The Spiritual Obstacle to Genuine IE

[continuation of an email discussion on proposed syllabus for Islamic Economics, re-posted here in the Islamic Worldview Blog]
Poet Laureate Allama Iqbal said — in an extremely important couplet —
My eyes were not dazzled by the brilliance of Western knowledge
They were protected by Kohl made from the dust of Medina and Najaf
The problem that Iqbal was able to avoid is the CENTRAL problem facing the Ummah. Our eyes have been dazzled and deceived by the spectacular elegance of Western formulations. Exactly as noted by Dierdre McCloskey in her “Rhetoric of Economics”, Samuelson uses advanced mathematics not because it helps or supports his economic theories, but rather because it would impress and convince the audience. Economics uses a large number of rhetorical strategies to convince laymen of theories which are spectacularly false — see me sequence of posts on “ET1%: Blindfolds Created by Economic Theories:”.
Today the greatest barrier to the development of a genuine Islamic Economics is a spiritual one, stated in the Quran as:

Q10:58 Say: “In this bounty of God and in His grace (that is, the Quran), then, let them rejoice: it is better than all that they may amass!”

We have come to believe that the knowledge that they have amassed is better than that which the Quran offers — witness the relative proportion of time Muslim children spend in learning the two bodies of the knowledge.
The Ummah as a whole has lost their confidence that the greatest gift of God to mankind remains the perfect and complete source of guidance today, because our eyes have been dazzled by the deception of Western knowledge in the social sciences — the entire structure of Western social science has been constructed on the basis of an enormously defective theory about human beings, which completely mis-understands human behavior and the sources of human welfare (homo economicus of economic theory) — the complexities of human motivations and how human hearts can be purified are far better described by Islamic teachings.  For a more detailed discussion, see my paper on “The Origins of Western Social Sciences“, which explains how spectacular technological progress, and amazing advances in physical sciences have fooled Muslims into believing the Europeans are equally advanced in the social sciences. Knowledge of the external realities — physics and chemistry — cannot give us any insights into the nature of the heart and soul of human beings.
All of the ten courses listed in my previous email address this central problem of the Ummah.  Standard second generation Islamic Economics courses create and re-inforce an inferiority complex about Islamic teachings by putting Western theories at the core and center, and using Islamic trimmings. This has the effect of teaching students that the central source of knowledge about our economic affairs is what the West has learned in the past three centuries, and the Quran does not offer us any significant knowledge in this dimension. My courses are designed to dispel this illusion, and explain how Islamic insights are extremely useful in study any and all aspects of human welfare, and particulary important in the realm of economics. Contrary to widespread belief among Muslims to the contrary, Islamic teachings offer better guidance than economic theories currently being taught at Harvard — indeed, Atif Mian and Amir Sufi in House of Debt have shown that if Mortgages had been based on Musharka finance (instead of interest), the Global Financial Crisis would not have happened.  Below I provide a link to how the first lecture of my course on Microeconomics: An Islamic Approach describes Western knowledge without teaching the students to be impressed by it.
Asad Zaman
PS: An another illustration of the same idea, see: Statistics: An Islamic Approach.
PPS: Links to previous email discussion on this topic are available from the Discussion of Mabid Al-Jarhi’s proposed syllabus for Islamic Economics.
This entry was posted in islamic economics, Critique of Conventional Economics by Asad Zaman. Bookmark the permalink.

About Asad Zaman

BS Math MIT (1974), Ph.D. Econ Stanford (1978)] has taught at leading universities like Columbia, U. Penn., Johns Hopkins and Cal. Tech. Currently he is Vice Chancellor of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics. His textbook Statistical Foundations of Econometric Techniques (Academic Press, NY, 1996) is widely used in advanced graduate courses. His research on Islamic economics is widely cited, and has been highly influential in shaping the field. His publications in top ranked journals like Annals of Statistics, Journal of Econometrics, Econometric Theory, Journal of Labor Economics, etc. have more than a thousand citations as per Google Scholar.

8 thoughts on “The Spiritual Obstacle to Genuine IE

  1. Pingback: Another Syllabus for Islamic Economics | An Islamic WorldView

  2. Pingback: A Syllabus for Islamic Economics | An Islamic WorldView

  3. Pingback: Discussion of Mabid Al-Jarhi Syllabus for Islamic Economics – Islamic World View

  4. This is an excellent blog and a great analysis by Prof Asad Zaman – Thank you for this initiatives!

  5. Pingback: Countering European Myths about Knowledge | An Islamic WorldView

  6. Pingback: Transformation of Human Behavior as a Central Strategy for Islamic Economics | An Islamic WorldView

  7. Pingback: Islamic Economics: Transforming Humans | WEA Pedagogy Blog

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