The Road to Madina

[bit.do/azrtm] On Sunday 28th April 2019, I talked about “Operationalizing Riyasat-e-Madina” at IBA, Karachi, at the Annual Islamic Conference 2019 organized by Iqra Society of IBA. This was a one hour talk in Urdu, followed by Q/A session. I gave a talk on the same topic at DHA Suffa University. A one hour English recording of the talk, together with a 1300 word summary is available from “Operationalizing Riyasate Madina”. The 1hr video-recording of the Urdu talk at IBA is linked below:

A brief abstract of the talk is as follows. Islamic teachings launched a revolution in history 1450 years ago. Today, instead of looking to these teachings, the Ummah as a whole is looking to the West for guidance, and believes that the path to development lies in learning and understanding the knowledge developed by the West over the past three centuries. This is a serious mistake and an illusion (see: The Thousand Snakes: The Appearance and Reality of Western Economics). The Quran is complete and perfect, and sufficient for our guidance today. However, the problem lies in our failure to apply the teachings of the Quran and Hadeeth, and the sciences of the Fiqh to our modern problems today. Deceived by the claims of Western expertise, we are using their political, economic, and social sciences to understand the world around us, even though our Islamic intellectual tradition is capable of providing far better solutions.

Download of original slides: Operationalizing Riyasat-e-Madina. This talk integrates a large amount of work that I have done over the past decade. The viewable slides on SCRIBD below provide an outline of the talk. Also, every other slide provides links to additional materials with more details on the topics briefly summarized in the talk. Slides, alternating with links to relevant readings, are also available from SlideShare.

This talk on the “Road to Medina” integrates a large number of ideas that I have developed over the past decade. An extensive outline, based on the slides above, with links to related posts, is provided below. For a shorter 1300 word summary, and a 1 hr English video version given at DHA Suffa, see “Operationalizing Riyasate Madina“.

Extended Outline of talk on Riyasate Madina, based on slides:

The central idea is the our Western education creates in our minds a worldview – ideas about history, knowledge, science, development, wealth, and some others – which make it impossible for us to understand and benefit from the guidance of the Quran. To combat this problem, we need to develop an “Islamic WorldView

Islam came to a world enveloped in darkness, on the verge of self-destruction. It lifted ignorant and backwards Arabs to world leadership, and launched a civilization that enlightened the world for a thousand years. It gave arts, literature, philosophy, sciences, spirituality and enriched all dimensions of human life. {see Syed Abul Hassan Ali Nadwi: What the World Lost Due to the Decline of the Islamic Civilization?}

Central Puzzle: Does Islam have the same power today?

  • Once again the world is enveloped in darkness.
  • Might is right. Good is bad. All values have been turned upside down.
  • Modern secular civilization based on rejection of Christianity. Replacing religion by REASON.
  • Disastrous results. Environmental collapse. Millions killed in wars for power &profit. Extremes of poverty, inequality.
  • All the practices of Jahilliya exist today!

Ag Hay, Aulad-e-Ibraheem hay, Namrood Hay — Kiya Kisi Ko Phir Kisi Kar Imtihan Maqsood Hay? Today the fire is burning, and the powers that be call for obedience to them or severe punishment.

Does Islam have SAME power today?{For an affirmative answer, see: Islamic Knowledge: Still Revolutionary after 1440 years}. As Muslims, we should say yes. But all our actions and thoughts say NO! Instead, we think that:

  • Today, we must learn European Knowledge, developed over the past three centuries, to progress.
  • The project of “Islamization of Knowledge” seeks to convert European knowledge (essential to our progress) into Islamic Forms.
  • Development of Islamic Economics, and Islamic Banking and Finance – all attempts to bring the benefits of Western advances within the Islamic fold.

Is the Quran complete and perfect guidance, sufficient for our needs today? All of the above efforts say NO — we need outside help.  The linked post explains: Why are Muslims not looking to the Quran for guidance today, when Quran is complete and perfect? This is because a Western education teaches us the wrong definition of “KNOWLEDGE”, according to which Quran is NOT knowledge, and only Western discoveries over the past three centuries qualify as knowledge. {Shortlink: bit.do/azqcp}

What is the path to development today? Near-Consensus of Ummah: We are far behind the West, and must follow in their footsteps to achieve their successes. The path to development lies in acquisition of Western knowledge of the past three centuries an NOT in our heritage. This consensus that the Quran does not provide complete and sufficient guidance for us today is reflected in our collective efforts, institutions, budgets, discourse, training of youth. How did the Ummah arrive at a consensus that the Quran, which changed the course of history 1440 years ago, is no longer complete and sufficient? Today, it must be supplemented by Western guidance.

The Key Problem which led us to this faulty conclusion is that we have accepted the colonizers definition of “development”: Developing comes from acquiring power to enable you to exploit others, and rob them of their wealth. Because we have been studying history from the Eurocentric point of view – we have learned to glorify their conquests and accept anything and everything as GOOD if it leads to an increase in wealth. Justifying the brutal and savage European conquest of the globe requires more than a DOZEN myths. These myths are summarized in Development: Myths and Truths {Shortlink: bit.do/azdmt}. The Quran informs us that “We have shown him the two highways (of good & evil)” and left us free to choose. A If we seek to acquire the power and riches of the West then “There is for man only that which he strives for”. So we may get to New York, London and Paris. Instead the Quran tells us “Whoever wishes to, let him find a pathway to his Lord.” The Quran contains today, as it always has, the complete and perfect guiding to building the state of Madina: “This day I have perfected for you your religion and completed My favor upon you and have approved for you Islam as religion.” The reason that Muslims no longer believe that the Quran provides complete and perfect guidance is because they no longer seek to build Madina.

Our problem can be called the fitna of “The Modern Mu’tazila” because it strongly resembles that of  the Ancient Mu’tazila, who were so impressed with Greek philosophy that they put it on par with the Quran. Today Muslims are equally impressed with Western knowledge. In case of conflict, they chose West over Quran; see “The Quran: Faith and Reason“. This has happened because Colonization is a Conquest of Minds. Because of the chains of soft power which bind us, the myths we have come to believe, the poorest countries in the world pay billions of tribute to the richest countries, without any need of force. Our consent to this exploitation is created by wrong theories of development; to overcome it, we must “Re-Define Development“.

To liberate ourselves, we have to look at historical context in which ideas are born. We must understand that History is the Conquest Song of Victors The story told from the Victor’s point of view looks extremely different from the SAME story told from the point of view of the losers. To learn the roots of our own inferiority complex, we need to unlearn the Eurocentric story which glorifies the savage and barbaric wars of conquest for looting the wealth of others. {see “Central Myths of Eurocentric History“}. We have been told that Europe colonized the world to bring us the benefits of their advanced civilization. In fact, colonization was an attempt to find markets for surplus goods created by industrial revolution. Self-sufficiency was the goal of global economies. No one wanted English goods. It was necessary to destroy local economies to create demand. But it was also necessary to find moral justification. To provide the moral justification, the Myth of the White Man’s Burden and The Civilizing Mission of the West was invented. People of East were portrayed as savage, ignorant, governed by Despotic Dictators, The truth about the barbaric and savage European conquest of the globe which involved ruthless massacres and pitiless extermination of helpless natives is now slowly coming out (see “Colonial Atrocities“}.

Like the cover story used for the Iraq invasion – supposedly to free the citizens from an evil dictator, and bring the benefits of democracy – the story of the “civilizing mission” gave an honorable face to a truly horrendous project of looting the whole world using superior power. The same process continues today as entire countries (Iraq, Libya, Syrian, and many Latin American countries) are looted and destroyed for the sake of corporate profits. The powerful dominate the media. Recently, a number of world elections have been swung by LIES propagated by social media. During the period of colonization, many deliberate efforts were made to break our will psychologically. The British dressed their door-men in the dress of Tipu Sultan, to show us that our kings were their servants. By denigrating our Ulema, they destroyed our respect for our traditions and heritage, and also make our natural leaders ineffective. By destroying the Awaqf which funded education all over the subcontinent, they created illiteracy on a wide scale. Macaulay created a system of education which creates respect and awe for the Whites and contempt for our own civilization. This educational system continues today, creating an educated elite which treats the population as the ignorant colonized masses, who are to be exploited for profits — see “The Impact of Colonial Heritage on Economic Policy in Pakistan “.

Today powerful propaganda machines shape our minds, and teach us to think in ways that create the fear of fabricated monsters, so that we cannot see our real enemies: Disinformation: Manufacturing Monsters . The colonizers own the global media, the universities, and control all sources of information. This makes it possible for them to create outrageous lies, and have these lies be widely accepted. For example “Islamic Terrorism” is a tiny percentage of all terrorist incidents across the globe, but is widely believed to be the most serious problem today. On the other hand, powerful countries like USA can bomb and destroy entire countries, killing millions of innocent civilians, with impunity.

Freeing our minds from the effects of colonization requires hard work on several fronts. One of the major myths of Eurocentric history is that “Science” is the highest form of knowledge, and that this is purely a European invention. Eminent historian Max Weber repeats a common and widespread misconception that “science” is founded on “rationality” and both are products of Western Civilization. “Is Science Western in Origin?” by C.K. Raju linked above exposes the fallacy of this myth. In order to regain our self-confidence, shattered by the the Conquest of Knowledge, we have to “explode the myths which block our minds“. The central myth of Eurocentric History is that the world was in darkness until European enlightenment. The reality is the European enlightenment came about because of the treasures of Isam knowledge which acquired via the re-conquest of Islamic Spain. As shown in The Enlightenment Quran, it was the light of the Quran which ended the dark ages of Europe. Similarly, a recent book “Jefferson’s Quran” shows that many of the revolutionary ideas upon which America was founded were inspired by Thomas Jefferson’s reading of the Quran. The reason that these historical roots, the effects of Islamic Civilization on the birth of Europe, are not known, is due to “The Theft of History”. This book by Jack Goody shows how Europeans took inventions, discoveries, and creations of other civilizations, and claimed them for their own, creating the impression that all good things originated in Europe.

In addition to revising history, we need to re-claim our lives and our identities. The central myth implanted in our minds by a Western education is the idea the Life is meaningless. This is done by never discussing the purpose of life, while giving great importance to comparatively trivial issues like trigonometry. Since how we live our lives depends on our purpose, this must be an essential part of our education – instead, a Western education indirectly implants wrong ideas about this greatest of all questions in our minds. For more discussion see “Learning Who You Are!” and “The Purpose of Life“.

Another strong mental barrier in path of the truth is the Western theory of knowledge (epistemology). European philosophers defined knowledge in such a way that it excludes human experience, and the heart and soul from the discourse. Since the most important aspects of our lives are based on our subjective experiences, the focus on the objective means that learning how to live well is not part of a Western education. See “Getting a Real Education” for a detailed discussion of how a Western education teaches us to lead meaningless lives.

After changing our conceptions of history, colonization, identity, and knowledge, we need to re-think the meaning of development. Since the West looted the world to acquire wealth, it defines development as the acquisition of wealth and power by any means possible. Islam considers the purpose of life to be the development of the tremendous potential for excellence within each human being, and acquisition of wealth as un-important. For a discussion of how current definitions of this concept prevent us from seeing the path to Madina, see “The Quest for Prosperity“.

We must conquer the inferiority complex created by the Eurocentric history and unlearn the myths implanted by Western education, to learn to “Reach Beyond the Stars”. There is no substitute in the West for Islamic Teachings. which are  Still Revolutionary After 14 Centuries.   The knowledge given to ignorant and backwards Arabs via Islam 1450 years ago transformed them into world leaders, and launched a civilization that enlightened the world for a thousand years.

The key to an Islamic education is to understand that every single human life is worth the entire planet. Human beings are created as the best of creations, and their lives cannot be bought and sold for money. Each man is like a mine, containing rare and special gems. How can we develop his/her potential. This requires personalized attention and training. See How to Inspire and Motivate Students. Turkish Madrassah Inscription: Here we don’t teach fish to fly, and we don’t teach birds to swim, My post on Teaching Fish to Fly explains that Islamic education seeks to develop each individuals unique potentials and capabilities, and must be tailored to each person. In contrast, Western education seeks to turn us all into standardized parts for the production of wealth. Therefore, it is not concerned with each person’s unique and individual characteristics. Instead, it conveys a standardized body of knowledge to all, who are forced to learn it, instead of assessing, evaluation, responding, and rejecting it. It is a form of Brainwashing versus Meta-Level Analysis, which is used in Islamic education.

An Islamic education must pay attention to the Spiritual Aspects. We must focus on purifying the intention:  And they feed, for the love of Allah, the indigent, the orphan, and the captive. Spiritual concerns are at the center of an Islamic approach. Relative to the West, there is a Very Important Inversion: Our engagement with the world is motivated by the desire for spiritual progress. The goal of service to humanity is to soften and bind hearts together in love. This cannot be achieved by government, and cannot be achieved by force, taxation. The Western model of human behavior deliberately excludes the heart and soul of man, and focuses only on the “head” – or rational – behavior. This makes attention to spiritual and emotional dimensions of human behavior impossible. This substantially distorts all Western social science theories: see “Spirituality and Development“. Our struggle to create Riyasate Madina is also meant as means for spiritual development. Human beings struggle with external environment to develop internal spiritual capacities. The goals are not to change the external environment, but rather to struggle for change out of the love of Allah, as a means to spiritual progress. This has radical effects on the nature of the struggle for change. We look for success within our hearts and souls, rather than in the external world.

So the program for Madina requires Unlearning many myths that we have come to believe, due to having been colonized, and due to our Western education. This part, the rejection of Western wisdom, can be labeled “Tahafatul Falasafa”. The second part requires Re-Learning Islam, in the following senses. We need to learn to apply Islamic principles to the solution of modern problems. While the principles of Islam are eternal, and apply to all times, the application is always fresh, and always in need of adaptation or Ijtihad. To understand this, consider the principle that Islam requires us to defend the Ummah. In the time of the Prophet SAW, this would be applied by learning to use bows and arrows, and to ride horses. In later times, this could involve learning to use cannons and ships. In modern times, it could be applied by learning the use of artillery and airplanes. As the times change, so Ijtihad is needed to adapt the eternal principles of Islams to the modern needs.

One of the central areas where such Ijtihad is needed is the Social Sciences. The West has created this field of knowledge as an rational and objective replacement for their rejected Christianity. While this is presented as a factual and scientific field of knowledge, it is actually based on a large number of assumptions arising from the rejection of religion — see Origins of Western Social Sciences.  In general, Muslims have been deceived by this pretence of objectivity, and have failed to see through the surface claims. It is urgently required to use the classical uloom of Fiqh, developed over the centuries to develop alternatives to the deadly philosophies cloaked underneath modern social sciences.  Islam is complete and sufficient for our guidance today, NOT in the sense that we can blindly apply rulings from centuries ago to solve todays problems. Rather, Islam provides us with eternal principles which must be applied with intelligence to create revolutionary new solutions to modern problems. Doing so would permit us to launch an Islamic revolution in the social sciences.  This is exactly what our ancestors did — they applied the fiqh in innovative ways to solve their contemporary problems. We cannot use their solutions; that would be like using bows and arrows in modern warfare. Rather, we must use the principles they used to arrive at the solution for creation of new knowledge. This portion of the effort may be called the “Ihya Uloom ud Deen”. These are the two pillars needed to solve the problem of the Modern Mu’tazila which currently afflicts the Ummah. It seems appropriate to call them the “Ghazali Project“.

Unlearning Western knowledge, and Re-Learning Islam is not sufficient. The third effort required is Jihad, or the struggle to implement these new solutions in our personal lives, in our communities, and at the level of the Ummah as a whole. This requires building new types of Islamic institutions in many different areas — political, social, financial, communal, etc.  My post on The Third Path: Evolutionary and Revolutionary Strategies for Reform discusses and compares alternative strategies for change. Specifically in the area of banking and finance, my post on “Building Genuine Islamic Financial Institutions” explains the steps involved in moving away from imitations of Western institutions. Today, because we are in shock and awe of the West, we are attempting to bend the laws of Shari’ah in order to imitate their institutional structures. In fact, Islam offers revolutionary alternatives in all areas: governance, markets, society, law, politics, education. Our institutions are based on generosity, coooperation and Social Responsibility, whereas Western institutions are based on selfishness, competition and individualism. The prophecy that “Islam came as a stranger, and will become a stranger” appears to have come true. But this only reinforces the basic message that, Islamic teachings are unfamiliar, and also revolutionary.

Working for re-creating the state of Madina requires struggle on many fronts. The driver for the struggle is the grand vision of a society built on bonds of mutual love, where each one feels the pain of the others, and all are ready to sacrifice personal gains for the sake of society. But the struggle itself involves taking mundane, day-to-day micro-steps, on personal and community levels. This could be summarized as “Think Big, Act Small” — that is, a grand vision guides us about the direction, but we look carefully at the next step requires for a thousand mile journey.  Some essential principles for making this effort are listed below:

  1. The First Drop of Rain: The greatness of the goal, and smallness of our efforts can discourage us. Remember that we are only responsible for our actions, and not for the outcomes. Even the smallest action, done with sincerity, earns the greatest reward.
  2. The circle of responsibility: Everyone has a limited circle of responsibilities – your family, relatives, neighborhood, and community. We waste too much time criticizing others regarding matters for which we have no responsibility. We spend too little time on working to fulfill our own responsibilities.
  3. Action is based on communities. The mosque is a place where neighbors meet on a regular basis, to solve collective problems of the community. Unfortunately, the concepts of communities and neighborhoods has been forgotten, and the mosque is now just a place of individual worship, not one of collective action. We need to turn our communities into living communities; these are the cells upon which and Islamic society is built.
  4. Learning to Value Our Heritage: The Islamic society took care of the needs of all citizens. Education was available to all who sought it, and funding was the collective responsibility of the society, not that of the scholar. Awqaf, on a community basis, provided for a large range of social welfare activities. We need to revive these institutional structures, to re-create an Islamic Society.
  5. Unite and Prosper:  The Quran warns us to not make divisions among ourselves, or else we will be defeated. The first step to the state of Madina was the powerful pact of brotherhood, between the Mohajereen and the Ansar. This created precioous bonds of love binding together the hearts of the Muslim community. Today as well the first step to re-creating the state of Madina is to create love in our hearts for each others. One of the key effective tactics used against us has been the Divide and Rule strategy,  which creates hatred and divisions, and pits Muslims against Muslims. Islam teaches us effective counters, which we must learn and follow. This is the only “Road to Madina”.

Slides for the talk, interspersed with links to relevant posts, are linked below. The origina

On Tuesday 30th April, I was invited to give the same talk at DHA Suffa University, where I recorded the talk in English. For a one hour English video of this talk, together with a 1300 word summary, see “Operationalizing Riyaset-e-Madina“. To prepare for these talks, I gave a talk on the same topic to my class in Islamic Economics. This was a 2 hour detailed discussion in urdu, explaining many of the points covered in much greater detail. This is also linked below. .Third, there is the detailed two hour talk in Urdu to my Islamic Economics Class which is available as part of Lecture L09 of IE2019.

Iqra Uni How to become human beings instead of human resource

[bit.do/aziqra] My talk in urdu to Iqra Univ BBA students explained how we can learn to be human beings, when a Western education only trains us how to to be human resources. The talk is available from the link below. There are three portions of about 35 minutes. I would like to ask for volunteers to help summarize the main points of the talk, in urdu. If you could record your name as volunteer in the comments below, and then send me a summary of the talk with a timing First five minutes cover points X Y Z second five minutes cover A B C  and so on. and ALSO, write down your own impression, the ONE thing that you learnt from the talk that you found most important, useful, appealing, that would be very helpful to me. The talk is given below (If the bandcamp link does not work, use the ONEDRIVE Link given below it)

The 1hr 45m talk and discussion can also be downloaded from OneDrive: Iqra Talk 96MB An embedded version of the OneDrive file is linked below

Human beings are potentially the best of the creations of God, and are precious beyond any price. To deceive them into selling themselves cheap, they must be fed false identities created by a fake and meaningless education which poisons minds and leads them to believe that they are commodities for sale on the marketplace. The antidote is the following thought-exercise:

” I am a traveler seeking the truth, a human searching for the meaning of humanity and a citizen seeking dignity, freedom, stability and welfare under the shade of Islam.

I am a free man who is aware of the purpose of his existence and who proclaims: ‘Truly, my prayer and my sacrifice, my living and my dying are all for Allah, the Lord of the worlds. No partner has He. This, I have been commanded, and I am of those who submit to His Will.’ This is who I am.

Who are you? ”

Hasan Al-Banna Rahimullah

As Iqbal said: To agar maira naheen banta na ban; Apna to ban!

Useful Versus Useless Knowledge

[bit.do/azuvuk] Islamic Economics, IIIE, IIUI, Spring 2019, Course Website. Variant Post on LinkedIn: [bit.do/uvukaz]

Lecture 8 – Review of Midterm == First question was discussed in the first two-hour segment of the lecture. The First Question of the midterm is replicated below, with some clarifications. Note that the question itself is never posed in standard economics classes. The discussion, given in the lecture, also explains why this question must be addressed in any study of economics.

FIRST QUESTION ON MIDTERM: In the first and second lectures, we discussed the PURPOSE of life, and how it affects everything we do. Related to this topic, answer the following questions

  1. What does Islam teach us about the purpose of life? This is what SHOULD be the purpose of life for Muslims.
  2. What is the purpose of your life, according to your thoughts? That is, what we actually think is the purpose of life. This requires some digging, to separate what we really think from what we are supposed to think.
  3. What is the purpose of your life, according to your actions? Our actions reveal our purposes, and they may not be aligned with our thoughts. They are almost surely not aligned with Islamic ideals.
  4. What does Western education teach us about the purpose of life? HOW does it do this?
  5. How can we resolve the conflict between our thoughts and our actions, regarding the purpose of life?

This question is extremely important, and a foundation for all further study. It is completely ignored and neglected in the West, for which reason, I have given a lengthy two hour detailed discussion: [download 2hr Audio File in m4a format 113MB]

The audio-recording, linked above, provides a two-hour classroom discussion (in urdu) of this question, and its links to the study of economics. This post is about the first 12 minutes of the lecture [Download Urdu Audio MP3 file], which discuss the PRELIMINARY topic of Useful and Useless knowledge. A separate video recording and discussion in English is also available on LinkedIn Post: Useful Versus Useless Knowledge.  The URDU 12-minute video recording of this initial segment is provided below. This post outlines the key points in this discussion.

The 12-minute video (initial segment of full 2-hour lecture) resolves a very important PUZZLE. Our beloved Prophet Mohammad SAW made DUA for acquisition of useful knowledge and also SOUGHT the protection of Allah from USELESS knowledge. So, from the Islamic point of view, there is a clear distinction between the two types of knowledge. On the other hand, Western EPISTEMOLOGY (theory of knowledge) DENIES this distinction. The West claims that all types of knowledge are potentially useful, so we cannot tell the difference between useful and useless knowledge. So how can decide which position is correct, and how do we know what kind of knowledge is useful or useless? This requires consideration of the purpose of life, as explained in this first segment of the lecture. (Video/Audio Lecture is in URDU, but the brief explanations given below are in English).

Lecture 8 Part A: Useful and useless knowledge [Summary of 12m Video in Urdu linked Above]

Q1: What is USEFUL Knowledge?

A1: Useful knowledge teaches us HOW TO LIVE OUR UNIQUE AND PRECIOUS LIVES?

Q2: What is HARMFUL Knowledge?

A2: This type of knowledge leads us to WASTE our lives pursuing inferior or useless GOALS.

EVERY GOAL is a GOD, which demands our obedience. LA ILAHA ILLALLAH means that we have NO GOALS OTHER than the pleasure of ALLAH.

In contrast to the Islamic view given above, the Western Point of View is that there is no such distinction – All knowledge is equal. We do not know now whether or not knowledge would be useful. For example, the study of bats led to knowledge of SONAR. Bats are blind and emit sound waves. By listening to the reflection of the sound waves they learn the location of objects. This example is used to show that sometimes, studying bats – which seems completely useless – can lead to extremely useful knowledge. There are many ways to answer this Western argument. One of them is that if we start to study everything, without discrimination, we can end up with a lot of garbage in our heads. In fact, the vast proportion of what is known as modern economics has no relation to reality. As we discuss later on in this lecture, it is not just useless, it is positively harmful knowledge. To see that this is not a personal and prejudiced point of view,  we provide some quotes from leading economists who have said something very much like this.

Quotes Critical of Economics (https://bit.do/azquo)  has a much large collection of quotes:

“Modern economics is sick. Economics has increasingly become an intellectual game played for its own sake and not for its practical consequences for understanding the economic world …  Economists have converted the subject into a sort of social mathematics in which analytical rigour is everything and practical relevance is nothing.”  Mark Blaug Disturbing currents in modern economics – trends in 1990s economics

“Existing economics is a theoretical [meaning mathematical] system which floats in the air and which bears little relation to what happens in the real world” Ronald Coase

Directly relevant to our themes in Islamic WorldView, Julie Nelson in “Poisoning the Well: How Economic Theory damages the Moral Imagination” argues that by portraying selfishness as rational, economic theory has made many types of anti-social and publicly harmful behavior socially acceptable. It has also influenced, many businesspeople, judges, sociologists, philosophers, policymakers, critics of economics, and the public at large to come to tolerate greed and opportunism, or even to expect or encourage them. Her paper gives examples of the harms inflicted in the areas of law, care work, the environment, and ethics itself.

The above discussion shows how Western failure to distinguish between useful and useless knowledge has caused a lot of harmful knowledge to become acceptable, and to be taught in universities and colleges, without any realization with damaging consequences

Next, we clarify the Islamic point of view. In the first revelation to our prophet in the cave of Hira, Allah T’aala introduced Himself as the ONE who gives knowledge to man of that which man does not know. Islam is full of exhortations to seek knowledge, and full of praise for those who seek knowledge. The Angels spread their wing underneath the feet of the seeker of knowledge. The ones who know are far superior to the ones who do not. Knowledge is among the Greatest Gifts of God. It was the thirst for knowledge created by the teachings of Islam that led the early Muslims to leadership of the World, and a Civilization that enlightened the world for a thousand years.

It is clear that knowledge is extremely important, indeed central to Islam. This makes it even more important to find out how we define “Useful Knowledge”:

Useful knowledge teaches how to make the best use our unique and precious lives.

Each moment of our lives is precious, and cannot be purchased for all the treasure in the world.

But HOW can we realize our hidden potentials, and how can we make our lives valuable?

This requires learning who we are, what we are meant to be, how can we achieve the infinite potential which we are all born with? Useful knowledge us teaches us how to live our lives to the fullest. HARMFUL knowledge deceives us into making the wrong efforts and wasting our lives.

In order to be able to discriminate between useful and useless knowledge, we must first determine the Purpose of our Life. Useful means useful for achieving a goal. Without knowing purpose of life, we cannot tell what is useful or useless. This is the key to the puzzle – Modern secular thought in the West, which is dominant in Western education, teaches us that  life is meaningless. Universe was created by an accident, life came into being by an accident, and death will come by another accident. If life itself is meaningless, then all knowledge, as well as lack of knowledge, is meaningless.

Even this issue requires debate, discussion, thought – is life meaningless or is it meaningful.

We cannot pass by this question in silence. Unfortunately, this is what is done in Western education. Since the question is never discussed, Western education teaches the student that this question is not important, or that it cannot be answered. This is a big mistake.

So HOW can we determine Purpose of our lives?

For Muslims, the purpose is given to us by the Quran: It is to please Allah, by doing the best of deeds. To strive for success on the day of judgment. To achieve excellence in conduct, following the Sunnah of the Prophet Mohammad SAW

For those who are not muslims, they should PONDER the bigger questions? Was this universe created by accident, or is there a CREATOR? Listen to both sides of the argument. Try to decide who is right. Explore the different factions and see which one appeals to your heart. The first step is to UNDERSTAND the importance of this question – How we spend our lives depends entirely on the answers, so we cannot afford to neglect thinking seriously about this question.

My own journey towards Islam is described in a short autobiography. From this, I would make a recommendation to those who are in doubt about the existence of God. Make a CONDITIONAL prayer for guidance, like that of Ibraheem AS – O God (if you exist) Please guide me, for I cannot reach you without YOUR HELP. This is explained in my biography.

The final point discussed in this 12 minute initial discussion is central to Islam. The Quran writes that we all have multiple goals that we strive for. Every goal, every purpose that we work for, is like a GOD. What we are trying to achieve, WHO we are trying to please, THESE are our GODS.

Islam teaches us to REJECT all gods, and make ONLY ALLAH T’aala our God. All other GODS are false gods. If we pursue those gods and achieve those goals, we will get nothing of value. The only goal worth pursuing is the pleasure of Allah. As Muslims, we should focus on PLEASING ALLAH only, even if the WHOLE WORLD is displeased.

POSTSCRIPT: LINKS TO RELATED MATERIAL

Course Website: https://bit.do/ie2019

Islamic WorldView Blog: https://bit.do/aziwv

A Western education poisons our minds in many different ways. One of them is the complete neglect and disregard of the meaning and purpose of lives, which is the central question we all must answer, in order to learn what our lives are about, and how to make the best of our few precious moments on this planet. The strategy for doing this is to avoid discussion of purpose, and to avoid discussion of what is Useful Versus Useless Knowledge. When we cannot differentiate between them, it become possible to teach us a lot of useless garbage, without our realization.  Some other poisons are discussed in the posts linked below:

  • The First Poison: Eurocentric History: A Western education teaches us the history started in sixteenth century Europe, when mankind first learned to throw off chains of ignorance and superstitions, and learned to reason and develop science, technology, democracy, and all good things known to man. A counter-narrative is presented in “An Islamic WorldView: An essential part of an Islamic Education
  • The Second Poison: Secular Knowledge– The idea that there are two separate realms of knowledge, and worldly knowledge and religious knowledge are different and separable.
  • The Third Poison: Worship of Wealth– A Western education teaches us that development is acquistion of wealth, fame, power, popularity, pleasure. In fact, these worldly and materialistic goals are false gods, which do not have the power to satisfy us – as those people who achieve them learn from bitter personal experience.
  • The Fourth Poison: Homo Economicus– The idea that men have no hearts and souls is central to Western social science. This leads to a stupid definition of “rationality” as being short-sighted greed and the search for pleasure. This idea influences people and prevents them from achieving the spiritual development which is essential to developing our hidden capabilities and potentials for excellence. In this connection, see “Islam’s Gift; An Economy of Spiritual Development“.

In fact, there are many other poisons, too many to be listed. But after understanding some of the central wrong and harmful ideas, it becomes easier to pick out other problems and errors, and learn to see the brilliant light of Islam.

Post-Post Script: Slides for the presentation can be downloaded/viewed from SlideShare, and Scribd. Similar post in English, with 16m English Video-Lecture is on LinkedIn.

 

Islam’s Gift: An Economy of Spiritual Development

[bit,do/ajes] My paper with the title was recently published in American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Vol 78, Issue 2, pp 443-492, March 2019.  A pre-print can be downloaded from: SSRN, Scribd, or OneDrive. More than a decade ago, I was motivated to write “Islamic Economics: A Survey of the Literature” by the realization that the vast majority of Islamic Economics was just an imitation of Western economics, and an attempt to fit as much of it as possible into an Islamic framework. My paper attempted to explain why this was so, and to recognize and highlight the unique insights which came from genuine Islamic perspectives on our economic affairs. My current paper “Islam’s Gift: An Economy of Spiritual Development” represents a culmination of the search for formulating a genuine Islamic alternative to Western economics. This paper explains how Islam teaches us how to sell our lives and wealth to purchase the pleasure of Allah, which is more precious than all the material wealth on the planet. Obviously, such an approach to economics shares little in common with Western approaches, according to which accumulation of wealth is the goal of our personal and collective lives. Some essential background information, required to read and understand the paper, is covered briefly in the six points given below. A viewable pre-print of the paper itself is linked at the bottom of the post. The six points written up below have been discussed in detail in a 26m urdu video-lecture on “Islam’s Gift”. Some more discussion of the background materials for this paper is given in a second post on Materialist Versus Spiritual Economics. The introductory section of the paper explains that modern economics claims to be a universal science, but is actually specific to Western market societies; see “The Thousand Snakes: Image and Reality of Western Economics“. We proceed to discuss six preliminary points required as background for the study of my paper on “Islam’s Gift”:

  1. Social Science is the study of human experience. From this, it follows that study of human behavior and societies would rely on our experiences. Since modern social sciences were developed in the West, they must be based on the study of Western historical experiences. If we want to develop social sciences of relevance and value for Islamic societies, then we should study the historical experiences of Islamic societies and derive lessons from them. This point, and its implications have been explored in “On Improving Social Science Education in Pakistan”.
  2. Social Sciences in general, and Economics in particular, claim to be universal and objective. In contrast to the first point, economic theories claim to be universal laws about human behavior, which are valid across time and space, without reference to historical, social, cultural, and political context. This creates a puzzle: If the laws of economics are just like the laws of physics, then they would work equally well in Islamic societies and in Western societies. In that case, Islamic Economics must accept the universal scientific laws discovered by Western economists, and build a discipline around these laws which makes minor modifications required by Islamic principles. However, if economics theories are only applicable to the particular historical, social, cultural, and political context in which they were born, then we would need to develop an entirely different set of theories for Islamic societies, based on our own historical experiences. For more details about this point, see “The Origins of Western Social Sciences
  3. Modern Economics derives from European historical experiences, but falsely claims to be universal. We resolve the puzzle created by points one and two above by showing that modern economics originates from Western historical experiences. Furthermore, this fact is obvious and apparent, and has been noted by many authors. Then the mystery is: why do economists deny something which is patently obvious, claiming a universality for economic theories, which is easily proven wrong? For example, is it true that human behavior everywhere, across time, space and culture, corresponds to the homo economicus model of economic theories? The Quran tells us that we should give away the things that we love most, and feed the poor even if we are ourselves hungry, for the sake of the love of Allah. The shock-and-awe of West has poisoned our hearts, so much so that many Islamic economists have accepted this model of human behavior as being universally valid – see “The Fourth Poison: Homo Economicus” for an extended discussion. This set of observations create a double mystery, which the paper attempts to resolve.
  4. Mystery 1 “why do economists claim universal truth for theories which are obviously false?”. Part one of this mystery is to understand that behavioral economics decisively rejects economic theories of human behavior. For overwhelming empirical evidence on this matter, see my post on “Behavioral Versus Neoclassical Economics.” Part two is to understand how strongly the economists refuse to accept empirical evidence, and cling to theories which are flatly contradicted by observations. For evidence, see “Quotes Critical of Economics” and also “Economic Theory as Ideology”.  Resolving this mystery requires a deep study of the progression of European thought from its origins in the Enlightenment of Europe. Furthermore, this study needs to be an external study, not a Eurocentric one. European paint their own intellectual history as one of progress, where they gradually learned to think better and better, and understand more and more, so that currently they are at the apex of intelligence. We need to create a counter-narrative, to understand how their ability to think and conceptualize about the social sciences, the world we human being lives in, has actually become worse and worse over time. A suitable counter-narrative is constructed in the paper.
  5. Mystery 2 “Why do Islamic economist accept repulsive human behaviors as being universal laws, and attempt to justify this acceptance using Quran and Hadeeth?” The name “Social Science” itself is a deception – it borrows authority by using the word “science”. For Muslim economists, awe of Western achievements in the physical sciences leads them to automatically grant the same authority to Social Science. Muslims are so much in awe of the West that when they see a flat contradiction between some economic principle and verses of the Quran, they rationalize and re-interpret the Quran, in order to be able to accept the economic theory. For examples and illustrations of this, see “Rejecting ALL of Economic Theory?”. As I have explained in “A Spiritual Obstacle to Genuine Islamic Economics”, the lack of confidence in our Deen, displayed by our preference for Samuelson over the Quran, prevents us from acquiring a genuine understanding of the message of the Quran. The early Mu’tazila went astray because they became overly impressed with Greek Philosophy, and wanted to accept as being on par with the Quran and Hadeeth. Today we face the problem of The Modern Mu’tazila, who value Western teachings over and above the Quran.
  6. The Counter-Narrative: Intellectual History of Disastrous Approach to Social Science in Europe. My papers on “Origins of Western Social Sciences” and an earlier post on “EuropeanTransition to Secular Thought” provides detail of how Europeans stopped believing in Christianity. According to their own accounts, this was because they learned to reason, and saw the religion was just superstition, but the reality is very different. Loss of faith in God and Religion was a source of serious shock and trauma. Most European philosophers who contemplated this seriously suffered from psychological breakdowns of various types. One of the consequences of this trauma of loss of faith was the rejection of heart and soul of man as a source of knowledge. It is our hearts which testify to the existence of God. European historical experience taught them that this testimony of the heart is wrong, and they vowed not to trust their hearts, but only their head. This is why their theories of human behavior reject the existence of feelings, emotions, vision, ideals and higher purposes of human existence. Instead, all rational human beings just maximize the pleasure they get from the life on this earth. Anyone who thinks about afterlife and higher goals of existence is “irrational” because here-and-now is all that we have. It becomes easier reject modern economics once we understand that contemporary economic theory is based on denial of God and Afterlife, and consequently attempts to create heaven on earth by maximizing wealth and pleasure. A more detailed explanation of this counter-narrative is provided in the paper linked below.

A viewable & downloadable pre-print of the paper on SCRIBD is linked below:

 

GFC 2007: Causes and Consequences

[bit.do/gfc07] The consequences of the Global Financial Crisis 0f 2007 are still unfolding. Economic theory is the central faith, the religion, of modern times. The cruel deception of its promises for prosperity to all was clearly revealed by the GFC ‘2007. For an illustration os the widespread realization of the complete failure of conventional economic theories, see “Quotes Critical of Economic Theory“.  People are searching for alternatives, which do not routinely cause financial crises which throw millions out jobs, leading the widespread homelessness and hunger. This is what creates a unique opportunity for us in the Islamic world, to create a new model based on generosity and cooperation, the core values of Islam, as an alternative to the greed and competition of capitalist economies.

Twentieth Century Economics

The human tragedy of the Great Depression has been graphically depicted by John Steinbeck in his moving novel, The Grapes of Wrath. The crisis it created for economic theory is not so well known. Leading economists kept forecasting prosperity and quick recovery, creating embarrassment for the profession as a whole. In 1927, Keynes had flatly stated that “there will be no more crashes in our time.” The shock of the Great Depression led him to create an entirely new economics. The Keynesian revolution created the field of Macroeconomics which gave a vital role to the government in removing unemployment.

At the dawn of the twentieth century, Laissez-Faire economics was the dominant school of thought. Laissez-Faire economics says that free markets without government intervention automatically lead to the best possible economic outcomes. The folly of this position was made obvious to all by the Great Depression. Paul Samuelson and other disciples of Keynes were the only economists with quantitative and, apparently, rigorous answers to questions about the Great Depression. They enjoyed a monopoly on the field of Macroeconomics until the 1970’s. Then things changed.

The OPEC countries imposed an oil embargo to retaliate for USA support of Israel in the Yom Kippur War in 1973. The sudden rise in energy prices led to “stagflation” – unemployment and recession occurring simultaneously with inflation – in the US economy. This was contrary to the central tenets of Keynesian economics which held that only one or the other (unemployment or inflation) was possible. The damaged prestige of Keynesian economics allowed a counter-revolution to be launched. Surprisingly, most of these new macroeconomic theories went back to the laissez faire ideas of pre-Keynesian economics.

Milton Friedman and his followers, labeled Monetarists, lost no time in re-interpreting the Great Depression along lines which would suit laissez-faire theories. On this re-interpretation, the Great Depression was actually caused by inept government policies related to the money supply. Many economists have remarked that theories so violently in conflict with facts became acceptable in the late 70’s only because the generation which had experienced the Great Depression had passed away.  Regardless, the old wine of laissez-faire was presented in new bottles, and rose to prominence once again. Reagan in USA and Thatcher in UK implemented these bold ‘new ideas’ by tax cuts and reduced spending to minimize the role of the government. The failure of Thatcher’s economic policies eventually led to her forced resignation.  It is a puzzle that the same policies were apparently quite successful at reducing unemployment and creating growth in the USA under Reagan.

A deeper look into the difference between what Reagan said and did can resolve this puzzle. Tax cuts for the rich were balanced by increased taxes on the poor.  Large reductions in government expenditure on social security and welfare were more than made up for by massive increases in defense expenditures. What was advertised as a reduction in the role of the government led to a quadrupling of the government budget deficit. Reagan restored the tarnished reputation of Laissez Faire economics by using traditional Keynesian methods of expansionary fiscal and monetary policy, labeled as free market economics.

The collapse of communism further enhanced the prestige of the Laissez Faire economists. The IMF and World Bank enforced the Washington Consensus all over the globe. The poor results of these free market policies disappointed even Williamson, the economist who invented the term. However, instead of rethinking the underlying paradigm, failures were attributed to the wrong sequencing of the economic reforms, and the lack of institutional structures necessary to support the free market. Thus Laissez Faire economics was again the dominant paradigm at the dawn of the 21st century. Economists were just as unprepared for their encounter with reality in the form of the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 as their predecessors had been for the Great Depression. The mistaken overconfidence of Keynes prior to the Great Depression was replicated by Robert Lucas, in his 2003 presidential address to the American Economic Association. Lucas declared that the “central problem of depression-prevention [has] been solved, for all practical purposes” just a few years prior to the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, which provided an empirical refutation of his Nobel Prize winning theories on rational expectations.

Historical Roots

The current crisis in economic theory has deep historical roots. To understand it, we must go back to sixteenth century Europe. Continual warfare and bloodshed among different Christian sects led to the search for a secular basis for society. How can we achieve cooperation in a society composed of religious groups with different goals? Secular thinkers promoted freedom and wealth as the core values of a secular society. One could expect different groups with conflicting goals to agree to these as common goals for the society. Freedom and wealth would provide each group with the possibility and material means to pursue whatever goal they desired.

Considerable effort was put into promoting freedom and wealth as desirable collective goals. Efforts of secular thinkers led to the transition from the Biblical maxim “the love of money is the root of all evil” to its opposite: “lack of money is the root of all evil”. Duty to society takes precedence over individual liberty in traditional society. Secular thinkers created a political theory which put individual freedom above claims of the social order. These momentous changes were fundamental in creating the modern world.

Secular thinkers disagreed about effects of allowing individual freedom and pursuit of wealth on society.  The disagreement was about the nature of human beings. Jean-Jacques Rousseau felt that human beings were naturally good, and hence advocated anarchy – no rules or regulations of any kind were required. On the opposite extreme, Thomas Hobbes thought that human beings were naturally evil. Without strong government enforcement of extensive laws, life would be “nasty, brutish and short,” if people were allowed complete freedom to act as they desire. John Locke took an intermediate position, finding society and government necessary, but with minimal rules acceptable by all.

The debate between Locke and Hobbes continues to this day in various guises.  The Hobbesian view was that extensive government control and regulation in all spheres of life is required for a stable social order. Followers of Locke argued that minimal control would suffice. A very important ingredient in the victory of minimal government views was the “invisible hand” argument of Adam Smith.  He argued that even though people are selfish, society would benefit by allowing them freedom to pursue their own self-interest. This provided a counter to the Hobbesian idea that selfish individuals would destroy society unless there was extensive government control.

Laissez-Faire economics is based on intellectual grounds prepared by Locke and Smith. It argues that one should allow maximum freedom to individuals in the economic sphere. We are witnessing today the outcomes of a social experiment spanning two centuries. Whereas traditional societies warn strongly against pursuit of pleasure and wealth, secular thinkers thought that these baser tendencies of humans could be harnessed for the betterment of society. As long as the institutional frameworks of politics, justice, and society were sound, allowing freedom for pursuit of wealth would enrich society.

All religions and cultural traditions have asked individuals to sacrifice selfish pleasures to fulfill social obligations, and frowned on pursuit of wealth.  The outcomes of this social experiment make clear why this is so. Contrary to the expectations of secular thinkers, individualistic pursuit of wealth and pleasure did not remain confined to the narrow domain of economic activities. When profits were permitted to trump compassion, the odious actions of Shylock the Jew became socially acceptable. Bankers threw millions out of their homes for nonpayment of interest after the financial crisis of 2008. On the family front, placing pleasure over duty has led to ever increasing divorces, infidelity, and illegitimate children. According to a recent UK report entitled Fractured Families, “the fabric of family life has been stripped away.”  This is social disaster, since children are trained in families, and societies are shaped by how children are trained. More than a third of children in the USA and UK are being brought up in broken homes. The tragic consequences are documented in many studies. Selfish pursuit of pleasure has led to the highest divorce rates in the world, millions of unwanted teenage pregnancies, record rates of alcohol and drug abuse, depression and suicide, and alarmingly high percentages of lying, cheating and theft among high school students. As we will show later, one of the economic consequences of promoting selfish pursuit of profits as a virtue has been the Global Financial Crisis of 2008.

The New Millenium

Karl Marx was deeply moved by the plight of the exploited laborers in industrialized England in the late 19th century. He theorized that the dynamics of capitalism would lead to increasing exploitation, until the laborers revolted against the system. After the revolution, the laborers would create a new economic and political system, which would be far more equitable than capitalism.  This Marxist prophecy was wrong, but did contain one core truth: increasing exploitation of workers did lead to a breakdown of capitalism during the Great Depression. The same dynamic has repeated itself in creating the Global Financial Crisis of 2008. The parallels between the two are clearly evident and dearly shocking.

We can partition the economy into a real sector and a financial sector. The real sector is where production takes place: these are the farms, factories, and other industries which produce real goods and services directly beneficial to human beings. The financial sector is based on activities which are not directly productive, such as lending money for interest, speculating on stocks, foreign exchange, and using derivatives and insurance contracts to gamble on the outcomes of real activities. In the “Roaring” 20’s, wild appreciation in stock prices led to a situation where it became substantially more profitable to gamble on stocks than to invest in real productive activities. Increasing shares of wealth in the hands of gamblers and decreasing returns to productive activities could not be sustained for long, and eventually led to a collapse of the real sector, now known as the Great Depression.

The collapse of the real sector led to massive unemployment and human misery on a large scale. It is correctly said that Keynes rescued capitalism from the fate Marx had prophesied. Conventional economic theory holds that market forces of supply and demand will automatically eliminate unemployment. Keynes revolutionized economics by repealing the law of supply and demand in the labor market, and urging the government to intervene to help the unemployed laborers. The Keynesian compromise provided relief against the ravages of the Depression, and prevented the more radical changes suggested by Marx.

In her brilliant book, The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein has provided a detailed picture of how a counter-revolution was planned and executed by a small segment of society which was unhappy with the Keynesian compromise. An opening was provided by the 1970’s oil crisis which led to stagflation in the USA, contrary to central premises of Keynesian theories. The monetarist school of Chicago was quick to stage a comeback. They argued that the Great Depression was caused by government mismanagement of the money supply, rather than a failure of the free market.  Using strategies described by Klein, these free market theories were applied all over the world.

Reagan and Thatcher implemented these free market policies in the USA and UK with predictable results. From 1980 to 2006 the richest 1% of America tripled their after-tax percentage of the nation’s total income, while the share of the bottom 90% dropped over 20%. Between 2002 and 2006, it was even worse: an astounding three-quarters of all the economy’s growth was captured by the top 1%. The same pattern of sharply increasing inequality holds globally: the wealthiest 250 people have more than the poorest 2.5 billion people on the planet.

Superficially, Laissez-Faire or no interference in markets seems like a fair and equitable philosophy – let everyone do whatever they want. In fact, it is highly inequitable. The poor do not have choices, while the rich and powerful take advantage of this liberty to extract money from the less rich. Financial wheeling and dealing is used to transfer money from the real sector to the financial sector, which is controlled by the wealthy. A simple method is the leveraged buy-out, which allows the wealthy to purchase a real productive business for peanuts, and extract all profits for themselves. More complex methods like CDOs (Collateralized Debt Obligations)“… may not be properly understood even by the most sophisticated investors,” according to financial wizard George Soros. Just before the global financial crisis, the value of financial derivatives (which represent different types of complex gambles) alone was 10 times the GDP of the planet. The worth of the financial sector was more than 50 times that of the real sector. This illustrates the increasing inequity that arose between the real productive sector and the financial sector which ultimately broke the backs of the working people. Many people ranging from religious scholars to financial wizards have correctly traced the roots of the Global Financial Crisis to the limitless greed of capitalists. Removal of traditional restraints to this impulse have led to an extraordinary concentrations of wealth combined with extraordinary exploitation and injustice.

The Future

The Global economy remains in enervated state. Growth has yet to reach pre-crisis levels and the Euro Crisis is causing jitters throughout the world. But there is a far greater sense of optimism now with established economies bouncing back slowly, and emerging economies showing much potential. Yet policy makers have not learned the lessons of the Great Depression and the Global Financial Crisis. The ongoing debate on austerity or stimulus to kick-start the global economy masks the systematic flaws within the Laissez-Faire economy. The idea that “greed is good,” and that selfish individuals can drive an economy to better performance has led to breakdown of communities and families, a steep rise in loneliness, as well as multiple financial and economic crises. The message of Islam transformed the Arabs from an illiterate and uncivilized people, to humane and compassionate leaders of the world. Today the whole world is desperately in need of this transformation. The challenge for the Ummah is to rise to the occasion by showing how societies and economies can be built around generosity and cooperation, instead of the greed and competition which is the basis of capitalist society.