The Basic Economic Principles of Islam

Keynote Address at the Mandarin Oriental, Marina Square, Singapore

On 26th September 2013, the worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at and Fifth Khalifah, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aa) delivered the keynote address at a gathering of dignitaries from Singapore, one of the world’s most highly developed economies, to espouse the economic principles of Islam.

“Bismillahir-Rahmannir-Raheem (in the Name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful).
Assalamo Alaikum Wa Rahmatullah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon you).

First of all, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to all of you for accepting our invitation and gracing us with your presence here today. Rather than attending a reception for a Head of State, a major scientist, a high-profile economist or a high-ranking politician, you have come to a welcome reception organised by an Islamic religious community. You have come even though you yourselves are not associated either with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community or our religion and so certainly this is a reflection of your open-heartedness and high moral values. Having a relationship with worldly leaders is a way to increase worldly connections and is a means of networking. By attending a science forum, a person can discover new scientific advances, whilst being in the company of an academic or scholar is a means to increase one’s knowledge.

Further, in today’s world the opinions of economists are deemed to be extremely important. This is because during the past few years an economic crisis has spread across the globe, despite the fact that great efforts are constantly being made towards achieving economic prosperity. Although Singapore is a small country, it too is playing its part towards the progress of the world’s economy. Indeed, I am sure many of you will be playing your respective roles towards this, and for this reason, you will have a particular interest in hearing new opinions or theories made by economists or analysts. With regards to politics, we find that governments and international policies change from time to time and so people are particularly interested in hearing the views of politicians and keeping abreast with the latest political developments.

However, when it comes to religion the world today does not give it anywhere near as much importance. Even those who have some interest in religious matters or who call themselves religious tend to still prioritise worldly matters, and so at best, religion is given a secondary status. In light of these considerations, it is my view that the fact that you are here to attend a reception of the worldwide Head of a religious community is a great testament to your high levels of tolerance and broad-mindedness. It would be wrong of me to not express my thanks because, whilst deviating from basic moral etiquette, I would also be ignoring the teachings of my religion. This is because the Founder of Islam, the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa, taught that a person who does not show gratitude to mankind does not show gratitude to his Creator. And so if these sentiments of gratefulness are not present, then all forms of religious worship are without merit and are worthless.

After this brief introduction and expression of thanks, I would now like to present a few points regarding the teachings of my religion. Islam provides the world with spiritual and moral teachings and exhorts people towards attaining the very highest standards. However, apart from these spiritual teachings, Islam also provides us with a complete code of conduct about how to live in society and how to conduct our social lives. Islam has provided detailed guidance of how to maintain relations at all levels – from the very basic level of the family unit, all the way through to international relations. Furthermore, Islam also teaches us how to conduct our financial and economic affairs and outlines the responsibilities of a true Muslim in his financial dealings. Whilst Islamic teachings, which are given in the Holy Qur’an, command Muslims to fulfil the rights owed to God, at the same time they also instruct us to fulfil the rights of God’s Creation. This topic and these teachings are so vast that it would be impossible for me to discuss all of them today, and so I will only focus on the economic system advocated by Islam, though I will only cover a small aspect of this. I will mention a few points which will explain basic economic principles according to Islam’s real teachings.

In much of the world today there is a belief or perception that Islam is a religion of extremism and force. Thus, when I mention the economic system taught by Islam, perhaps many will think that, in the name of God, and as a means to fulfil vested interests, the Islamic economic model will be based on force and compulsion. Let me say at the outset that this is entirely wrong and the reality is the complete opposite. Such misconceptions have arisen because a number of Muslim clerics have not understood the true teachings of the Qur’an and so they are presenting an entirely wrong picture of Islam to the non-Muslim world.

Furthermore and with great regret, the truth is that there are also some selfish Muslims, who are not in large numbers, but there are those who seek only to serve their own personal interests. To feed their own ambitions and desires they are interpreting Islam’s teachings in completely the wrong way and therefore have enabled various unfounded allegations to be levelled against Islam. Their acts unfairly tarnish Islam’s pure name even though the reality is that at every instance Islam provides only rational and logical answers that are entirely fair and just. The truth is that, just as it does in every issue, Islam teaches that all economic matters should be carried out with wisdom and due consideration. Let me present one underlying principle from the Holy Qur’an. Allah the Almighty says:

‘He it is Who created for you all that is in the earth…’ (Ch.2:V.30)

Thus, the Qur’an teaches that everything in the world has been created for the benefit of mankind. At a primary level, if a country is blessed with natural resources then they are for the benefit of the people of that nation. However, Islam further extends the scope of this and says that we should also take care and assist our neighbours. The neighbourhood defined in the Holy Qur’an is your immediate neighbour, your workmate, person travelling with you, and according to the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa, it extends up to forty houses on all four sides. It can further be extended to neighbouring cities and countries. One can visualise how far this goes. Thus, where on one hand a nation reaps the fruits of the resources God has bestowed upon it, on the other hand it should also use that wealth to help those countries and people that are in need. Such wealth must be utilised in an entirely fair and selfless manner without any form of discrimination and without greed or a desire for personal gain.

If we look at the natural world, we find how Allah has enriched it with such an array of natural resources, that each plays an important role in the economic progress of the world. For example, we find that mountains play a positive role in ensuring economic prosperity. We also find an array of natural resources that are present underground; for example, precious and extremely valuable stones and minerals are found. Then there are vast oil reserves in many parts of the world which continue to provide huge wealth. Further, there are flowing rivers and certainly water is the most fundamental requirement and is in ever greater demand. Indeed, a chronic lack of water is becoming an increasingly critical and desperate issue in some parts of the world. Anyway, these are just a few examples of the many forms of natural wealth that God Almighty has bestowed throughout the world. Islam teaches that all of these resources are the combined property and wealth of all mankind. Thus, all of these blessings are for all people and so they should all derive benefit from them. These vast treasures that Allah the Almighty has endowed, both above and below the earth, are not just for a few selected individuals, but are for the benefit of every single person, in every part of the world.

Of course there are those who invest or use their expertise to facilitate the use of these blessings and have a right to certain incentives or benefits. There are scientists who discover new and better ways to find and extract such resources and develop machinery or devices to facilitate the positive utilisation of natural resources. Certainly, for making such efforts they are entitled to some form of remuneration. Similarly, there are engineers, who having attained advanced qualifications, enter different specialities and work towards developing these resources and so they too are entitled to benefit. Further, there are experts from various other fields who are entitled to their due shares. However, it must also be made categorically clear that no person or group has the right to deny a normal employee or labourer the due share for their efforts.

According to the prevalent circumstances of the time, it is the job of the governments to provide such workers with appropriate salaries and the best possible working conditions, so that the gap between the rich and the poor can be reduced as much as possible. To provide such facilities and employment rights is also the responsibility of the rich companies, or organisations that employ such workers. Unlike Socialism, Islam does not say that the wealth of the rich should be forcibly taken from them and that they should only be permitted to keep a basic amount. Islam does not advocate a system whereby employer and employee are made equal. Rather, Islam says that a country’s resources form the national wealth, and so they should be used to serve every class and every segment of society. The wealth of a nation should be used to ensure that every member of society has access to certain essential facilities.

God has endowed the world with an array of natural resources which are fundamental in economic progress. For example, Islam teaches that each and every child, no matter his or her background, should be provided a proper education so that they can develop into skilled and truly beneficial members of society. Similarly, there are many other facilities that should be provided equally across the board. Although present day systems advocate the provision of these facilities, they do not to the extent Islamic teachings state. Further, Islam moves another step forward by stating that you should not only help yourselves but you should also care for your neighbours. Thus, countries should utilise their wealth to serve and benefit their neighbouring countries as well. Where a country is in need or deprived in any way then it is the duty of their neighbour to assist them. Indeed, Islam advocates that the circle of benefitting others should continue to expand and so nations should not only seek to help their immediate neighbours but should also use their resources to assist other poor and deprived nations across the world.

Another point I should mention is that Allah the Almighty has granted different resources and forms of wealth to different countries. Therefore, if one country does not possess the knowledge to extract or facilitate the use of its own wealth then those nations that have such knowledge and skills should assist them. Such help should be administered in a selfless manner without a desire to fulfil vested interests. Alliances or friendships with particular nations should not be a determining factor in deciding whether to assist other countries. Favouritism of any kind should not occur – rather the goal should be to help others stand on their own two feet. Unjust conditions should not be placed, whereby countries are not helped until they fulfil certain demands or until they agree to establish particular relations with third-party countries; nor should the countries that are providing technological assistance place such onerous conditions that mean the country receiving help is unable to derive full benefit from its own resources; and nor should such conditions be placed that result in the assisting nation receiving greater benefit from the resources of the other country. Such unjust acts are all against the teachings of Islam and lead to restlessness to develop and ferment. If such a state of affairs occurs then a time will surely come when the anxiety and sense of injustice will lead to open enmities and hatred rising above the surface. If this is allowed to happen it will lead to the destruction of peace, both in the respective country and also at an international level.

Certainly, this is exactly what we are witnessing in the world today. It should be remembered that if the affluent classes utilised their wealth in a proper and fair manner then the gap between the rich and the poor would not be anywhere near as wide as it is today. On an international level, if all the wealth and aid used to assist poorer nations was distributed in an appropriate way then we would not see inequality and friction between nations increasing as it is today. There are very many organisations that have been founded with the objective of providing assistance and aid to the deprived people of the world. Most significantly are the various organs of the United Nations which have been established as a means to eliminate poverty and hunger in the world. Regrettably, we find that more than sixty years after the formation of the United Nations, the poor countries remain destitute and deprived, whilst the developed countries have remained rich and powerful. Islam has explained that a fundamental cause of this permanent inequality is that the world has not understood that the wealth of resources granted to mankind by God is for the combined use of all humanity.

In today’s world it is not only in the less developed world that people are struggling, but even in the developed world, people have suffered as a result of the financial crisis that has arisen over the past few years. This is because countries have not used their vast means and resources in the right way. Instead of utilising their wealth for essential necessities to benefit all people, much has been frittered away on unnecessary luxuries and extravagances. We see the results of this in Europe where some countries, who were not as rich as some of their European counterparts, tried to imitate their wealthier neighbours. Rather than tread conservatively, they went beyond their means to try and fulfil such unrealistic ambitions and are now suffering the consequences. Whilst the other members of the European Union have sought to help them to a certain extent, even they are now starting to question and consider that for how long they should continue to help the weaker nations. We find that the root causes for the problems and the growing friction emanates from both sides. On the one hand, those requesting help have made unreasonable demands, whilst on the other side, the wealthier nations have not been willing to make necessary sacrifices for the greater good. Both of these factors have led to a marked deterioration in the current situation.

Islam, however, counsels that the best state of affairs, which are of peace and harmony, can only be established when both sides work together for the greater good. The poor must fulfil their own responsibilities and work hard in order to benefit from their resources and wealth. On the other hand, the rich should happily display a true spirit of sacrifice in order to help their brothers and sisters. They should understand that their wealth and resources have all been bestowed by Allah and so they must be utilised to fulfil the rights of His Creation. Most regrettably, such ideals are not being implemented in the Muslim world today, to whom these teachings were given, and nor are they being practiced in the non-Muslim world, who make huge claims of fulfilling the rights of people.

Indeed, even in the developed countries there are hundreds of thousands of people who are suffering from hunger and poverty. In conclusion, I should say that this is an extremely vast topic and I have only covered a very small aspect of one part of this huge subject. Certainly, there is an essential need for the world to pay heed towards fulfilling the rights of one another. The world has come to resemble a global village and so if we fail to discharge each other’s rights then the unrest that has already taken root could ultimately lead to extremely dangerous and devastating consequences. If we look back at history, we realise that a major factor that led to the first two World Wars was the prevailing economic situation and this part of the world where you reside was also caught in its effect. If such circumstances were to prevail again it would be extremely difficult to predict who would be safe and who would be in danger. We can only pray and present the facts and realities in front of everyone in an effort and hope that the world can be saved from all forms of destruction and danger. This is essential so that we are not looked upon with anger and as transgressors by our future generations. Before ending I would like to once again thank all of you for taking the time and effort to attend today.

May Allah bless you all. Thank you very much.”