Among the great practices of Shia Islam is that Shia Muslims must be and are always aware of those around them who are suffering, exploited, or at risk. The 12 great Shia Imams teach us that God has placed humanity on earth to “care for one another” and to treat one another as God would treat people. The great Muslim Philosopher ibn Khaldun spoke of this.
In the 14th century, he wrote his famous Muqaddimah (Introduction to History). In it, he explains that “….humanity is at the center of creation…..” However, humanity has a responsibility to God. Humanity is to treat God’s creatures and creation exactly as God would. It is no wonder that the Shia Community, in response to this divine commission, has done just that. Hizballah’s the sole “caretaker” of all confessional communities in Lebanon. Hizballah manages all hospitals, schools, and relief in Lebanon. In both Syria and Iraq, it is the Shia Community that cares for those who have experienced hardship. The Shia in Najaf and Karbala have housed, clothed, and fed fleeing Christian, Yazidi, and Sunni refugees.
Which brings us to the whole question of “Economics.” One of the truths of history is that people have to eat and people have to work. This is true for primitive human communities, Plato’s Republic, and Ibn Khaldun’s world. The question is: how do we involve ourselves in economic activity in a manner that is fair for all?
As people of faith, we believe God expects us to involve ourselves in economic activity that is undergirded in ethics, and a high standard of moral behavior. Such activity should be undertaken in a manner that is both pleasing to God and fair to humanity. I want to examine two systems; the first being Global (Western) Capitalism and the second is Islamic Economics as developed by the martyred Shia cleric of Najaf, Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al Sadr. This system was developed in his masterpiece Iqtisadunna (Our Economics). And for Ethics and Moral Behavior — allow me to be blunt. Global Capitalism has “….no ethical or moral fiber…..” Check any bibliography. You will not find the definitive text book on “The Great Ethic of Global Capitalism.” The motto here is to take what you want at all costs. If you do not, someone else will! Islamic Economics, on the other hand, has much guidance on ethical behavior in the economic arena. Al Sadr’s work is bathed in ethical guidance — what is both pleasing to Allah in both the Qur’an and the teachings is the Imams as well as what is fair to the global community.
I want to begin with Global Capitalism. What is it? It is the law and rule of the jungle. Steal from others before they steal from you. The horrible practice of Global Capitalism (or what Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg called Imperialism) was seen in “Western Colonialism.” The Western World “invaded” the non Western World and stole, stole, stole! Rosa Luxemburg pointed out that the prosperity of the Western World came at the expense of everyone else. There is no infinite source of wealth. There is a finite source of wealth — and it will end and many will suffer. Much of Global Capitalism is based on the “false” two kingdom theory of Christianity which says that we live in two kingdoms (one of God and the other of humanity) and this means that we have two different ways of behaving. We can exploit one another in the economic arena — because God is NOT there — which is not true.
Adam Smith is considered the “Father of Modern Capitalism.” Smith liked Capitalism but he despised Capitalists. He wrote 2 books to explain his theory. One was “The Wealth of Nations” which describes the “self centeredness” of humanity — look at Wall Street! The second was his “Theory of Moral Sentiments” which describes the “sympathy of humanity.” Smith considered his the second book his best — nut hardly anyone has read it. Smith also,anticipated that, in the pursuit of profits, mega banks and “Wal Marts” would arise. Smith feared that big huge companies would destroy smaller companies and human misery would prevail. He foresaw that, down the roads, such businesses as Walgreen’s, Wal Mart, Rite Aid, and many others would do more damage than good. Why? Because Capitalism is devoid of ethics.
Both Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg foresaw the day when free enterprise and competition would give way to both monopolies and business oligarchies that would fix prices and cause rapid unemployment. Rosa Luxemburg also predicted that “technology would trump human need” causing unemployment and human misery. Why? Again, no ethics. Look at the American system. We have billionaires eating up billionaires. The Koch brothers are turning on Donald Trump because billionaire Trump is currently winning. Carly Fiorina is not a capitalist. She is a “highly paid proletarian.” That is all.
Which leads us to the Islamic Economic Theory of Baqir al Sadr. His system is bathed in ethical morality. He wrote that whatever happens in the economic arena must be both pleasing to God and fair to greater humanity. Above all, one must act ethically to all. In Capitalism, everything is the private property of the ruling capitalists. Not so in the Islamic system. There are some commodities that are jointly owned by everyone.
Now here is the most important ethical issue that is the heart of al Sadr’s Islamic Economic System. It deals with “Original Accumulation” which means that your original source of wealth must be ethical, pleasing to Allah, and fair to the world community.Consider the “Original Accumulation” of the United States. It is quite easy to become the most powerful economic entity in human history when your original accumulation is “stolen land” from Native Americans and “stolen labor” in the form of slaves from West Africa. In my judgment, this would not, nor should it not, pass the ethical test of Ayatollah al Sadr.
The Western World needs to get to know the economic theories of Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al Sadr. Until we do, our world will see war, human misery, suffering, and new ways to exploit one another. My fear is that if this keeps up, our world will enter another Dark Age that will be far more destructive than the earlier Dark Age.
The American Muslim Malcolm X wrote these words from the Hajj in 1963. “…..America needs to understand Islam….” He was correct! It was important in 1963. It is crucial in 2016.