoon) was extraordinarily exemplary in terms of the public commitment to justice, egalitarianism and especially the empowerment of the poor and disadvantaged, by the time that period came to an end, within 50 or so years after the Prophet Muhammad (saw), the power and control had shifted to individuals and clans/groups, who monopolized power, authority as well as resources, where, with some minor exceptions, the governance gradually became elitist, exploitative and insensitive to the conditions of the mass. That’s why the period of the Second Umar (Umar ibn Abdul Aziz), lasting only three years or so, became another period of remarkable change to restore the populist, egalitarian foundation of Islamic governance, both politically and economically. However, he was soon poisoned to death and once again, and in a more lasting manner, the forces of counter-revolution prevailed. It is not the legacy of the Prophet (saw) and the Rightly Guided Caliphs, committed to the cause of justice, egalitarianism and welfare of the common people, but the legacy of this counter-revolution that shaped the subsequent history of the Muslim world and it still continues to shape today.
Relevant anti-poverty programs must help the poor to increase their productive capacity leading to long-term income earning opportunity. The Prophet did leave with us profoundly practical examples to help people become economically self-reliant, as exemplified in his guidance to a poor person to acquire an axe to gather wood and sell for income.
As it is well known, Ibn Khaldun was a trailblazer in systematic study of social phenomenon, but essentially his approach and contribution were ignored, if not rejected, by the subsequent Muslim scholars. The West picked up the contribution of Ibn Khaldun and recognized him as the father of sociology. It is no surprise that Muslim scholars have not even attempted to understand the phenomenon of poverty in a problem-solving manner. Indeed, that understanding of any problem is a prerequisite to identifying its solution is not a common-sense precept that has been recognized and appreciated by our scholars and intellectuals, as reflected in the paucity of poverty-focused works.
The search for the “missing links” between Islamic finance and broader economic development is continuing. The importance of this ‘missing link’ assumes greater importance, where the relevant fields are delinked from maqasid al-Islam and where Islamic finance as a field is marching ahead without parallel progress in social sciences in general and economics in particular from the Islamic perspective. Quite conscientiously, some leading Islamic economists are urging others to wake up to this “intellectual paralysis.”
Recently, Islamic finance industry is also taking interest in microcredit projects, some Islamic economists are making a strong case for Islamic finance industry to take closer interest in microfinance to deal with poverty, but it still remains peripheral to its overall commercial framework of shariah-arbitrage.
Anyone studying Islam and the Qur’an cannot but be struck by its strong emphasis on and commitment to addressing injustices in the society and empowering the weak and the disadvantaged. Islamic economics may not have or need for mathematical sophistication, theoretical elegance or robust analytical apparatus, but to be relevant to the core values and concerns of Islam, it needs to focus on confronting poverty head on, intellectually and practically. This would require studying the problem of poverty in the Muslim world and beyond in terms of its nature, extent and causes.
Then, taking poverty as a focus, solutions have to be mapped out and then tried. No perfect solution is available on a revealed basis. However, beginning with a focus on poverty, equipped with a meaningful and dynamic understanding of poverty, and trying out mapped out solution, our learning curve gradually can help make a serious dent to the challenge of poverty. Otherwise, Islamic economics as an intellectual field and Islamic finance as a practical field can grow and prosper, but the challenge of poverty would continue unabated and that would be the poverty of Islamic economics.
Dr. Mohammad Omar Farooq
Dr. Omar Farooq is a professor of economics at Upper Iowa University (USA). Dr. Farooq has a PhD in economics from University of Tennessee, Knoxville. His primary field of specialization is international development, with focus on financial institutions / micro-finance, technological development, gender equity, history of economic thoughts, etc. During the past few years his academic and research interests have included Islamic economics, banking, finance, Islamic law and jurisprudence, and Islamic political economy.