- Published on Thursday, 09 August 2012 00:30
- Written by BC-Stuff
The following are my reflections on the meaning and elaboration of the Islamic Gift Economy in various exchange contexts. These reflections arose rather spontaneously out of spirited discussions with like-minded friends who are critical about Islamic Banking and Finance and concerned about the current economic and financial turmoil. Critical, constructive feedback are most welcome to help me flesh out these preliminary reflections further through further exposition, arguments and documentation.
1. Business is Giving Good Advice
When you really think about it, business in Islam is also about giving good advice, e.g., you sell a thing only after all relevant true and correct information about it has been given to the buyer, so that the buyer truly benefits from the purchase.
That is transparency (nuṣḥ) and fair dealing (ʿadl) in Islam, and an aspect of what is meant by "gift" in the Islamic Gift Economy (IGE). We are not allowed to take undue advantage of anyone's innocence or circumstance. Fair dealing also underlies the Fair Trade movement in the West.
This is of course in contrast to modern 'marketing' and 'advertising' that is all premised on khidā' (deception) and window-dressing, including now "green-washing" to take advantage of people's increasing concern for preserving socio-ecological well-being.
But how many "pious" Muslims today are proud to have a BA or MA in Marketing and work as Marketing Executives in monopolistic corporations while gleefully oblivious of the big, perilous gulf between nuṣḥ and khidā'?
2. Convergence of Thought on the IGE
The conceptual parameters of the Islamic Gift Economy (al-Iqtiṣād al-Infāqī or al-Iqtiṣād al-Iḥsānī) is elaborated in my translation of Imam Shaybānī's Kitāb al-Kasb (Book of Earning a Livelihood), in Appendix 1 (pp.157—191).
Everything about the IGE is rooted in the Qur'an, Sunnah, al-Salaf al-Ṣāliḥ, the Great Imams like al-Shaybānī, al-Khallāl, al-Ghazālī, al-Muḥāsibī, Ibn Abī al-Dunyā, and and many others. So there is convergence of thought amongst scholars on these conceptual parameters. The challenge is to be structurally and systemically self-consistent in our work to revive true mu 'amalah on the basis of these parameters and avoid allowing these parameters to be hijacked and corrupted by people who are heavily invested in conventional secular economics or in the so-called Islamic Banking and Finance (IBF) industry.
Even the Christians are agreed with us on the Gifting framework as the basis of socio-economic exchange and on moving away from the silly, nihilistic, dogmatic obsession with scarcity and wants towards true livelihood for the common good. On this, please see the detailed Appendix III of the Book of Earning a Livelihood reporting on our fruitful 5-day dialogue with them in Sabah in October 2011.
Some one read my translation and coined the term 'zuhdonomics' (zuhd + nomics), because in the IGE framework, zuhd (abstinence) and earning a livelihood go hand in hand. However, I suggest we stick to the term 'Islamic Gift Economy' in English and 'al-Iqtisad al-Ihsani' or 'al-Iqtisad al-Infaqi' in Arabic as too many fancy-sounding terms spoil the broth and confuse the issue and scatter our focus.
Now the next task is to go beyond verbal, conceptual elaboration to actual application to everything we do in socio-economic exchange. Everything that we have learnt and practised in modern economics, management, accounting, investment, business, finance, etc., has to be transformed accordingly. This means we also have restructure Islamic Banking and Finance away from centralised ribawi/hiyali money laundering for the affluent toward decentralised debt-free, equity- and asset-based community investment structures under local control and ownership. This also entails doing away with the terms Islamic Finance and Islamic Banking altogether.
The ulama and fuqaha must abandon IBF altogether and embrace IGE totally. For starters, in all masjids, madrasahs and universities there should be lessons on the Kitāb dāb al-Kasb wa al-Ma'īshah of Imām al-Ghazālī, or on Imam al-Shaybāni's Kitāb al-Kasb. And then intellectuals, academics and researchers must work to translate these traditional, classical wisdom and insights into modern economic terms, and the professionals and business people implement them in their occupations and enterprises and commercial methods, and so on and so forth.
Varsities should introduce courses on the science of earning and livelihood and on a new economics redefined as the science of earning and provisioning for the common-good.
And so remind, for the reminder benefits the believers.
3. Adab, Fiqh, Mu'amalah & the Role of the Ulama
When respected and well-known public ulama give explicit public endorsement to the IGE and write their own learned articles and books or booklets expounding on it by drawing from their own vast learning and experience, the Muslim masses will be brought to embrace it and withdraw from corrupted IBF.
It is time for them to openly and explicitly call a spade a spade with regard to the IBF mess and its deliberate, systemic corruption (ifsād) of mu'amalah which happens when the ethico-moral substance of adab is taken away from the formal, contractual form of fiqh just so it could piggy-back on and fit into the imperative of ribawi capitalism and draw sustenance from it, just imagine! They just have to announce in a big global loudspeaker: "The IBF Emperor has no clothes on," and wake people up from this self-imposed collective mass delusion.
Without substantive adab, fiqh can be twisted any way you like to fit into any silly scheme you like, and Imam al-Ghazālī wrote the Iḥyāʾ (see the very first book on knowledge = Kitāb al-'Ilm) precisely to admonish the fuqaha of his time against that futile excercise in self-deception and in deceiving others. No wonder some of the fuqaha of his time didn't like it and burned the Iḥyāʾ in protest. And that's precisely why Professor Attas is so much against this futile short-sighted legalism and ḥiyalī (legal fictional) acrobatics, which only make the problem worse by giving pseudo-solutions.
Livelihood ideas and initiatives like Permaculture and IGE and so on can only prosper in our own network of independent community-rooted enterprises and academies—our own counter academia—and Bill Mollison actually has a document detailing the imperative of setting up our own autonomous academia. If these wholesome ideas are pursued in the current myopic university system, they will definitely be corrupted and subverted to serve totally alien, nihilistic meta-agendas serving Mammon instead of Islam and the Common-Good.
With the widespread revival of true comprehensive mu'amalah amongst ourselves as a community we shall be able to fund all our civilizational revival initiaves with our own internally generated and enriched resources instead of having to go begging around far and wide for hand-outs from the indifferent Gulf states or apply for grants from the Christian Templeton Foundation. Stop begging (su'al) and start earning (kasb), and regain our self-respect and prosperity, inshāʾAllāh.
wa man yattaqiLlāha yajʿal lahu makhrajan wa yarzuqhu min ḥaythu lā yaḥtasib "Who so fear Allah, He will show them a way out, and give them sustenance from sources he does not anticipate."
And taqwā is the way forward, and we all know that for certain.
4. Investing & the Imperative of Personal Responsibility
When we put our money in impersonal banks or the stock markets, we become passive investors, alienated from any awareness of how our money is being used and for what purpose. We abscond personal responsibility for the good or bad use of our money. For all we know, our money in Citibank, Barclays or HSBC may be used to produce WMDs like cluster bombs shattering to bits the limbs and lives of our brethren—men, women and children—in Chenya, Yemen, Palestine or Pakistan or Afghanistan (http://www.realecontv.com/videos/us/cluster-bomb s-r-us.html), or funding Monsanto's seeds of destruction, or even senseless isrāfī (dissipative, wasteful) pies-in-sands projects in Dubai, or multi-billion dollar extravangaza like the London Olympics.
It is really silly of us to forgo tabayyun (due diligence) with regard to whom we entrust our hard-earned money and wealth, and think that our investments in banks and stock-markets are value-neutral, whereas we know for a fact that these institutions are value- and interest-laden; hence the question is: laden with what values and what interests—Islamic values and interests or Mammonic ones? We are not allowed to entrust our money to fools, and so, much less to evil doers. Where is our sense of self-accountability in this regard before we are taken to account by the One Who is Quick in taking into account even a single atom of our deeds and enjoyments in life?
So, when we really come to think about it, we need to move away from passive, impersonal, disembedded investing to active personal embedded investing. This means that it is our duty as investors of conscience to personally identify and invest in locally relevant community-rooted wholesome projects for the common-good, which, in turn, means creating our own ethical businesses, and that means going back to 'Ilm al-Iktisāb wa al-Infāq 101 (the Science of Earning & Provisioning 101), which entails studying, learning and applyling both the fiqh and adab of mu'amalah, which means everyone taking lessons in Imam al-Ghazālī's Kitāb Adab al-Kasb wa al-Maʿīshah (Book of the Proper Conduct of Earning and Livelihood), quite apart from the studying and understanding the standard fiqh of muʿamalah manuals, and so on and so forth.
Without this systemic downstream to upstream revival of true responsible, comprehensive and integrative muʿamalah as outlined above, we can forget about reviving viable Islamic communities in control of their own autonomous ethico-moral space for formal and informal exchange—we shall forever be praying in mosques but go out earning our sustenance by prostituting our minds, bodies and souls to nihilistic, secular, ribāwī, isrāfī structures, though prayers are supposed to preempt iniquities.
And so remind, for the reminder benefits believers.
5. IGE & Distributive Economy
The so-called 'distributive' economy has to be understood and elaborated in the context of iktisāb-wa-infāq as outlined in the IGE paper, otherwise it can be just another bailout or QE ("quantitative easing"). In classical Mu'amalah this is pretty clear in detailed black and white terms and everyone knows that or should: distribute what you earn to (i) your self, then (ii) to your family, then (iii) to your dependents, then (iv) to relatives, then (v) to to neighbours, then (vi) to your local community, then, if there is surplus (v) to the larger society, and then (vi) even overseas, like the Awqāf al-Ḥaramayn in our economic history. And the mechanisms of distribution are all spelled out too in great detail in the fiqh of Mu'amalah (all alluded to in the IGE article).
So when western, modern secular ambigious terms are used like 'distributive' or any other fancy jargons, we must re-define them (if we find them useful) in our very own mu'amalah terms, otherwise people get confused in all this pointless sloganeering, and we should do away with that approach if we have any degree of dialectical savvy. As a friend has said:
We don't want people confusing that [i.e., infāq = provisioning] with 'income distribution' or 'wealth distribution', which is based on the false premise that life is a zero-sum game, i.e., the wealth pie (so to speak) is limited and therefore rich people are the actual cause of poor people. As...pointed out in the IGE article, Allah's bounty is limitless.
6. The Irrationality of IBF and Its One-Size-Fits-All Standard
This is to share a discussion (edited) I recently had with a friend working in IBF (Islamic Banking and Finance) in Abu Dhabi as Shariah Advisor.
Conventional IBF and AAOFFII standards in practice do not care a jot about the fate of the Amazon forests or Fair Trade. It is not just the problem of interest (riba) or standards that is involved, it is the very conception of money (nuqud) and its relation to real wealth (māl) and the role of the economy (mu'amalah) in society that is the problem ever since the privately owned Bank of England's fiscal takeover of the English economy centuries ago.
Talking about Islamic Finance is like putting the cart before the horse when the conception of Islamic economics and even classical mu'amalah in their socio-historical and legal aspects are still all messed up and corrupted due to the current obsession with quick hiyali (legalistic fictional) stratagems and fixes in order to make a quick buck for big corporations and their petro-dollar money laundering operations passing off as bona fide business investments. IBF is nothing but a fatwa-selling-to-the-highest-bidder industry. In short, a fatwa-auctioning business subsidiary of the riba-embedded banks.
And why are we talking about centralised banks and centralised global standards and then talk about direct community relevance and rootedness in the same breath? Mu'amalah or the IGE (Islamic Gift Economy) in our economic and legal history has never been centralised or monotonized in terms of (fiqhi? hiyali?) standards. We do not share common rigid operating standards decided by arbitrarily chosen (by whom?) scholars and decided (by majority vote?) imposed top-down from some disembedded centers in the desert.
But we do share common, creative, dynamic mu'amalah principles as outlined in the IGE article, and it is up to the local community-rooted learned fuqaha and shuyukh and business professionals to set standards relevant to their particular socio-economic context ('urf, needs, interests, etc) in accordance with their own respective schools of law. And when they do inter-community trading between different madhhab communities, then it is up to the respective fuqahas of those interacting communities to set mutually acceptable standards for equitable exchange. In short, IGE is for creative unified principles, but operative diversified standards.
So, principles are fixed and we all know them without being need to be told or taught about them by Ethica or AAOFFII or the World Fiqh Council, but standards are flexible because they are rooted in diverse communities first and foremost, and it is definitely not the business of any disembedded outsiders in Dubai or Jeddah calling themselves Shari'ah experts to set their one-size-fit-all standards and impose them (by leveraging on their global political and corporate influence) on local Muslim business and financial transactions in Papua New Guinea or Canada or South Africa. Islam is not Popish and neither is it fiqh. Ijmaʿ (consensus) is not imposed top-down, but arises out of intra-community and inter-community consensus, because the end of Ijmaʿ is truth and maslahah not compromise and convenience.
Frankly speaking, I will do away with the term 'Islamic Finance' altogether; it has already been conceptually and practically corrupted beyond repair. The same with the term 'Islamic Bank'. We don't have banks. We have viable, dynamic business partnerships, awqaf and various community-rooted investment structures, and so it is all the way with the IGE or no way. No more talbis, but only tahqiq.
IGE will bypass IBF altogether to revive classical mu'amalah on its own integrative ethico-moral terms by working directly with local communities and their local scholars, fuqaha, shuyukh, lawyers, accountants and business people, while IBF can go ahead and implode with the soon to come implosion of the global ribawi system in which it is so clearly and thoroughly embedded.
We won't sink with the IBFatanic, we won't even be bothered with its lifeboats or with patching up its self-inflicted gaping holes in its hull. We are into creating our own boats and ships of different appropriate sizes and makes with our own internal intellectual and material resources, and thereby reclaim our self-respect, our prosperity and our civilizational role as bearers of Prophetic mercy to all the nations of the world, amin! So it is high time for us to wake up and desist from this silly exercise in mass self-delusion.
I urge our learned fuqaha and shuyukh to take back direct ownership of our mu'amalah from the IBFers, for the sake of the economic prosperity of their communities, and for the self-respect and honour of Islam.
And so remind, for the reminder benefits believers.
7. Arabic Rendering of the Islamic Gift Economy
Iḥsān has the meaning of giving, being charitable, generous, gracious, magnanimous. Imam al-Ghazali and al-Lubudi actually talk about ihsan in mu'amalah and devote a whole chapter on it, right after the chapter on 'adl = justice in mu'amalah. Whereas justice means you just give or deliver what is due, ihsan means you go one step further and overdeliver what is due, always give a little bit extra to play safe as per the imperative of wara' (prudence) and as a mark of magnanimity. And "be gracious as Allah has been gracious to you," for He not merely gives you what is just enough, He gives much more than you need or even request for. Plus a friend, Sidi Mahdi Lock has said:
...ihsan ultimately means to worship Allah as if you are seeing Him. Buying and selling is worship, so buy and sell as if you are seeing Allah. You can't see Him, but if you know that He is seeing you in the marketplace then you won't cheat and steal, but rather you will try to please Him, and with Allah alone is every success.
The problem with the term faḍl (bounty, favour) is that it also means excess, something superflous even waste, hence it is too equivocal; whereas iḥsān is unequivocal, and the Qur'an praises the muḥsinīn and exhorts to iḥsān
Ergo, the best Arabic rendering of the Islamic Gift Economy is either al-Iqtiṣād al-Infāqī (the Provisioning Economics) or al-Iqtiṣād al-Iḥsānī (the Charitable, Giving, Gifting Economy), and I am inclined to the latter.
Of course, we can opt to do away with all these academic semantics and stick to good old mu'amalah but we need a contemporary dialectical device to bring classical mu'amalah to bear forcefully and evaluatively on current nihilistic capitalism and IBF, and hence the totality of mu'amalah was recast kalam jadid wise into IGE terms so that it can come to a close engagement with both ribawi capitalism and hiyali acrobatic IBF, and thereby carve an autonomous ethico-moral space for true, holistic mu'malah to be revived. Hence, the schematics of this close engagement is as follows:
ClassiCal Mu'aMalah<<>>Modern Capitalism<<>>Revived Neo-Classical Mu'amalah
where <> signifies dynamic two-way dialectical, critical, evaluative engagement.
We either exercise this creative, proactive kalamic engagement or continue to allow our mu'amalah to be cooptated into the service of the worldview of Mammon rather than the Worldview of Islam. All this (and more) is part of the kalam al-'asr project outlined in the long paper entitled "Kalam Jadid, Islamization and the Worldview of Islam: Operationalizing the Neo-Ghazalian, Attasian Vision."
wa jādilhum bi allatī hiya aḥsan "And debate with them with what is better."