Islam and Civilized Societies

By Muhammad Al-Bahi

Islam and Civilized SocietiesIt is frequently claimed that Islam is valid only for primitive people, as it elevates them to a better standard, and that is why it appealed to tribal communities, while in civilized societies it is no longer in use.

But, what is meant by civilized societies? Does this refer to modern societies which are based on materialistic industrial culture?

Actually, the great advance in natural and mathematical sciences helps man upgrade his living standard, but it does not elevate his soul. Science has nothing to do with morals; it is mainly concerned with materialistic and mechanic aspects. Natural and mathematical sciences play a great role in disclosing secrets of the universe, but they are far away from human moral values. Rather, some people may be misled to follow materialistic laws, taking spiritual values slightly.

There is no correlation between materialistic civilization and elevated human values, i.e. between natural sciences and morality. To reach a high standard of morality, man should be rightly guided, and to perceive the existence of the Supreme Lord, Almighty Allah, man should be religiously guided.

Materialistic progress does not necessarily entail moral reform; a society may witness great advance in natural sciences, even though it has moral degeneration. So, if egoism and individualism prevails, ties of curtsy will weaken and people will lose their faith in Allah and, thus, the society will lose its humanitarian aspects. That is to say, if there’s a friction between materialistic and industrial culture man will tend to violate the rights of others, then this will mislead him to lose his dignity as a human being.

Thus, this shows that using modern sciences for destructive purposes makes man decline to a low standard of humanity.

Man is not a machine, for man has a free will, while a machine has no power of choice; it has to be operated, and it is man who operates the machine not the other way round. Man can manage his affairs and operate mechanical aspects of life wisely once he realizes morality, distinguishes between right and wrong, realized the value of curtsy and cooperation and sense the existence of the Allah overall.

Piety includes fearing Allah, righteousness, tolerance, patience and persistence on the right path, unlike the natural and mathematical sciences. They have no value unless they are accompanied by piety.

The message of Islam is to guide man to a better standard of humanity, no matter where man is, in a rural or urban industrial society. Almighty Allah describes Islam as a message that aims at sanctifying man’s soul and elevating him over the rank of brute animals. It is concerned mainly with the moral side of life, so as to guide deviant people to the right path. Thus, Islam is a universal message; it is revealed for people of all races everywhere and at all times. Almighty Allah says:

He it is Who hath sent among the unlettered ones a messenger of their own, to recite unto them His revelations and to make them grow, and to teach them the Scripture and Wisdom, though heretofore they were indeed in error manifest. Along with others of them who have not yet joined them. He is the Mighty, the Wise. (Al-Jumu`ah 62 : 2-3)

 

Deficiency of Educational Systems

It may be argued that man may do without Islam, as long as there is education that also elevates man’s manners and corrects his beliefs.

Nevertheless, there is no system of education that elevates man’s manners and beliefs in a way that makes him good for himself, his society and his Lord. If there is such educational system, then it is Islam in the name of education.

In fact, education guides man’s behavior and instill in him many values, but they disregard the religious side. Thus, education is full of defects and, thus, turn out as insufficient for man’s salvation.

Islam, by and large, is not only a guiding message; rather, it is concerned with preserving man’s belief in Allah and monotheism, and it encourages piety. So doing, it awakens man’s conscience and drives him automatically to realize moral values of life and follow the right path. By applying such values all man’s deeds will be good.

Put it short, Islam’s first target is man’s heart, to purify it and fill it with true faith; then his mind, to instill in it the moral values of life. This is something education falls short of doing, as it focuses on enlightening man’s mind, paying no heed to the spiritual and religious aspects.

 

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Courtesy onislam.net with slight modifications.

Dr. Muhammad Al-Bahi was born in Osmaniyah village, Giza, Egypt, in 1905. He studied in Al-Azhar University. He joined the Department of Rhetoric and Literature. He studied philosophy in Germany and then obtained his doctorate in philosophy and Islamic studies from Hamburg University.

 

 

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What Is Islam’s View about Education, Science and Technology?

What Is Islam’s View about Education, Science and Technology?

By Safuan Ramlan

The framework of Islamic thought represents a comprehensive view of life and the universe. A Muslim is therefore required to acquire both religious and worldly knowledge. In fact, Islam advocated knowledge at a time when the whole world was engulfed in ignorance. In a matter of years the early generation of Muslims became a learned and refined people, for Islam had awakened in them the faculty of intellect. Those early Muslims understood from the teachings of their religion that useful knowledge is necessary for the benefit of the self and of humanity. Hence, they pursued it to such a degree that they surpassed other nations in development and productivity and carried the torch of civilization for many centuries.

Muslim history abounds with examples of scientific and cultural ingenuity. Muslims inherited the knowledge of the nations that came before them, developed it and placed it in the context of a precise moral framework. Muslim scholarship made a vital contribution to the enrichment and advancement of human civilization.

While Europe was still in the dark ages, religious Muslims were making great advances in the fields of medicine, mathematics, physics, astronomy, geography, architecture, literature, and history documentation to mention but a few.  Many important new procedures were transmitted to medieval Europe from Muslim regions, such as Arabic numerals with the principle of the zero vital to the advancement of mathematics and the use of algebra.  Sophisticated instruments, including the astrolabe and the quadrant, as well as good navigational maps, were first developed by Muslims. Only after people lost sight of their religious beliefs and obligations did the scientific achievements of the Muslim world cease and fall into obscurity.

Similarly, Islam does not now oppose any modern inventions that are beneficial to mankind. It is sufficient that they be used in the name of God and for His cause. In reality, machines, instruments and devices have no religion or homeland. They can be used for either good or bad objectives, and the way they are used can affect much of the earth’s population. Even something so simple as a glass can be filled either with a nourishing drink or with a poison. Television can provide education or immorality. It is up to the user to decide, and a Muslim is commanded to make good use of all the means at his disposal while being prohibited from causing harm to himself or others. Failure to use the proper means toward benefit is, in effect, a deprecation of Islamic teachings.

A truly Islamic government is required to the best of its ability to provide all means that promote adequate education for its citizens. Education is a right for all individuals and the required moral duty of every capable Muslim. All able, intelligent and skilled individuals in an Islamic society are required to educate themselves not only in the basics of their religion but in necessary worldly affairs. Further, it is obligatory upon qualified people to study every beneficial field of knowledge. For example, since every society needs doctors, it becomes obligatory for some people to go into the field of medicine to fulfill the needs of society.

Advancements in science and technology are among the ways and means to achieve development of the Muslim world. Islam calls upon Muslims to pursue knowledge in the broadest sense of the word. Prophet Muhammad said, “Seeking knowledge is an obligation upon every Muslim.” [Narrated by Ibn Majah] He also said, “For one who treads a path to knowledge, Allah will make easy the path to Paradise.” [Narrated by Muslim] And the Qur’an contains numerous references to knowledge and its importance, such as:

Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of night and day are signs for those of understanding. (Al `Imran 3: 190)

Say, ‘Are those who know equal to those who do not know?’ (Al-Zumar 39: 9)

Allah will raise those who have believed among you and those who were given knowledge by degrees. (Al-Mujadilah 58: 11)

Qur’anic verses encourage study and contemplation of the universe that surrounds us and is particularly concerned with those sciences that give human beings the ability to benefit from the world around them. While encouraging investigation, the Qur’an contains references to a variety of subjects which have been shown to be scientifically accurate.   This is the fulfillment of God’s statement over 14 centuries ago:

We will show them Our signs in the horizons and within themselves until it becomes clear to them that it is the truth. (Fussilat 41: 53)

Thus, when a Muslim has a sincere and wholesome intention to obtain knowledge, it will also have a positive effect on his faith. For knowledge reinforces textual evidence for the existence of the Almighty Creator and assists in appreciation of the many scientific allusions found in the Qur’an.

There has never been an established scientific fact that contradicted the teachings of Islam. Whatever modern science discovers only increases the Muslim’s knowledge of God’s magnificent creation. Thus, Islam actively encourages scientific endeavors and the study of God’s signs in nature. It also welcomes beneficial technological advances and allows people to enjoy the fruits of human ingenuity.

To a Muslim, conflict between science and religion is an impossibility, for religion comes from God and so does His system of creation and development. The modern, purely materialistic approach to scientific and technological advancement has indeed granted man a measure of physical comfort, but not mental or spiritual comfort. Islam advocates the incorporation of knowledge within a just and balanced value system where anything beneficial for one’s spiritual and worldly improvement is encouraged and advocated.

 

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Safuan Ramlan is a member of the Executive Team of the Malaysian Society for Engineering and Technology, Malaysia.

Taken with slight editorial modifications from gainpeace.com.

 

 

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The Story of the Qur’an

The Story of the Qur’an

By Shahul Hameed

Qur'an 2-1The human mind “can operate only on the basis of perceptions previously experienced by that very mind, either in their entirety, or in some of their constituent elements.” (See Muhammad Asad’s Message of the Qur’an) In other words, we cannot form a clear idea of something that happens entirely outside the realm of our past experiences; and therefore, it is natural that we find it difficult to comprehend the full meaning and relevance of mystical experiences like revelation.

The Qur’an makes a clear distinction between the perceptible world of experience and the unseen world of transcendental reality. Revelation is a means for God’s specially chosen messengers to receive divine messages; we may call it an exclusive channel of communication accessible to the prophets. For this reason, by way of an objective investigation, we can only study the credibility of the person who claims to have received a revelation, learn the circumstances, and observe the results.

The Qur’an says what means,

It is not fitting for a man that God should speak to him except by inspiration, or from behind a veil, or by sending of a messenger to reveal with God’s permission what God wills: for He is Most High, Most Wise. (Ash-Shura 42:51)

This means that God does not hold a face-to-face talk with any human. The divine message comes to the prophets through the angel Gabriel. There are other exceptional cases, such as the Prophet Abraham getting God’s message in a dream or Moses hearing God speaking to him from behind a burning bush. But again, these are exceptional cases.

How did the Prophet Muhammad receive revelation? According to his wife `A’ishah, the Prophet used to go in seclusion in the cave of Hiraa’ outside Makkah, where he used to worship God continuously for many days.

One day, an angel came to him and asked him to read. The Prophet, who was unlettered, replied, “I do not know how to read.” The Prophet related the incident: The angel caught me forcibly and pressed me so hard that I could not bear it anymore. He then released me again and asked me to read and I replied, “I do not know how to read.” Thereupon he caught me again and pressed me a second time till I could not bear it anymore. He then released me and again asked me to read, but again I replied, “I do not know how to read” (or “What shall I read?”) Thereupon he caught me for the third time and pressed me, and then released me and said:

Read in the name of your Lord, Who created, created man from a clot. Read! And your Lord is the Most Bountiful. (Al-`Alaq 96:1-3)

This happened in the year 610 CE, when the Prophet was 40 years old. During the 23 years from the revelation of these first verses, the Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet in stages. It was not revealed at one time for a number of reasons: to enable the natural and steady development of the community of believers by gradually implementing the laws of God; to meet the requirements of the changing conditions and needs of that community; and to facilitate easy absorption and memorization of the Qur’an.

When the revelation progressed, the Prophet encouraged his companions to learn as many verses as possible. Whenever a revelation came, he called for a scribe and dictated it to him. He was careful to keep the revealed verses safely recorded. Consequently, the Qur’an was available in written form during the Prophet’s own time. In the Qur’an, God says what means,

This is indeed a Qur’an most honorable, in a book well guarded, which none shall touch but those who are clean: a revelation from the Lord of the worlds. (Al-Waqi`ah 56:77-80)

The exact ways in which the Prophet used to recite the Qur’an were also recorded and passed down from generation to generation.

In his last sermon the Prophet said, “I have left with you something which if you will hold fast to, you will never fall into error—a plain indication, the Book of God, and the practice of His Prophet.” (See Ibn Hisham’s Biography of the Prophet Muhammad) This makes it quite evident that the Qur’an in the written form—though not necessarily in a single volume—existed during his time.

There are also three hadiths in Sahih Al-Bukhari (one of the most accurate and authentic collections of Hadith (the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad)) that inform us that Angel Gabriel used to recite the Qur’an with the Prophet once a year during Ramadan, and that he recited it with him twice in the year the Prophet died.

The chief scribe who used to record the revelation dictated by the Prophet was Zayd ibn Thabit. After the Prophet’s death, in the battle of Yamamah, a large number of the companions who had memorized the Qur’an died. As a result, Caliph Abu Bakr As-Siddiq appointed Zayd to collect all the available written versions of the Qur’an and to produce a master copy.

When Zayd completed this work, he gave the collection of written materials to Abu Bakr, who kept it with him till his death. After his death, `Umar ibn Al-Khattab, the second caliph, finally gave it to his daughter Hafsah—one of the Prophet’s wives—for safekeeping. It was from this collection of material that Caliph `Uthman ibn `Affan prepared several copies in the form of the first books of the entire Qur’an. Some of these copies still exist today.

After the Qur’an was collected in a single volume—known as a mus-haf—Caliph `Uthman sent copies of it to the different provinces that were ruled by the Muslims. The succeeding generations of Muslims always included a large number of people who memorized the Qur’an in its entirety. The extent to which the Qur’an was preserved is also evident in the fact that the way in which the Prophet Muhammad used to recite the Qur’an was also recorded and passed down from generation to generation.

To this day, the Qur’an is read and memorized by many Muslims all over the world—many of them non-Arabic speakers. The Qur’an that a Muslim in Indonesia reads or memorizes is the exact same scripture as one which a Muslim in Mauritania reads or memorizes. This is the phenomenon God mentions in the Qur’an, when He says what means,

We have, without doubt, sent down the Message; and We will assuredly guard it (from corruption). (Al-Hijr 15:9)

 

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Courtesy onislam.net with slight modifications.

Professor Shahul Hameed is a consultant to the Reading Islam Website. He also held the position of the President of the Kerala Islamic Mission, Calicut, India. He is the author of three books on Islam published in the Malayalam language. His books are on comparative religion, the status of women, and science and human values.

 

 

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Development of Science & Technology in Islamic History

Development of Science & Technology in Islamic History

By Saheeh International

Development of Science & Technology in Islamic HistoryThe frameworks of Islamic thought represent a comprehensive view of the life and the universe. A Muslim is thereof required to acquire both religious and worldly knowledge; in fact, Islam advocated knowledge at a time when the whole world was engulfed in ignorance. In a matter of years the early generation of Muslims became a learned and refined people, for Islam had awakened in them the faculty of intellect. Those early Muslims understood from the teachings of their religion that useful knowledge is necessary for the benefit of the self and humanity. Hence, they pursued it to such a degree that they surpass other nations in development and productivity and carried the torch of civilization for many centuries.

Muslim history abounds with examples of scientific and cultural ingenuity. Muslims inherited the knowledge of the nations that came before them, developed it and placed it in the context of a precise moral framework. Muslim scholarship made a vital contribution to the enrichment and advancement of human civilization.

While Europe was still in the dark ages, religious Muslims were making great advances in the fields of medicine, mathematics, physics, astronomy, geography, architecture, literature, and history documentation to mention but a few. Many important new procedures were transmitted to medieval Europe from Muslim regions, such as Arabic numerals with the principle of the zero vital to the advancement of mathematics and the use of algebra. Sophisticated instruments, including the astrolabe and the quadrant, as well as good navigational maps, were first developed by Muslims. Only after people lost sight of their religious beliefs and obligations did the scientific achievements of the Muslim world cease and fall into obscurity.

Similarly, Islam does not now oppose any modern inventions that are beneficial to mankind. It is sufficient that they be used in the name of God and for His cause. In reality, machines, instruments and devices have no religion or homeland. They can be used for either good or bad objectives, and the way they are used can affect much the earth´s population. Even something as simple so simple as a glass can be filled either with nourishing drink or with a poison. Television can provide education or immorality. It is up to the user to decide, and a Muslim is commanded to make good use of all the means at his disposal while being prohibited from causing harm to himself or others. Failure to use the proper means toward benefit is, in effect, a deprecation of Islamic teaching.

A truly Islamic government is required to the best of its ability to provide all means that promote adequate education for its citizens. Education is the right for all individuals and the intelligent and skilled individuals in an Islamic society are required to educate themselves not only in the basics of their religion but in necessary worldly affairs. Further, it is obligatory upon qualifies people to study every beneficial field of knowledge. For example, since ever society needs doctors, it becomes obligatory for some people to go into the field of medicine to fulfill the needs of society.

Advancements in science and technology are among the ways and means to achieve development of the Muslim world. Islam calls upon Muslims to pursue knowledge in the broadest sense of the world. Prophet Muhammad said, ”For one who treads a path to knowledge, God will make it easy the path to paradise.” And the Qur’an contains numerous references to knowledge and its importance, such as:

Lo! In the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the alteration of night and day, and the ships which run upon the sea with that which is of use to men, and the water which Allah sendeth down from the sky, thereby reviving the earth after its death, and dispersing all kinds of beasts therein, and (in) the ordinance of the winds, and the clouds obedient between heaven and earth: are signs (of Allah’s sovereignty) for people who have sense. (Al-Baqarah 2:164)

Say, Are those who know equal to those who do not know? (Az-Zumar 39:9)

God will raise those who have believed among you and those who were given knowledge by degrees. (Al-Mujadilah 58:11)

Qur’anic verses encourage study and contemplation of the universe that surrounds us and is particularly concerned with those sciences that given human beings the ability to benefit from the world around them. While encouraging investigation, the Qur’an contains references to a variety of subjects which have been shown to be scientifically accurate. This is the fulfillment of God’s statement over 15 centuries ago:

We will show them Our signs in the horizons and within themselves until it becomes clear to them that it is truth. (Fussilat 41:53)

Thus, when a Muslim has a sincere and wholesome intention to obtain knowledge, it will also have a positive effect on his faith. For knowledge reinforces textual evidence for the existence of the almighty Creator and assists in appreciation of the many scientific allusions found in the Qur’an.

There has never been an established scientific fact that contradicted the teachings of Islam. Whatever modern science discovers only increase the Muslim’s knowledge of God’s magnificent creation. Thus, Islam activity encourages scientific endeavors and the study of God’s signs in nature. It also welcomes beneficial technological advances and allows people to enjoy the fruits of human ingenuity.

To a Muslim, conflict between science and religion is impossibility, for religion comes from God and so does His system of creation and development. The modern, purely materialistic approach to scientific and technological advancement has indeed granted man a measure of physical comfort, but not mental or spiritual comfort. Islam advocates the incorporation of knowledge within a just and balanced value system where anything beneficial for one’s spiritual and worldly improvement is encouraged and advocated.

 

 

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Prophet Muhammad’s Call to Muslims to Serve People

Prophet Muhammad’s Call to Muslims to Serve People

 

The call is to all people

natural-sceneryThe religion of Islam is the religion of benevolence to the people. Therefore the honorable Prophet (peace be upon him) was the best practical example for serving people and meeting their needs.

His sayings are full of examples of exhorting Muslims to serve one another and help others because the one who helps his Muslim brothers, Allah will be in his support. Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: “He who alleviates the suffering of a brother out of the sufferings of the world, Allah would alleviate his suffering from the sufferings of the Day of Resurrection, and he who finds relief for one who is hard pressed, Allah would make things easy for him in the world and in the Hereafter, and he who conceals (the faults) of a Muslim, Allah would conceal his faults in the world and in the Hereafter. Allah is at the back of a servant so long as the servant is at the back of his brother.”

Imam An-Nawawi said: “This is a great Hadith, which collects all kind of sciences, rules, and proprieties. Moreover, it contains the virtue of meeting people’s needs and benefiting them with Knowledge, money, aid, advantage, and advice, etc.”

Likewise, the Prophet (peace be upon him) exhorted Muslims to fulfill peoples’ needs. `Abdullah in `Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: “A Muslim is a brother of another Muslim, so he should not oppress him, nor should he hand him over to an oppressor. Whoever fulfilled the needs of his brother, Allah will fulfill his needs; whoever brought his (Muslim) brother out of a discomfort, Allah will bring him out of the discomforts of the Day of Resurrection, and whoever screened a Muslim, Allah will screen him on the Day of Resurrection.”

Scholars said: As for his saying: “Whoever fulfilled the needs of his brother,” it means: Fulfill it by action or by being a cause for it.

Ibn `Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “When a person makes efforts to help his brother, he earns the reward for performing I`tikaf for ten years. Whomsoever performs I`tikaf for a day, thereby seeking the pleasure of Allah, Allah will spread three trenches between him and the fire of Hell, the width of each trench being greater than the distance between heaven and earth.”

The Prophet’s exhortation to help the needy

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “And assisting a man to ride upon his beast, or helping him load his luggage upon it, is a Sadaqah; and a good word is a Sadaqah.”

The Prophet’s exhortation to the general benefit of people

Jabir ibn `Abdullah (may Allah be pleased with him) said: A scorpion stung one of us as we were sitting with Allah’s Messenger (may peace upon him).

Thereupon, a man said: O Messenger Allah, Shall I use incantation (for curing the effect of sting)? Thereupon the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: Whoever among you is able to benefit his brother, then let him do so. This Hadith is general in all things that may contain benefits, so anyone is able to benefit his Muslim brother or people in general should do so.

The Prophet’s exhortation that a person serves his friends

The Prophet (peace be upon him) passed by a man who used to bake bread for his companions during a journey and the heat of fire harmed him.

Thereupon, the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: “He shall never be harmed by the heat of Hell-Fire.” Abu `Ubaidah said: The Hadith is a proof that the Messenger of Allah praised that man for serving his companions during the journey.

The Prophet’s exhortation to look after the widow and the needy

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “The one who looks after a widow or a poor person is like a Mujahid (warrior) who fights for Allah’s Cause, or like him who performs prayers all the night and fasts all the day.”

The Prophet’s exhortation to treat orphans well and fulfill their needs

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “I and the one who looks after an orphan will be like this in Paradise,” showing his middle and index fingers and separating them.”

The Prophet’s exhortation to reconcile between people by saying: “And for every day on which the sun rises there is a reward of a Sadaqah (i.e. charitable gift) for the one who establishes justice among people.”

The Hadith contains exhortation to reconcile among people. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said to Abu Ayyub (may Allah be pleased with him): Shall I guide you to a charity which pleases Allah and His Messenger? He said: Yes, O Messenger of Allah. He said: Reconcile between people when their relations are corrupt and bring them near when they are apart.”

The Prophet’s exhortation to help the fool

Abu Dhar (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated: I asked the Prophet (peace be upon him): “What is the best deed?” He replied: “To believe in Allah and to fight for His Cause.” I then asked, “What is the best kind of manumission (of slaves)?” He replied, “The manumission of the most expensive slave and the most beloved by his master.” I said: “If I cannot afford to do that?” He said, “Help the weak or do good for a person who cannot work for himself.” I said, “If I cannot do that?” He said, “Refrain from harming others for this will be regarded as a charitable deed for your own good.”

The Prophet’s exhortation to spend for the sake of Allah and guide the lost

Al Bara’ ibn `Azib (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that he heard the Prophet (peace be upon him) say, “If anyone gives a Manihah of milk or silver, or guides one who is lost then he will get reward for setting free a male slave or a female slave.”

So, we are in dire need to ponder over these examples, their meanings, and wisdom because there are no instructions equal or even try to reach its status.

We need to apply them and act according to their instructions.

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Muslim Contribution to the Geometry

Muslim Contribution to the Geometry

By Islamic-study.org

geometryThe greatest scientific contribution Muslims made to the world is the creation of mathematical science. Algebra, geometry, algorithm and arithmetic are at the heart of every scientific and social aspect of life.

There is hardly a single device, business entity, industry, architecture built without the Arabic numerals, the decimal point, the sign and cosine, the ruler and the compass, all of which are Islamic inventions.

Many of the intellectual sciences Muslims developed were a direct result of the Qur’anic inspirations and of their need to fulfill the rituals and duties of worship.

The Islamic duty of Zakah or alms giving, and the distribution of properties in the will are examples of the duties laid the foundation of geometry and arithmetic.

A Muslim is to give annually in charity and in taxation detailed amounts of currency and/or crops. Figuring out the exact distribution of Zakah and property distribution of the will do not come without complicated math. Each commodity requires precise scaling and percentage.

For example, for an acre of an irregular piece of land is to be split among a family of two boys and two girls with the male share twice as that of the girl, a complicated formula and exact geometry of the land must take place before this duty is accomplished.

Thus, mathematics and geometry came to existence.

The prominent historian, De Vaux , in his book, “The Philosophers of Islam” said: “they (the Muslims) were indisputably the founders of plane and spherical geometry.”

He further stated: “By using ciphers, (Arabic for zero) the Arabs became the founders of the arithmetic of everyday life; they made algebra an exact science. The Arabs kept alive higher intellectual life and the study of science in a period when the Christian West was fighting desperately with barbarism.”

According to Gerard De Vaucouleurs, in his book, Discovery of the Universe, Page 35. Al Battani, (939-998) was a great astronomer and mathematician. He published an original Almagest and developed the science of trigonometry and discovered the inequality in the moon’s motion known as the variation.

Gerard De Vaucouleurs, further said: “Albattani made new observations for the Sun’s position improved the value of the tropical year, rectified Ptolemy’s precession constant and measured the obliquity of the elliptic with care. He introduced the sine into trigonometry.”

Albattani composed a work on astronomy, with tables, containing his own observations of the sun and moon and a more accurate description of their motions than that given in Ptolemy’s “Almagest”.

In it moreover, he gives the motions of the five planets, with the improved observations he succeeded in making, as well as other necessary astronomical calculations. Some of his observations mentioned in his book of tables were made in the year 880 and later on in the year 900.

Nobody is known in Islam who reached similar perfection in observing the stars and scrutinizing their motions.

 

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Courtesy www.islamic-study.org with slight modifications.

 

 

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The Prophet’s Mercy towards the Elderly (P. 2/2)

The Prophet’s Mercy towards the Elderly (P. 2/2)

By Muhammad Mus`ad Yaqut

                       Member — The Afro-Asian Writers’ Association

Easy Rulings for the Elderly

Shari`ah always adopts leniency and ease with persons having excuses, such as the elderly. This can be noticed in expiations and obligations required from them.

The best evidence of easing expiations for the elderly is the story of Khawlah bint Tha`labah, which was mentioned at the beginning of Surat Al-Mujadilah. Her aged husband, Aws ibn As-Samit, who was also her cousin, pronounced zhihar (declaring her unlawful to him as a wife, while at the same time not divorcing her so she can remarry). Thereupon the general Islamic ruling concerning zhihar was revealed:

Those who put away their wives (by saying they are as their mothers) and afterward would go back on that which they have said, (the penalty) in that case (is) the freeing of a slave before they touch one another [that is, have intercourse]. Unto this you are exhorted; and Allah is Informed of what you do. And he who finds not (the wherewithal), let him fast for two successive months before they touch one another [that is, have intercourse]; and for him who is unable to do so (the penance is) the feeding of sixty needy ones. (Al-Mujadilah 58:3–4)

After this revelation the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) spoke to Khawlah:

The Prophet said to Khawlah, “Let him free a slave.” She said, “O Messenger of Allah, he does not have the means to do that.” The Prophet said, “Then let him fast for two consecutive months.” She replied, “By Allah, he is an old man; he is not able to do that.” So the Prophet told her, “Then let him feed sixty poor people with a wasaq (a measure equal to approximately 132.6 kilograms) of dates.” She said, “O Messenger of Allah, he does not have that much.” The Prophet then promised to help him by giving him an amount of dates; after all this he did not forget to advise the lady, “Take care of your cousin properly.” (Tafsir of Ibn Kathir, vol. 8)

Concerning obligations, Islam exempts the elderly who cannot bear fasting the month of Ramadan from observing this obligation, but requires them to feed a poor person for each day that they miss. Also, the elderly who cannot pray standing up are allowed to pray sitting down; if they cannot pray sitting down, they are allowed to pray lying on a side.

In addition, it is authentically reported that the Prophet once rebuked Mu`adh ibn Jabal when he led people in prayer and prolonged it:

The Prophet said to him, “O Mu`adh! Are you putting the people to trial? [Thrice] It would have been better if you had recited Sabbihisma Rabbika-l-a`la [Surah 87], Wash-shamsi wa duhaha [Surah 91], or Wal-layli idhayaghsha [Surah 92], for the old, the weak, and the needy pray behind you.” (Al-Bukhari)

Also, Islam allowed the elderly who cannot perform Hajj to delegate another person to perform it on their behalf. Al-Fadl narrated that a woman from the tribe of Khath`am came to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and said, “O Allah’s Prophet! The obligation of Hajj has become due on my father while he is old and weak, and he cannot sit firm on the mount; may I perform Hajj on his behalf?” The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) replied, “Yes, (you may)” (Muslim).

Examples of the Prophet’s Mercy

Having discussed the Islamic code of treating the elderly, it is now appropriate to give some practical examples from the Prophet’s life. We will see him listening politely and respectfully to an elderly polytheist, seeking to release an elderly man captured by Quraish, and honoring an elderly person and ordering him to improve his appearance.

Listening to an elderly polytheist respectfully. Ibn Kathir, in his biography of the Prophet, narrated that `Utbah ibn Rabi`ah, one of the chiefs of Makkah’s polytheists, came to the Prophet trying to dissuade him from his call. He addressed the Prophet in a ridiculing manner, “Are you better than `Abdullah (the Prophet’s father)? Are you better than `Abdul-Muttalib (the Prophet’s grandfather)?” But the Prophet did not respond to those degrading remarks. `Utbah continued, “If you say that they are better than you, then they worshiped the gods you criticize; and if you claim that you are better than they, you can proclaim this loudly in order to be heard. You exposed us before the Arabs until it was spread among them that the Quraish has a magician or a monk. Do you want us to unsheathe the sword and engage in a bitter war until annihilation?”

When `Utbah noticed the politeness of the Prophet, he changed his offensive tone and continued, “Oh my nephew! If you desire money and wealth by preaching what you are preaching, we will collect enough for you from our own. We will make you the wealthiest of all of us. If it is chieftainship that you desire, we are ready to make you our paramount chief, so that we will never decide on a matter without you. If you desire rulership, we will make you our ruler. And if this condition that you call revelation is a jinn whose grip you cannot escape from, we are ready to call the most distinguished physicians of time to examine you, and we will spend generously till you are completely cured. For sometimes a jinn seizes hold of a victim totally till the former is exorcised.”

When `Utbah finished his impudent speech, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) asked him politely, “Is that all, Abu Al-Walid?” “Yes,” he replied. “Then listen to me,” the Prophet said to him. “I will,” agreed `Utbah. Then the Prophet recited the beginning of Surat Fussilat (41).

Seeking to release an elderly captive. In his biography of the Prophet, Ibn Hisham reported that when the Muslims captured `Amr ibn Abi Sufyan ibn Harb in the Battle of Badr, it was said to Abu Sufyan, “Pay for the ransom of your son `Amr.” However, Abu Sufyan answered, “Must I lose twice! They have killed Handhalah and now I must pay for the ransom of `Amr! Let him stay with them, they can keep him as long as they wish.” Afterwards an old man called Sa`d ibn An-Nu`man of the tribe of Banu `Amr ibn `Awf departed for Makkah to perform `Umrah. In spite of the critical political conditions, especially after the Battle of Badr, Sa`d ibn An-Nu`man thought that he would not be captured in Makkah since the Quraish did not harm pilgrims. However, Abu Sufyan attacked him and held him hostage until the Muslims in Madinah released his son. Some people of the tribe of Banu `Amr ibn `Awf went to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and told him what had happened to their relative. They asked him to give them the son of Abu Sufyan to free Sa`d ibn An-Nu`man from captivity. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) released the son of Abu Sufyan without a ransom and then sent him to his father who, consequently, released the old man.

Treating the elderly gently. Ibn Kathir tells the following in his biography of the Prophet. When the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) entered Makkah in Ramadan AH 8 (January 630) and entered the Sacred Mosque, Abu Bakr brought his father, Abu Quhafah, to the Prophet to embrace Islam. When the Prophet saw him, he said to Abu Bakr, “Why didn’t you leave the old man at his house and I would’ve gone to him there?” Abu Bakr said, “You are more deserving of him coming to you than he is of you going to him.” The Prophet seated Abu Quhafah in front of him and honored him. Then he passed his hand on Abu Quhafah’s chest and asked him to embrace Islam and Abu Quhafah did. The Prophet, noticing that Abu Quhafah’s hair was white, directed that his hair be dyed.

These are just few examples of the Prophet’s gentleness, mercy, and respect towards the elderly. These examples, and many others, translate the sublime Islamic code of ethics for treating the elderly and provide Muslims, generation after generation, with a practical model that they should follow. Such care for the elderly is in line with the Islamic principle of the dignity of the human being and with the spirit of solidarity and mercy that pervades the Muslim society.

 

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Taken with slight editorial modifications from www.onislam.net.

Muhammad Mus`ad Yaqut is an Egyptian preacher and  researcher. He prepares and presents programs on the Egyptian TV and other Arab satellite channels. He is a member of the Afro-Asian Writers’ Association.

 

 

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Ethics in Islamic Finance: Looking Beyond Legality (Part 1/2)

Ethics in Islamic Finance: Looking Beyond Legality (Part 1/2)

By Habib Ahmed

Introduction

conference-islamic-financeThe pioneers of Islamic economics asserted that an economy based on Islamic values and principles would produce a moral economic system serving the needs of not only Muslims but humanity at large.

The economy would strive to fulfill the goals of Shari`ah and result in achieving a just and vibrant economy.

The financial sector was expected to entail risk-sharing features and serve all sections of the population thereby bringing about equity, stability and growth.

The manifestation of Islamic economics, however, ended up as sub-economies in the financial sector. While the growth of Islamic financial industry in its short history has been impressive, there is a general feeling that Islamic finance has failed to fulfill the social and ethical goals of Shari`ah.

Although the criticisms labeled against the industry need to be verified empirically, there is a need to come up with a clear understanding of what is considered ethical in Islamic finance. Addressing this issue would require examining the nature and responsibilities of a firm. Archie Carroll (1979) and Mark Schwartz and Archie Carroll (2003) identify the responsibilities of a firm as economic, legal, ethical and philanthropic/discretionary.

The economic responsibility is obvious given that firms supply goods and services to earn profit. Firms have to comply with all the laws and regulations of a country in the pursuit of profit. Other than the economic and legal responsibilities, the society also expects firms to follow certain ethical norms. Finally, it may be desirable for firms to be philanthropic, though this is left to their choice and discretion.

Being a part of the moral economy and following the Shari`ah principles, the nature of responsibilities for Islamic firms in general and Islamic banks in particular changes. Islamic banks have to conform not only to the national laws and statutes, but also to the Islamic law of contracts at the transactions level. Furthermore, being ethical is required of an Islamic firm, not just expected. As ethics is considered a key for Islamic banking practice, there is a need to define its scope from an Islamic perspective. Note that ethics is difficult to define even for conventional businesses. For Islamic banks it becomes even more difficult as it will include the ethical standards that apply to conventional banks and some additional requirements.

As Islamic banks comply with the values and principles of Islam, there are additional factors that influence ethics. Specifically, two other norms of morals and laws will also affect ethics of Islamic banks. Whereas there is some discussion on the relationship between Islamic Law on ethics, there is no research (to the best of my knowledge) linking ethics of Islamic banking practice to moral issues. This paper attempts to fill this gap by providing a framework of ethics for Islamic finance by linking it to morality. I argue that to arrive at an appropriate Islamic stance on the ethics for Islamic banking there is a need to go beyond the legalistic arguments and examine the moral principles derived from Islamic teachings.

To have the discussion in some perspective, the paper examines the ethical issues arising from debt, a key instrument used by the banking sector. Whereas the ideal model of Islamic banking envisaged a two-tier mudarabah model (a special kind of partnership where one partner gives money to another for investing it in a commercial enterprise), Islamic finance turned out to be one that is dominated by debt-based instruments.

Although debt will be an integral part of an Islamic financial system, its magnitude and impact on individuals and society may have certain moral implications. However, the moral consequences of debt have been ignored in the Islamic finance practice and discourse. This is apparent from the indifference shown by some practitioners, Shari`ah scholars and Islamic economists towards larger share of debt in the economy, both at the individual and national levels. The lack of concern towards increasing debt levels stems mainly from adopting a legalistic approach that asserts that as long as debt is created by Shari`ah compliant means, its level is not considered a problem. I argue that this legalistic approach can lead to unethical practice as it ignores the broader issues related to moral teachings of Islam.

The paper is organized as follows: To have a clear understanding of different norms, the next section provides definitions of morals, ethics and laws. Section 3 discusses the three norms from an Islamic perspective. After providing a classification of acts as legal and moral, the section reviews the relationship of ethics with law and morality. In Section 4, the implication of moral teachings of Islam on ethics of Islamic banking practice is discussed in relation to financing debt. The last section concludes the paper by providing some suggestions of improving ethical practices of Islamic banks.

Morals, Ethics and Laws

Norms in any society can be distinguished as morals, ethics and laws. To avoid confusion about these concepts and to determine how they are related to each other, there is a need to clarify what they mean. Geoffrey Hazard defines morals as: “notions of right and wrong that guide each of us individually and subjectively in our daily existence.” (Law, 58)

Werber Erhard and others view morality as a societal issue and define it as: “the generally accepted standards of what is desirable and undesirable; of right and wrong conduct, and what is considered by that society as good behavior and what is considered bad behavior of a person, group, or entity.” (Integrity, 35-6)

They place morality in the realm of ‘social virtue domain’. Morals are embedded in cultures and determined by a variety of factors such as upbringing, education, religion and environment. Morals tend to have emotional orientation whereby its validity is taken as given.

Hazard defines ethics as: “norms shared by a group on a basis of mutual and usually reciprocal recognition.” (Law, 453)

Erhard and others provide a more elaborate definition of ethics as: “the agreed on standards of what is desirable and undesirable; of right and wrong conduct; of what is considered by that group as good and bad behavior of a person, sub-group, or entity that is a member of the group, and may include defined bases for discipline, including exclusion.” (Integrity, 36)

They identify ethics to be in the realm of ‘group virtue domain’. One way in which ethics can be understood is to examine the ends or consequences of actions or activities. Thus, an act will be ethical: “when it promotes good of society or more specifically, when the action is intended to produce the greatest net benefit (or lowest net cost) to society when compared to all of the other alternatives.” (Law, 512)

Laws are: “norms formally promulgated by a political authority that are enforceable and more or less regularly enforced through a legal process based on adjudication.” (448)

Erhard and others put law in the realm of ‘governmental virtue domain’ and defines it as: “the system of laws and regulations of right and wrong behavior that are enforceable by the state through the exercise of its policing powers and judicial process, with the threat and use of penalties, including its monopoly on the right to use physical violence”. In general, law entails a body of rules which can be formed through statutes, decrees and edicts, decisions of judges or jurists, etc. While ethics entails standards that members of a group are encouraged to follow and realize, law sets clear rules and standards that are enforced by higher body (such as government) by using punishment and sanctions (Differentiating, 50)

The norms of a society residing at different levels as morals, ethics and laws have unique features and are interrelated. Whereas morals relate to individuals and are subjective, ethics is more rational and can change in the context of a group. Ethics is considered as an aggregate concept whose components are morality.

Unlike law, ethics and morals cannot be adjudicated or enforced by an authority. In the Western legal scholarship there is a debate among the legal theorists on the role morality plays in laws. While the positivist theorists (such as H.L.A. Hart) view law as amoral, interpretive theorists (such as Ronald Dworkin) link laws to morality.

Hazard (1994-1995) takes the interpretive view and maintains that ethics and morals shared by individuals and community can influence laws. With concerted efforts, it is possible for individuals in a community to convert a moral norm into a law. Although the three norms are expected to be complimentary, yet they can potentially contradict each other. For instance, enacted laws can turn out to be either unethical or immoral. Examples of such laws included ones that legalize slavery and discrimination.

As mentioned, the relevant norms affecting financial institutions are laws and ethics that govern their operations and activities. While laws apply equally to all firms, ethical norms in the organizational setting are more specific to tasks and situations which members in a firm face (Approaches, 12)

Davies identifies some of the ethical norms for financial institutions as: “conduct operations with integrity and due skill, care and diligence, organize the affairs responsibly and effectively with adequate risk management systems, observe proper standards of market conduct, ensure that conflict of interest does not exist, pay attention to the interests of its customers and treat them fairly, etc.” (Ethics, 282)

Ethics, Morality and Legality from an Islamic Perspective

The essence of Islamic worldview is tawheed which means oneness and sovereignty of God (Allah). Though tawheed means unity of God and creation, it has implications related to all aspects of life including economics and finance. The concept of tawheed also implies that God is the only source of value and norms. Thus, all discussions on law and morality ensue from this concept (Shari`ah, 17)

Islam, being a complete code of life provides rules and norms for economic activities and transactions. Islamic economics and finance will reflect the Islamic worldview and, as such, is driven by Islamic laws and morals related to economic transactions.

The underlying principle guiding Shari`ah is that: “God orders the good because it secures the welfare of the community and forbids evil because it is evil and because it is against the public good” (Meaning, 122)

As Shari`ah entails all the teachings of Islam, it is understood to include both Islamic morals and laws. The implication is that Islamic law and morality are expected to contribute positively to the welfare and public good (maslahah). For the purposes of this paper, however, we use three domains of norms discussed above: morals related to individuals (and society), ethics belonging to groups including organizations, and laws governed and implemented by entities with legal and regulatory authority.

The distinction between laws and morals can be made by examining the section of Islamic jurisprudence known as hukm taklifi (defining law). Accordingly, “any human act will fall under one of the following five types: obligatory (wajib or fard), recommended (mandub), reprehensible (makruh), permissible (mubah) and forbidden (haram)” (Islamic Ethics, 195).

Kamali contends that: “while the first and last types of activities (wajib and haram) have legal force, the remaining three activities fall in the domain of morals that cannot be adjudicated in courts. When Shari`ah proscribes usury or gambling, these become legal obligations.” (Shari`ah, 47) However, Islamic teachings encouraging people not to cause injury to women and elderly or animals reflect “the moral underpinnings of Shari`ah” (49)

The moral teachings in Islamic Shari`ah will take the form of encouraging the recommended and avoiding the reprehensible. The morals related to the recommended and the reprehensible are derived by from Shari`ah. While there are some clear indications about morality in the texts, others are implied and are extracted indirectly. Example of a clear recommendation is found in the Prophetic sayings:

“Feed the hungry, relieve the distressed and visit the sick.”

An example of an indirect implied norm can be observed in the saying of Prophet Muhammad:

“Oh God, I seek your refuge in You from niggardliness.” (Al-Bukhari)

The implication of the above hadith is that niggardliness is a morally reprehensible act and as such should be avoided. Similar conclusions can be drawn from the verses of the Qur’an. Syed Uddin derives some norms for business related practices from different verses of the Qur’an. For example, he concludes that Qur’an (17: 36) can mean “honesty and truthfulness; investigation and verification before action; right and ethical conduct; true witness’. Qur’an (11: 85) can be interpreted as ‘no deception in measure and weight, mischief and corruption is avoided.” (Understanding, 21)

Note that while the legal issues were adjudicated by independent courts in Islamic societies, the institution of hisbah (in charge of promotion of good and prevention of evil) historically functioned to support moral values. This not only shows the difference of the legal and moral aspects in the light of Shari`ah, but is also indicative of the importance that Islamic societies place on morality in general. Given the above framework, the roles of law and morality on ethics at the organizational level are discussed next.

 

Works Cited

  • Abdel-Wahab, Salah-Eldin (1962-63), “Meaning and Structure of Law in Islam”, Vanderbilt Law Review, 16, 115-30
  • Donato, James (1988), “Dworkin and Subjectivity in Legal Interpretation”, Stanford Law Review, 40 (6), 1517-41
  • Davies, Howard (2001), “Ethics in Regulation”, Business Ethics: A European Review, 10 (4), 280-87
  • Erhard, Werber H., Michael C. Jenson, and Steve Zaffron (2009), “Integrity: A Positive Model that Incorporates the Normative Phenomena of Morality, Ethics and Legality”, Harvard NOM Research Paper No. 06-11
  • Hazard, Jr., Geoffrey C. (1994-1995), “Law, Morals, and Ethics”, Southern Illinois Law Journal, 19, 447-58
  • Erhard, Werber H., Michael C. Jenson, and Steve Zaffron (2009), “Integrity: A Positive Model that Incorporates the Normative Phenomena of Morality, Ethics and Legality”, Harvard NOM Research Paper No. 06-11
  • Kamali, Mohammad Hashim. Shari`ah Law: An Introduction, One world Publications, Oxford. 2008
  • Reinhart, A. Kevin (1983), “Islamic Law as Islamic Ethics”, The Journal of Religious Ethics, 11 (2), 186-203
  • Ray, Terry T. (1996), “Differentiating the Related Concepts of Ethics, Morality, Law and Justice”, New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 66, 47-53
  • Sinclair, Amanda (1993), “Approaches to Organizational Culture and Ethics”, Journal of Business Ethics, 12, 63-73
  • Uddin, Syed Jamal (2003), “Understanding the framework of business in Islam in an era of globalization: a review”, Business Ethics: A European Review, 12 (1), 23-32

 

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Taken with slight editorial modifications from www.onislam.net

This paper was presented at the 8th. International Conference on Islamic Economics and Finance, held in Doha, Qatar, 19 to 21 December 2011. It is republished here with kind permission of the author and the organizers.

Habib Ahmed is the Sharjah Chair at Durham University. He was Manager, Research and Development, Islamic Banking Development Group, The National Commercial Bank (NCB), Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He also worked at Islamic Research & Training Institute of the Islamic Development Bank Group, Saudi Arabia and taught at the University of Connecticut, USA, National University of Singapore, and University of Bahrain. He has been a member of the Capital Adequacy Working Group of Islamic Financial Services Board (IFSB) which is responsible for, among others, setting standards and guidelines for Islamic banks and financial institutions.

 

 

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Faith: The Life-Changing Key

Faith: The Life-Changing Key

By Dr. Ali Al-Halawani

– Writer and Researcher

Faith the Life changing PowerNaturally, every sealed lock has to be manipulated by its own key to be unlocked. No matter what the endeavors one makes to unlock it using other than the suitable key, all these efforts will go in vain.

Particularly, the key to the Muslim personality is religion … faith … Islam. With this Faith the Prophet’s Companions and early Muslims set out to bring the world out of darkness into light; from the tightness of this present world into the vastness of the present as well as the next life; from the injustice of false religions into the perfect justice of Islam as were well pronounced by the Companion Rib`i ibn `Amir in front of Khosrau, king of Persia, one of the greatest two powers of the time.

With this Faith, Muslims were capable of defeating the Crusaders in nine consecutive Crusades where Europe advanced its best abilities and capabilities to defy Muslims and capture their lands in the name of Christ. Indubitably, Christ, the messenger of Allah, is innocent of all the massacres they were responsible for!

With this Faith, Muslims were capable of overcoming and defeating the Tartars who plagued Asia, Europe and some parts of the Muslim lands in the 13th century and only Muslims from Egypt and the Levant were able to stop them under the banner of faith and the leadership of Al-Muzaffar Sayf al-Din Qutuz who pronounced his famous cry for Islam, “wa islamah” (Oh my Islam!).

Another thing is that, if one is asked, “What does man need most?” One would answer, “To feel one’s humanity and dignity and to be able to achieve happiness in this present life and in the hereafter.” Truly, none of these will ever be attained but through faith in Allah and through fulfilling the true meaning of servitude to Him.

In addition, reforming people and communities cannot be carried out randomly or haphazardly. Rather, a nation cannot be reborn or revived except through a very long process of genuine education or radical change that affects all its joints. Almighty Allah says in His Ever-Glorious Qur’an what means:

Lo! Allah changeth not the condition of a folk until they (first) change that which is in their hearts. (Ar-Ra`d 13: 11)

This changing of the condition of individuals and folks is not an easy task as it involves a hard as well as an ongoing process of reform and nothing is capable of doing so except faith in Allah the Almighty; faith is the wonder-worker.

Noteworthy, faith does not recognize age or the phases put forward by some psychologists or educationists as prerequisites to success of educational labor. They claim that the golden age for a person to be changed and/or reformed in terms of habits and behavior is early childhood. To them, if this age is past, nothing would ever be capable of changing any person for the better. They further believe in the English proverb that reads, “Always has been, always will be.”

In the same vein, a poet once said what means,

Education may benefit the young,

None could avail those of old age,

If fixed, erect becomes the twig,

Never softens, if wished, a bocage.

Amazingly, faith, if penetrated into one’s soul and found itself the right place in one’s heart, would change one’s direction, attitude towards the Creator and the creation, judgment on things and issues, and it would change one’s worldview and no age – or anything else – would ever stand in its way.

To see how Faith can change people’s worldview and behavior, let us take as an example the story of Pharaoh’s sorcerers as narrated by the Qur’an,

And when the wizards came they said unto Pharaoh: Will there surely be a reward for us if we are the winners? He said: Aye, and ye will then surely be of those brought near (to me). Moses said unto them: Throw what ye are going to throw! Then they threw down their cords and their staves and said: By Pharaoh’s might, lo! We verily are the winners. Then Moses threw his staff and lo! It swallowed that which they did falsely show. And the wizards were flung prostrate. Crying: We believe in the Lord of the Worlds. The Lord of Moses and Aaron. (Pharaoh) said, Ye put your faith in him before I give you leave. Lo! He doubtless is your chief who taught you magic! But verily ye shall come to know. Verily I will cut off your hands and your feet alternately, and verily I will crucify you everyone. They said: It is no hurt, for lo! Unto our Lord we shall return. Lo! We ardently hope that our Lord will forgive us our sins because we are the first of the believers. (Al-Shu`ara’ 26: 41-51)

And, in Surat Taha, Almighty Allah relates the threats Pharaoh made the sorcerers as saying what means,

Now surely I shall cut off your hands and your feet alternately, and I shall crucify you on the trunks of palm trees, and ye shall know for certain which of us hath sterner and more lasting punishment. They said: We choose thee not above the clear proofs that have come unto us, and above Him Who created us. So decree what thou wilt decree. Thou wilt end for us only the life of the world. Lo! We believe in our Lord, that He may forgive us our sins and the magic unto which thou didst force us. Allah is better and more lasting. (Taha 20: 71-73)

How did they undergo a personality change? How did they change their own judgments concerning issues? How were their behaviors amended?

Their eagerness was to money and wealth, {Will there surely be a reward for us if we are the winners?}, and their earnest hopes were closely associated with Pharaoh, {By Pharaoh’s might!}.

That was their logic before faith touches their hearts. However, when they tasted the sweetness of faith, their only reply to the terrible threats made by Pharaoh was,

We choose thee not above the clear proofs that have come unto us, and above Him Who created us. So decree what thou wilt decree. Thou wilt end for us only the life of the world.

At first, their dreams and aspirations were for the perishable luxuries of this present life, but then, their hopes and aspirations were redirected towards the hereafter.

At first, they swore by the dignity and might of Pharaoh, then, they started to swear by Allah, the Creator.

Amazingly, the direction was changed… the logic was changed… the personal behavior was changed… even the words and phrases were changed… their selves and souls changed… and nothing could have ever done that except faith.

Let us look into another example of what faith is capable of doing to the life of human beings. Here is the example of `Umar ibn Al-Khattab, Leader of the Faithful who succeeded Caliph Abu Bakr As-Siddiq.

`Umar was known for his cruelty and hard heart. Not only did he torture weak Muslims in the early days of Islam, but he also set out to murder the Prophet, an attempt that he delayed until he “disciplines” his sister who embraced Islam. The news of her conversion drove him mad that he slapped her on the face, in her house and before her husband, causing her face to bleed.

Yet, after reading few verses from Surat Taha, the light of faith found its way to `Umar’s soul. When `Umar tasted the sweetness of faith and realized the eternal beauty of Islam both his reason and heart were set free and emancipated from the bonds of ignorance, polytheism and diversion.

As a proof of the emancipation of his reason, he cut the tree under which the Companions paid homage to the Prophet as to fight against the polytheists on the day of Hudaibiyah lest the people forget and then start to glorify that tree in complete contradiction to what Islam teaches.

And, as a sign of the emancipation of his heart, he was reported to have said, if a mule stumbled at the bank of the Euphrates, I would be responsible for it in front of Allah… why haven’t I paved the way for it?!

What was the main factor behind this radical change that affected `Umar and changed his whole being? It was nothing but Faith.

That is how faith changes people for the better and how it gets the best out of everyone. Indeed, Faith is the wonder-worker.

 

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Dr. Ali Al-Halawani is an Assistant Professor of Linguistics and Translation, Misr University for Science Technology (MUST); Former Editor-in-Chief of the Electronic Da`wah Committee (EDC), Kuwait; Former Deputy Chief Editor and Managing Editor of the Living Shari`ah Department,www.islamOnline.net; Member of the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS); and member of the World Association of Arab Translators Linguists (WATA). You can reach him at alihalawani72@hotmail.com.

 

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Ethics in Islamic Finance: Defining Ethics (Part 2/2)

Ethics in Islamic Finance: Defining Ethics (Part 2/2)

By Habib Ahmed

Part 1

Islamic Law and Ethics

islamic financeThe basic principle for commercial transactions is ‘permissibility’ which signifies that all acts/contracts are permissible unless there is a clear injunction of prohibition.

The two broad categories of prohibitions related to economic transactions recognized in Shari`ah are riba (usury) and gharar (risky sales).

At the contract level, these prohibitions are intended to bring about fairness and good measure and, as such, these get more consideration over complete freedom of contracts.

The legal maxim ‘in contracts, attention is given to the objects and meaning, and not to the words and form’ provides the guiding principle of devising contracts in financial transactions. While the form is the contractual construct of the transaction, the substance relates to the outcome. For example, the outcome of a sale contract is the transfer of ownership of an asset in exchange of price. Fulfilling the form, but not the substance will not be harmonious with the spirit of Islamic law.

Reinhart maintains that Islamic law is not just a law, but inheres ethics as both constitute “a call to righteous action in conformity with the guidance of Revelation”. Thus, while the ethics related to contracts will include virtues such as honesty, trust, transparency, etc, they also will incorporate fulfilling the legal obligations and stipulations. As a result, ethics can be evaluated by examining whether the legal conditions and stipulations of a contract are fulfilled or not. (Intention, 200-23)

For a transaction to be ethical, the overall goals of Shari`ah should also be fulfilled at the contract level. Other than avoiding riba and gharar, Monzer Kahf indicates that fulfilling maqasid (objectives) at the transaction level would involve satisfying the objectives, principles and values underscored in the Islamic laws of transactions. This would include, among others, linking returns to risks and bearing the risks of ownership by the owner of the asset. An important related principle includes fulfilling the conditions of a sale which is realized by transferring the asset to a new owner.

Similarly, conditions of trust and guarantee relationships in terms of liability of loss has to be implemented. Given the divine nature of these conditions, a contract would be considered unethical if some of these stipulations are fulfilled.

Another aspect related to ethics at the contract level relates to intention (niyah) and outcomes. While intention is an integral component in worshiping rituals, in economic affairs there is difference in opinions about its status among different schools of thought.

Note that all schools agree that illegitimate motive will make a contract illegal even when the all the legal components of a contract is fulfilled. The disagreements arise in relation to the status of intentions when they are not explicit in contracts. (215)

Thus, an intention of coming up with an illicit act using a valid contract would not only be void, but also immoral. The legality of a transaction will not only depend on the validity of a contract but also on the end use of the contract which can be deduced ex-ante by the niyah and ex-post by examining the outcome or consequences.

Islamic Morals and Ethics

All Islamic banks will be expected to be ethical in ways similar to their conventional counterparts. As mentioned above, these ethics include among others conducting operations with integrity and with due skill, care and diligence, avoid conflict of interest, etc. As ethics relates to the notions of what is right and wrong in the organizational context, for Islamic banks it will also be influenced by the Islamic notions of legality and morality. As such, Islamic banks will have additional ethical dimensions arising from their adherence to the laws and morals of Shari`ah.

Although Islamic scholarship has discussed issues related to the application of laws to ethical practice, the relationship between morality and ethics has not been addressed.

If the ethical and legal norms are presumed to coexist in a transaction, some may argue, as some Shari`ah scholars do, that as long as the requirements and stipulations of the contract are fulfilled, the contract will be both legal and ethical.

However, this argument may lack credence as the outcome of the transactions can lead to adverse effects on morality and societal welfare. One way to link morals to ethics is to examine the impact of activities of firms on the society.

As pointed out by Schwartz and Carroll: “a business activity will be ethical if it promotes good in the society. We use the same logic to determine the ethicality of transactions and activities of Islamic banks. Specifically, activity of an Islamic bank would be ethical when it enhances welfare (maslahah) and morality of individuals in the society. On the contrary, any banking practice that produces adverse effects on either welfare or Islamic morals would be considered unethical. A specific example showing the moral implications of debt and its relation with ethics is discussed next.

Morality and Ethics: The Case of Debt

In an Islamic economy, debt can be either created by interest-free loans or sale-based debt-instruments. Debt can create transactions involving murabahah (cost-plus or mark-up sale), bai-muajjal (price-deferred sale), istisna/salaam (object deferred sale or pre-paid sale) and ijarah (leasing).

Islamic banks do the bulk of their financing by using the fixed-income debt based products. While debt is permissible in Islam, some moral issues related to its size and magnitude can arise. To study the ethicality of extensive use of debt, the morals and welfare implications related to indebtedness are discussed below.

Morals Related to Debt

While Islam does not prohibit debt, several sayings of the Prophet discourage Muslims to engage in excessive indebtedness. The following sayings (hadiths) provide the moral implications related to debt:

Narrated Aisha: Allah’s Apostle used to invoke Allah in the prayer saying, “O Allah, I seek refuge with you from all sins, and from being in debt.” Someone said, O Allah’s Apostle! (I see you) very often you seek refuge with Allah from being in debt. He replied:

“If a person is in debt, he tells lies when he speaks, and breaks his promises when he promises.” (Al-Bukhari)

Narrated Salama ibn Al-Akwa: Once, while we were sitting in the company of Prophet, a dead man was brought. The Prophet was requested to lead the funeral prayer for the deceased. He said, “Is he in debt?”

The people replied in the negative.

He said, “Has he left any wealth?”

They said, “No.”

So, he led his funeral prayer.

Another dead man was brought and the people said, “O Allah’s Apostle! Lead his funeral prayer.”

The Prophet said, “Is he in debt?”

They said, “Yes.”

He said, “Has he left any wealth?”

They said, ”Three Dinars.”

So, he led the prayer.

Then a third dead man was brought and the people said (to the Prophet), Please lead his funeral prayer.” He said, “Has he left any wealth?”

They said, “No.”

He asked, “Is he in debt?”

They said, “Yes! He has to pay) three Dinars”

He (refused to pray and) said, “Then pray for your (dead) companion.”

Abu Qatada said, “O Allah’s Apostle! Lead his funeral prayer, and I will pay his debt.” So, he led the prayer. (Al-Bukahri)

The above two sayings of the Prophet clearly indicate that a Muslim should try to stay away from debt. In the first hadith, the Prophet is seeking refuge from sins and debt, thereby implying the negative attributes of both. In the second hadith, the Prophet refused to lead the funeral prayer of someone who died indebted and did not have the means to repay it.

The incident shows even though the deceased was a Muslim, the consequence of not repaying the debt was a serious enough factor that led him not to lead his funeral prayer. The implications that one can draw from these sayings of the Prophet are the following: people should take on debt only if it necessary, the debt should be of amounts that is within a person’s capacity to repay, and once indebted people should strive to repay it back.

Welfare Implications of Debt on Individuals and Society

The recent financial crisis exposed the damaging features of excessive debt in the economy. It revealed that too much debt was one of the key causes of the predicament and harmed many indebted individuals and economies at large. The aftermath of the crisis led to a renewed scrutiny on the harmful consequences of debt. The weekly Economist published a special report on debt in its 24 June 2010 issue in which it examined various aspects of indebtedness.

The morals related to debt changed from being something negative in the past to acceptable in the present. Over the past century taking on debt became fashionable and was promoted in the society, both at the individual and national levels.

The result of the change in attitude results in the increase in levels of debt for individuals, corporations and nations. This is reflected in rise in the amount of household debt from about GBP 14,000 per head to GBP 24,000 per head between 2001 and 2010 in the UK, and from USD 27,000 to USD 44,000 in the US during the same period (Economist). The corresponding figures for public debt were GBP 5,000 and GBP 18,000 and USD 16,000 and USD 34,000 for UK and US respectively. For ten industrialized countries, the average total debt (private and public) increased from 200% of GDP to 300% between 1995 and 2008, with Iceland having a debt 1200% of its GDP. (Economist)

High levels of debt have various detrimental effects on both individuals and national economies. A study revealed that higher debt levels were associated with lower levels of growth. (Economist). In a study, Campbell and Hercowitz find the higher growth in the level of debt reduces the welfare of households. Economist likened debt to alcohol and nicotine stating ‘a debt boom tends to induce euphoria.’ (Economist). Analyzing the problems related to the crisis, Taleb and Spitzagel identifies too much debt as the ‘real evil’.

Data shows that Muslim countries are not immune to the culture of debt. Consumer debt in the GCC peaked in 2008 at $151 billion and then fell to $139 billion in August 2010 in the aftermath of the crisis. The growth rate of the level of outstanding debt was 80 per cent between 2002 and 2010 (Consumer). A survey shows that 52 per cent of the youth are indebted in Saudi Arabia, of which two-thirds is due to credit cards (Consumer). A study on UAE revealed that 85 percent of UAE residents are in debt, many having difficulty in paying their dues. (Survey)

Another survey reveals that over 25 percent of UAE residents have a debt of Dh 250,000 each and 40 percent have personal loans between Dh 100,000 and Dh 200,000. Interestingly, 20 percent did not have any idea of the amount of debt they owed (Emirates 24/7 2011). A report by Lafferty Group in 2010 indicates that there were 199.4 credit cards for every 100 people in the UAE, which is one of the highest in the world. After the crisis, the amount of bounced checks increased to 25 percent in UAE. (Sambidge)

Part of the problem of high indebtedness is the easy access of credit and the willingness of banks to provide facilities with relatively lax standards. Some specific cases in the UAE indicate banks were permissive with lack of proper scrutiny of clients before providing credit. Walter reports that a person with a salary of Dh 15,000 ran up debts of Dh 250,000 and people with salaries of as low as Dh 6000 managed to get eight credit cards. While it is difficult to ascertain the extent to which the debt was fueled by Islamic banks, given the significant share of the Islamic banking sector in the country it is safe to conclude it has played an important role in the buildup in indebtedness.

Ethics of Debt for Islamic Finance

The above discussion indicates that there may not be any ethical issues arising in using debt from a legal perspective as appropriate Shari`ah compliant instruments can be used to create it. However, the morals derived from the Prophetic traditions indicate the Muslims should strive to keep the levels of debt to a minimum. If the objective on Islamic banks is to expand business by financing goods and services that results in higher indebtedness among individuals, then they contribute to the immorality of being highly indebted as perceived from an Islamic perspective.

Consequently, if the banking practices affect moral values negatively, the practice of Islamic banks would be considered unethical.

Beyond the moral proposition from a religious point of view, limiting the level of debt also can be rationalized from the perspective of welfare (maslahah) implications at the individual and societal levels. As discussed above, higher levels of debt can affect the welfare of individuals in the economy adversely. The evidence of the adverse impact of debt on individuals and national economies indicates that the levels of debt must be kept reasonable and manageable. If Islamic banks ignore the harmful effects of debt on individuals and help to fuel its increase to levels that start to affect the welfare of the people negatively, then these activities could be considered immoral from an Islamic perspective. The implication is that if Islamic banks focus narrowly on the legal technicalities and ignore the impact of debt on the moral teachings and maslahah, they fail to operate ethically.

Conclusion and the Way Forward

The paper discussed the role of laws and morals in defining ethical practices of Islamic banks. While Islamic law and ethics appears to be closely linked, cases may arise when the practice of Islamic banks can produce unethical results even when the contracts are legitimate.

To judge if banking practices are ethical or not, it is important to examine the consequence of transactions on morality and welfare. Situations can arise when the transactions may not have legal/ethical issues at the contract level, but can be unethical as it has adverse impact on welfare or morality. The paper examined the morality of excessive debt and concluded that the practice of Islamic banks could be unethical if they fuel the increase in indebtedness of individuals beyond certain levels.

The ethicality of Islamic banking practice arising from the effects on moral values cannot be grasped by focusing at the legal aspects of contracts only. A question then arises whether morality and ethical norms can be realized by Islamic banks that are engaged in expanding their businesses in competitive markets. While there are certain aspects of ethical self-regulation at the organizational level that can be useful, it has limitations. Davies points out that self-regulation may not be appropriate for “raising standards in the market as a whole, or dealing with a problem where there was a need for the whole industry to change.” (Ethics, 281)

Furthermore, when the conduct of banks has implications that go beyond its realm and affects other members of the society, regulatory oversight may be necessary to govern these activities.

If Islamic banks narrowly focus on legality of transactions that can lead unethical outcomes, there is a need to have a mechanism to ensure that the Islamic banking practices are ethical by not contradicting the moral teachings of Islam. Kamali asserts that if public interest (maslahah) necessitates it, a lawful government is authorized to change the reprehensible into forbidden and the recommended into obligatory.

In the past, Islamic societies had institutions that oversaw the moral issues related to economic affairs. Kamali maintains that while the courts dealt with the legal issues, the market controller (muhtasib) was authorized to intervene and stop immoral practices. During contemporary times, this role can be taken up by the regulators whereby ensuring ethics at the organizational level is moved to the public domain.

The paper suggests that there is an additional role of regulators overseeing Islamic financial industry—it is to promote morality-enhancing ethical behavior in Islamic banking practices.

Works Cited

  • Arabi, Oussama (1997), “Intention and Method in Sanhuri’s Fiqh: Cause as Ulterior Motive”, Islamic Law and Society, 4 (2)
  • Economist, 2010, last access, Thursday, August 6, 2012
  • Kamali, Mohammad Hashim. Shari`ah Law: An Introduction. Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2008.
  • Sambidge, Andy. “UAE bounced cheques rise in Q1 but value falls 25%”, Arabian Business, August 5, 2010.
  • Walter, Micole. “Survey claims 85% of UAE expats in deep debt”, Gulf News, August 14, 2010.
  • White, Andrew. “Consumer Debt in GCC hits $139bn”, Arabian Business, 8 August 2010.

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Taken with slight editorial modifications from www.onislam.net

This paper was presented at the 8th. International Conference on Islamic Economics and Finance, held in Doha, Qatar, 19 to 21 December 2011. It is republished here with kind permission of the author and the organizers.

Habib Ahmed is the Sharjah Chair at Durham University. He was Manager, Research and Development, Islamic Banking Development Group, The National Commercial Bank (NCB), Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He also worked at Islamic Research & Training Institute of the Islamic Development Bank Group, Saudi Arabia and taught at the University of Connecticut, USA, National University of Singapore, and University of Bahrain. He has been a member of the Capital Adequacy Working Group of Islamic Financial Services Board (IFSB) which is responsible for, among others, setting standards and guidelines for Islamic banks and financial institutions.

 

 

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