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:


This entry was posted in Critique of Conventional Economics, islamic economics, methodology 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.

23 thoughts on “Islam’s Gift: An Economy of Spiritual Development

  1. Pingback: The Emergence of Logical Positivism | An Islamic WorldView

  2. Pingback: The Emergence of Logical Positivism | WEA Pedagogy Blog

  3. Pingback: Useful Versus Useless Knowledge | An Islamic WorldView

  4. Pingback: The Third Poison: Worship of Wealth | An Islamic WorldView

  5. Pingback: Central Myths of Eurocentric History | An Islamic WorldView

  6. Pingback: IE2019 Final Q4: Logical Positivism | An Islamic WorldView

  7. Pingback: IE 2019 Final Exam | An Islamic WorldView

  8. Pingback: Re-Shaping Lives: Identity and Purpose | An Islamic WorldView

  9. Pingback: Launching An Islamic Revolution in Economics | An Islamic WorldView

  10. Pingback: Materialist VS Spiritual Economics | An Islamic WorldView

  11. Pingback: Essential Aspects of Islamic Revival | An Islamic WorldView

  12. Pingback: Re-Defining Development | An Islamic WorldView

  13. Pingback: Critique of Conventional Economics | An Islamic WorldView

  14. Pingback: CIE3 Four Flaws of Modern Economics | An Islamic WorldView

  15. Pingback: CIE6 Pragmatic Objections to Visionary 3rd Gen IE | An Islamic WorldView

  16. Pingback: CIE5 The Revolutionary Islamic Alternative | An Islamic WorldView

  17. Pingback: TN2 16th Century Europe: Origins of Capitalism | An Islamic WorldView

  18. Pingback: Islamic Approach to Macro-Prudential Regulation | An Islamic WorldView

  19. Pingback: Islamic Regulation: Based on Character and Social Norms – WEA Pedagogy Blog

  20. Pingback: An Islamic Approach to Macro-Prudential Regulation – WEA Pedagogy Blog

  21. Pingback: Transforming Knowledge – Dr, Asad Zaman

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s