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Theology Thursdays: Economy And Muslims by Ali Unal


Contrary to the Weberian theory, French thinker and economist Jean Defour maintains that in the West capitalism triggered religious reforms, not vice versa. He attributes Western economic revival to the bulks of gold from America, and Christopher Columbus’ long journey to America to the changing Western worldview. He further notes that the main factor which made Luther strive for reform was his realization of the relationship between the pious Christians and the huge fortune of Jacob Fugger, a famous gold trader of the time, who could only be compared to contemporary wealthy figures such as Rockefeller and Rothschild (See, Sciences and Ideologies -- Ilimler ve Ideolojiler -- Umran Press, pp. 125-126). In this regard, we can seek the emergence of Western capitalism in the transformation of the mindset of a continent, suffering from acute famine and poverty, which only later became aware of the benefits of gold and reforms as it endeavored to base this transformation on a religious paradigm that would legitimize it.

Conversely, the Ottoman state did not experience the famine and poverty which swept through the West; contentment along with glorious welfare which astonished the Western world were commonplace in the lives of the Ottomans. Furthermore, the balance between religion and worldly life was healthy and strong; and contrary to dissenting voices, the economy was not solely based on conquests. The overall economic situation was characterized by a well-working land system, a vibrant and well-organized trade and commerce environment, mining operations, textile industry, and a flow of capital that did not condone capitalism, but was carried out through foundations and other similar charity organizations. However, while a number of internal and external factors undermined this economic system over time, the 1838 trade agreement between the Ottoman state and Western countries, and later the 1839 Tanzimat (Administrative Reforms), and the 1856 Islahat decrees ruined the overall balance, which had already been benefiting the Western world since the 18th century. Finally, the consecutive wars, internal turmoil, and the single-party period of the Republican era prevented the Muslims, whose only consideration was to make a living enough to survive, from involvement in political life as well as from economic activities. These people only had the chance to participate in the political process in the 1950s, and in economic life as late as the 1980s.

Islam never advocates the “bir lokma bir hirka” (own nothing but one bit to eat) philosophy; on the contrary, our religion strongly opposes it. Under Islamic precepts, the human being is God’s caliph, who is entitled to certain privileges and rights. But, by virtue of being a caliph, the human being is also required to reconstruct the world within the boundaries set by God. Learning “the names,” that is, recognizing and understanding what exists, a talent and aptitude which are needed for this reconstruction with social and physical dimensions, and of course scientific knowledge and technological advancements are, in the Quran, compared to angels praising God. For this reason, throughout history, prophets have been pioneers of both spiritual and material advancements.

In addition, Islam prefers benefiting from God’s blessings, thanking Him and fulfilling the requirements of wealth over poverty and mere patience. It requires believers detach their minds from inferior desires, not to abandon their worldly responsibilities completely. Moreover, the Quran clearly states that nobody has the right to prohibit God’s blessings and also stresses that they exist in this world primarily for Muslims, and only for Muslims in afterlife. Hence, if a Muslim does not express outrage over the pillaging of world resources and unfair distribution as if his or her own property is being looted, then he or she is not aware of the obligations imposed by Islam. Moreover, while morality constitutes religious services as well Islamic plans and programs, fulfilling these duties depends on the existence of welfare.

A Muslim has to participate in economic life, in all of its dimensions, and even direct it. However, in doing so, this Muslim should keep his or her religion, nation, country and the whole humanity in mind; and also strive to bring happiness to everyone, not only to himself or herself. Furthermore, he or she should not deviate from the righteous, just, fair, honest, trustworthy path and should not resort to lies and deceptions. Finally, he or she should always remember that the greatest service to religion is firm adherence to Islamic principles and norms.

This article appears in Zaman Daily. The author may be reached at ali.unal@zaman.com.tr


Ali Unal

Thursday, November 16, 2006

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