[Condensed from a talk by Justice Mufti Taqi Usmani, delivered at the International Conference of the World Muslim Congress.
The nineteenth century was a century of political oppression whereby the powerful Western nations enslaved most of the Asian and African nations including a large number of Muslim countries. The present century, which is nearing its end, has witnessed the gradual independence of these countries from Western imperialism. However, despite our apparent success in achieving the goal of political liberty, we could not succeed in acquiring independence on intellectual, economic and strategic levels. That is why the Muslim Ummah could not yet reap the fruits of its political freedom.
Now the Muslim world is looking towards the coming century with hope that it will bring for it total independence in the real sense so the Muslims may find their due place among the nations of the world and may be free to live according to the Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam.
However, this hope cannot be realized through wishful dreams. We will have to work hard for our total freedom even more than we did for our political freedom. We need a total revision of our strategy, a well-considered plan, a collective resolution, and a revolutionary approach. In this paper, I would like to confine myself to two major issues.
It is common knowledge that the Ummah’s basic economic problem is the dependence of the Muslim countries on others. Most of them are borrowing huge amounts from the rich Western countries. Some countries are incurring these heavy interest-bearing loans not only for the development projects, but also for their day-to-day expenses, and what is more serious, for the payment of interest accrued on their previous loans which keeps the size of their indebtedness ever-increasing through a vicious circle.
Dependency on foreign loans is the basic disease of our economy that has not only shattered our economic life, but has also devastated our self-determination and has forced us to submit to the demands of our creditors, sometimes, at the price of our collective interests. It is no secret that the creditors impose their own conditions before they advance a loan. These conditions keep us under a constant foreign pressure, often stop us from pursuing our own objectives and force us to follow the policies dictated by others. The evil consequences of dependence on foreign loans are too obvious to need any further elaboration.
Islamic teachings consider “Indebtedness” as a detestable phenomenon, which should not be resorted to except in cases of extreme necessity. The Prophet, Salla-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, even refused to offer the funeral prayer for a person who died before paying back his loan.
According to a recent report of Islamic Development Bank, the total external debt of the IDB member countries in 1996 amounted to 618.8 billion dollars. The deposits and assets kept by the Muslims in the Western countries are said to be much more than this amount. Obviously, there is no authentic record of such deposits, because their owners do not disclose them. However, the economic experts have estimated them to be between 800 and 1000 billion dollars, out of which 250 billions are said to be taken back by the Arabs to their own countries after the Gulf War. Practically it means that we are borrowing a part of our own money at a high rate of interest.
Gone are the days when technical know-how was the monopoly of a few Western countries. Now, the Muslim talent is capable of at least handling the immediate requirements of the Ummah. What we need is to seek this talent, and to put it to the service of this Ummah with a missionary zeal.
Restructuring our Economic Systems
The twentieth century has witnessed the rise of communism, the conflict between capitalist and communist countries and lastly the fall of communism. The capitalist economies still suffer from inequities in the distribution of wealth. There is still a large gap between the haves and the have-nots and ‘poverty in the midst of plenty’ is still the major problem of their economy. These are the real problems created by capitalism and unless they are satisfactorily solved, it may give birth to another reaction that may be more aggressive than communism.
The world, therefore, is badly in need of a Third Economic System. The Muslim Ummah can work out this system based on the Islamic norms. The economic principles taught by the Quran and Sunnah of the Prophet (Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam) are quite capable of solving the major economic problems faced by the world today. While they allow private ownership and market economy, they also provide a well considered system of distributive justice, which may eliminate the inequities and bring about a system in which profit motive works with the collective interest of the society.
The system of interest favours the rich industrialists who benefit from the wealth of the common people who deposit their savings in the bank, and after making huge profits do not allow the common people to share these profits except to the extent of a fixed rate of interest that is again taken back by them as it is charged to the cost of production. At macro level, it means that these rich people always use the money of depositors for their own benefit and in reality pay nothing to them because the interest payments are always added to the cost of production. Islam not only allows the market forces but also provides mechanism to keep them operative with their natural force without their being hindered by monopolies. It applies two types of controls on the economic activities.
First, it subjects the process of earning to certain divine injunctions, which clearly define the limits of Halaal and Haraam. These injunctions tend to prevent monopolies and curb the unjust and immoral earnings and commercial activities detrimental to the collective interest of the society. In the context of modern economic needs where the savings of the common people are activated to boost development, the use of the Islamic instruments like Musharakah and Mudarabah, instead of interest, may make the common people directly share the fruits of development which may bring prosperity in a balanced manner reducing the gap between the rich and the poor.
Second, the institution of Zakaah, Sadaqah, and certain other financial obligations provide that even the Halaal income is again distributed to the persons who could not earn enough due to insufficient market opportunities. Through the twin controls, the wealth is kept under constant circulation and the chances of its concentration are almost eliminated.
But our main tragedy is that the principles of Islamic economy are still in theoretical form for which no living example is available. The Muslim countries have not tried to structure their economy on Islamic basis. Most of them are still following the capitalist system and that too in a half-baked manner, which has made the economic atmosphere much worse than that of the developed capitalist countries. Unfortunately, despite having the clear cut Islamic injunctions, the inequities existing in Muslim countries are far more severe than in the Western world.
This tragic situation cannot last forever. If we are not prepared to mend our ways, some natural process of revolution is bound to find its way. If we want to avoid disastrous consequences of such revolution, we’ll have to restructure our economic system on the basis of clear guidance provided by the Quran and Sunnah. Our success in setting an example for implementing the Islamic principles will be our best gift to the human fraternity at the advent of the new century. I hope that if the principles of Islamic economy are implemented sincerely, we’ll find the world more receptive to them today than we experienced it in the past.