Wednesday, 5 May 2010

An alternative to the existing free market economy?

For sometime now I have been listening to the protests and complaints from many about the way our world works economically. I agree it is not looking very secure but it is all very well complaining but nobody is coming up with an alternative. Not surprising really as a previous effort to Google for an alternative failed! However, today following a breakfast conversation with my beloved, I decided to have another go and bingo I did find an unexpected alternative.

For a quick overview check out this link otherwise read with interest what lies below.

The current financial crisis has seriously eroded confidence the Western world had in the suitability of the free market. However the Western world when looking at alternatives only see remnants of Socialism or some state intervention in economy as feasible and workable systems. It is also this reason that allowes free market ideologues to continue citing more regulation, transparency i.e. more capitalism with some tinkering as solutions. This crisis represents an opportunity for all Muslims to present the Islamic alternative. It is important to show Islamic economics as much more then Islamic finance and Banking. This is exactly what Adnan Ahmed Yousif, CEO of the Bahraini-based Albaraka Banking Group and chair of the Union of Arab Banks outlined in an interviewwith the Middle East's Asharq Al-Awsat when asked about the global financial crisis: ‘The success of Islamic banking will lead to serious consideration of Islamic economics, which continues to realize numerous achievements, as a viable alternative to the current global economic system which continues to be hit by these crises.' With this in mind the following points should be borne in mind and when presenting Islam:-

  1. The Islamic economy follows a philosophy which is very different to Capitalism, as a result the end objectives both economies attempt to achieve, widely differ and thus it would be invalid to measure one against the other as they both have different foundations and aims. Islam has detailed laws on the distribution of wealth and this is its ultimate aim with the economy - to ensure wealth circulates around the economy so all can share in the wealth that is generated.

  1. Because all economic systems aim to address the same issues, there are many peripheral similarities between Islam and the free market. At a doctrinal level however Islam and Capitalism are two distinct systems. The Islamic economic system is fundamentally about people and their needs, this is the fundamental principal the Islamic economy is built around. In a narration from the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم it was said that: "The son of Adam has no better right than that he would have a house wherein he may live and a piece of cloth whereby he may hide his nakedness and a piece of bread and some water." (Tirmidhi). The Islamic economy is geared towards fulfilling the basic needs of its citizens and these in origin were defined as food, clothing and accommodation. This forms the basis of the Economic system of Islam, all policies and rules are geared towards achieving such ends. Islam focuses on the needs of the people which the hadith outlined and not merely increasing Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

  1. Islam does not view the human as an economic unit and then look to find the most economically viable solution thus viewing all problems, whether from marriage to pensions to drugs to education, from the angle of the economic effect and cost. Neither does Islam view the human the way the Communists did which is that people are simply matter, just one aspect of nature, nothing more. Islam views the human as being composed of organic needs as well as instincts, all of which requires answers on how to satisfy them. So Islam organised these instincts and needs in a way that ensures the satisfaction of them all, such as the need to eat and the need to reproduce and others. However, this organisation is not arranged in Islam by satisfying some of them at the expense of the others, nor by suppressing some of them, setting others loose, or setting all of them loose. Instead, Islam has co-ordinated the satisfaction of all of them in a way to ensure comfort, preventing conflicts and a lapse to a primitive level through the anarchism of instincts.

  2. Through its own economic system, Islam laid down rules for the means to acquire wealth and commodities, how they can be utilised and their manner of disposal. It certainly did not make freedom of ownership the basis of the economic system or even the socialist principal of ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs'. It did not define the basic problem as ‘unlimited wants, limited resources'. Islam views the resources to be ample enough to completely satisfy the basic needs of all. Therefore, amongst a host of other detailed rules, one will find the Shari'ah aims to secure the satisfaction of all basic needs (food, clothing and housing) completely for every citizen of the Khilafah State.

  1. In order to facilitate the acquisition of goods and services Islam put forward rules related to the manner of possessing wealth without any complications. Islam defined the legal means of ownership, and it defined the contracts through which possession can take place. This left humanity free to develop the styles and means by which they earn, as Islam did not interfere in the production of wealth.

  1. The Islamic economic system has extensive rules for ownership and disposal of citizen's wealth and assets. Beyond this Islam recognises a sphere of the economy as the economic science i.e. through study and research a solution can be derived. Hence how to develop and economy or to industrialise, where the factories and the supply lines should be, how the steel and iron mills should be constructed fall under this category, however what is produced and how it is distributed falls under the ‘system' for which Islam has extensive rules.

  1. The Islamic economy is based upon wealth generation where participants partake in investment, employment and trade in the real economy. Islam does not have a dual economy where the real economy operates alongside a financial sector. The Islamic economy focuses all participants on the real economy, through employment, company profits, utilisation of land (agriculture) and manufacturing, wealth is generated in only one sector. This brings the huge benefit of wealth only circulating in one sector - the real economy, where all can participate. Derivatives would be withdrawn as this type of contract is not trade in real goods; rather it is betting on the price movements of a commodity and one must posses what they sell in Islam.

  1. The Islamic system does not recognise the financial markets in their current form. One is able to purchase shares and transfer them without actually partaking in the running of the underlying company that the shares are meant to represent. In Islam ownership is a direct role in a company and not just a share certificate which in effect the stock market allows to be traded and re-traded. It is this ability to not have a direct role in a company that allows excessive speculation.

  1. The Islamic economic system does not recognise the financial markets in their current form and has made the Western style Public Limited company (joint stock (share)) companies haraam for a number of reasons. Fundamentally this type of contract contradicts the Islamic rules for contracts. The company in the West represents a particular type of contract - the ‘Solitary Will,' this is where an individual agrees to the written constitution of a company by purchasing its shares with no formal offer from anyone. This has come to be termed as the Individual Will whereby shares could be exchanged very quickly without the need for two people to continuously sit down and have a formal offer and acceptance. An example of this is the take-over bid of the world's richest football club, Manchester United FC by Malcolm Glazier in 2005. He imposed his will on the company (i.e. he brought shares) and even though other shareholders were against such an action it was a legal form of acquiring ownership even though there was only one person in the contract. Most contracts involve two parties where one party offers terms and the other accepts, however under corporate law in the West setting up a business is a contract of ‘solitary will.' It is not a contract between two or more people; rather it is an agreement that stipulates that all parties agree to it when they subscribe for shares in the company. So an individual joins himself to the conditions of a company - through purchasing their shares. This means to become a partner one does not need approval from the existing owners - this contradicts Islam.

  1. Islam's monetary policy is centred around a legal tender based upon the Gold and Silver standard and not one based upon interest rates to regulate inflation and the economy. In Islam when it comes to exchanging a commodity with a specific monetary unit, Islam has guided Muslims to the monetary unit by which the exchange is to take place. It has restricted the Khilafah to a specific type of money, which is gold and silver. The Islamic evidences have designated gold and silver as the primary measuring unit for prices and labour. This is understood from the actions of Muhammad صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم when he collected Zakat, levied taxes and imposed fines, all were measured according to gold and silver. This means the notes and coins circulating in the economy would all be backed by gold and silver. This will no longer make possible the free printing of currency as the Khilafah would need to increase the actual holdings of gold and silver. This has a unique effect on Inflation which free market economies have been unable to contain.

  1. Islam contains inflation by changing the role of banks. Currently banks practice fractional reserve banking whereby they create credit, borrow money from the financial markets and lend to depositors. This creates a big problem in the economy as very little equity can be used as collateral to borrow large sums of money which creates a bubble waiting to burst. Islam strips the ability of banks to create money and transfers this to the central treasury - Bait ul-mal. Money creation will be the sole role of the state.

  1. The role of banks in Islam will be to collect the nation's deposits and to also act as a central pool whereby money can be collected and invested in the economy, with the returns being distributed amongst investors. The banks would only be able to invest what they have in deposits and cannot create money as this is the role of the central treasury - bait ul mal. As interest (Riba) is haraam the main function of banks will become the pooling of wealth which can then be invested across the economy aiding wealth distribution and economic growth.

  1. The Islamic economy is stripped of ‘interest' as this is something Islam has categorically forbidden in the Qur'an. Holding wealth in a bank account will no longer accrue interest and any unused wealth for a year is liable for taxation. In this way such wealth is only productive if invested or spent, and this can only take place in the real economy. The removal of interest in the economy will act as a multiplier affect circulating wealth around the economy.

  1. Islam does not have a concept of income tax; value added tax, excise duties, nor national insurance contributions. Rather Islam puts the emphasis of taxation on wealth rather than income. Take the average salary in the UK of £24,000. At current tax rates the tax burden alongside National Insurance contributions falls at 33%. This alongside indirect taxation (that is taxation on spending rather than income) as well as council tax, road tax and so forth mean that the real tax burden falls at closer to the 40-50% mark. This means that the average person in UK is losing between £10,000-12,000. So at higher wage levels, the monetary amounts lost towards taxation is much greater.

  1. In Islam, although simplified, the wealth tax falls at 2.5%. This means that within one year, on average one can save at least £10,000. Therefore two or three people could easily enter into a business contract such as Mudharabah (An Islamic company where one provides the Capital and the second partner works with it) to supply some of the demand in the economy for consumer or manufactured goods thereby creating more employment in the economy. With no concept of interest rates and hoarding forbidden in Islam wealth will circulate quickly ensuring the public can purchase what they specifically need, creating employment and giving all more and more disposable income.

  1. Islam considers poverty as one matter for humans in any country and in any generation. Poverty in the view of Islam is the non-satisfaction of the basic needs in a complete way. Islam defined these basic needs as three things, which are food, clothing and accommodation. This is seen from the following evidences:

وَعلَى الْمَوْلُودِ لَهُ رِزْقُهُنَّ وَكِسْوَتُهُنَّ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ

"The duty of feeding and clothing nursing of mothers in a seemly manner is upon the father of the child." [Al-Baqarah: 233]

أَسْكِنُوهُنَّ مِنْ حَيْثُ سَكَنتُم مِّن وُجْدِكُمْ وَلَا تُضَارُّوهُنَّ لِتُضَيِّقُوا عَلَيْهِنَّ

"Lodge them where you dwell, according to your wealth." [At-Talaq: 6]

Specifically Islam made the financial support (Nafaqah) compulsory from the revenues of the Bait ul-Mal and from Zakah. From a Macroeconomic perspective the removal of interest, the financial markets and direct taxation allows wealth to freely circulate around the economy so all citizens can partake in the wealth generation process.

  1. Islam has ordained the state to play a direct role in the economy and does not leave things completely to the market. Islam lays out three types of property; state, public and private. It designated any utility regarded as indispensable for the community, such that its absence would require people to search far and wide for it, as public property. It would then be publicly owned and the revenue generates would be administered for the benefit of all citizens. This is derived from the hadith of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم: "Muslims are partners in three things: in water, pastures and fire." Although the hadith mentioned just three things we can utilise qiyas (analogy) and extend the evidence to cover all instances of indispensable community utilities. Thus water sources, forests of firewood, pastures for livestock and the like are all public utilities as well as the mosques, state schools, hospitals, oil fields, electricity plants, motorways, rivers, seas, lakes, public canals, gulfs, straits, dams etc. Islam would allow ownership if it were not indispensable for the community. This solution will have a unique effect, as it will ensure all will receive the basic requirements to live and not be at the will of monopolies or high prices.


The rejected $700-billion and all subsequent buyout of banks' bad mortgaged-backed securities is not a strategy but mainly a desperate effort to shore up confidence in the system, to prevent the erosion of trust in the banks and other financial institutions and preventing a massive bank run such as the one that triggered the Great Depression of 1929. Having created the conditions that produced history's biggest bubble, America's political leaders appear unable to grasp the magnitude of the dangers they are facing. As the rejection of the original bailout package showed they are mired in their rancorous squabbling among themselves.

What has been very clear from the contradictory moves of allowing Lehman Brothers to collapse while taking over AIG, and engineering Bank of America's takeover of Merrill Lynch - there's no strategy to deal with the crisis, just tactical responses.

Islam offers the Western world its last salvation from descending into complete chaos as the Western world's deposits continue to shrink through further collapses and the last remaining strategy the Western world has left - the printing of more money.

With thanks to

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