Dear Ustadh: These days people debate the relationship between Islam and capitalism, and argue that Muslims are becoming supporters of capitalism. What do you have to say about this issue?
The places where capitalism emerges and develops are places where attitudes such as contentment and trust in Allah grow weaker, and strong cravings for the world, and consequently the attractions of unlawful earnings, grow much stronger. Because of the power of such attractions, Muslims should subject themselves to Sufi education in order control their anxieties and cravings. Control of these can be obtained through consciously cultivating contentment and trusting one’s affairs to Allah.
Contentment is the true wealth. It means freedom from the craving for money and possessions, a craving that makes people slaves to property. But if a Muslim does not cleanse his ego and purify his heart, he may find himself miserably enmeshed in capitalistic processes, which recognize no limit but money.
Neither the capitalist nor the socialist system leaves any room for the merits of the heart and the virtues of conscience. One claims that property belongs to society; the other claims that it belongs to individuals. Both are shaped by a mentality that seeks self-interest and exploitation. In both these systems, persons are like cogs of a wheel.
According to Islam, property belongs to Allah. When one holds such a view, there is no room for seeking self-interest and exploitation. Islamic economics begins with solving the problems of human life. Sharing one’s possessions and helping others, especially those who are in need, is a stipulation of the religion, a compulsory duty. Allah the Almighty has declared that the poor have a claim on the wealth of the rich.
Those who ask (are in need) and those who are deprived (cannot beg because of their dignity) have a definite share in their (the wealthy’s) property.(Zâriyât 51/19)
This principle is a kind of education concerning the use of money, as well as a means of bringing people together. That is, according to the Islamic principle, money is not an object of desire to be accumulated, but a trust that needs spending. If it is spent or used properly, if the shares of the needy and the poor are delivered, then wealth becomes a great opportunity for serving Allah. However, as the pre-condition of realizing these ends, it is quite important to pay attention to where and how the money is earned. Indeed, for everything that may be earned there is a certain way that it should be earned. According to the way the money is earned, the heart of the earner is shaped. Then the way money is spent depends on the shape of the heart, the personality, of the one who spends it. Hence we must be extremely careful about the way we earn our livings.
What kinds of incomes are there?
There seem to be two kinds of incomes. The first is income regularly earned according to the religious rules and principles of conscience, which are based on the observation of divinely set limits. This includes trade, which has its own moral principles.
Lawfulness in any kind of earning is indispensable: there is no justification for a mania of self-interest leading to the deception of others. Even though one’s earnings may not accumulate rapidly when they are made lawfully, their spiritual value will always increase. Such wealth always allocates some amount for charity, for supporting good and beautiful things. This brings the individual peace of conscience. Those Muslims who govern their property according to such rules are merciful toward all creatures, and for human beings to display mercy is the only means of drawing divine mercy towards us all. The Messenger of Allah announced, “Be merciful to those who are on earth, so that those who are in the heavens may be merciful to you!” (Tirmidhî, Birr, 16)
The moral history of money influences the feelings of its possessor. In order to estimate the spiritual level of our income, we can examine where we spend it. Just as the proverb says, “Money is like a snake: it goes out the same hole it came in.”
What about the other kind?
The second kind of income is that obtained by means of some authority or power. This kind of income is generally unlawful. It is accumulated by doing unjust favors and accepting bribes. In a sense it is cancerous wealth.
Unlawful income is like a balloon that suddenly explodes. Some of these balloons blow up in this life, and some of them blow up in the Hereafter. The apparent increase in such income may look very pleasant, but its spiritual reality is thoroughly disappointing. Unlawful income leads to eternal bankruptcy.
Such wealth can rarely be spent for charity, for supporting good and beautiful things. At most a little bit of it will be an exception….
Unfortunately, nowadays the second kind of income seems attractive to everybody. The capitalist order encourages this kind of wealth. It is quite sad that so many believers seem to take it into their hearts as well. So many people contract the craving for money.
The thing to do before pursuing any form of income is to calculate how you are going to explain it in the Hereafter. When hearts grow insensitive and people cease to care about the Hereafter, they easily turn into savages who do not recognize conscience or law, merciless usurpers of rights. By its exploitation of human anxieties and desires, capitalism pushes people toward savagery. We may find examples around the world to support this. People are abused merely for the sake of money. How can such an attitude combine with human values? It leads to the development and use of bombs that do not discriminate: plants and animals, children and adults, the sick and elderly all become targets. There is no mercy, no tenderness. Can money stained with the blood of the innocent and the poor possibly build or restore humanity? Yet such is the wealth of the merciless capitalism that subjugates humanity to money day after day. It turns money into an idol for worship.
Then what kind of a framework does Islam suggest?
Just as in other affairs, Islam considers servants responsible to Allah with regard to money. This is because Allah the Exalted bestowed everything upon human beings as a trust. In the noble Qur’an we read:
Then, you shall be questioned that day about the profit (you took) (at-Takâthur 102/8).
Thus one should acquire wealth according to the measures of consideration and responsibility. There is no excuse for violating the boundary between lawful and unlawful acts. To say “I am acquiring this wealth in order to be able to do good things in the future,” is a bad direction to take: it is merely self-deception. Islam can never approve the principle of “earn as you like, and spend as you like!” So Muslims must undoubtedly reject the basic theory of capitalism: unlimited accumulation and consumption.
Today, in a period when human beings are subjugated to material gains, every Muslim must have higher moral character than ever before. He or she must behave with the fear of Allah, be extremely respectful toward the rights of others, and maintain a sense of personal responsibility.
For example, Muslims must refrain from procuring unjust financing to get through commercial difficulties or economic recessions. We should overcome our financial problems by obtaining help from Islamic financial institutions. Keeping away from paying or receiving interest is a very important issue with regard both to
our responsibilities in this life and the state of our life in the Hereafter.
Another issue to which we must pay attention in order to keep ourselves and our property spiritually clean is to refrain from bribes offered for contracts under the guise of gifts or tips. You may change the name of an act, but its nature remains the same. New terms for old unlawful behaviors are a useless attempt to console ourselves about what we do: they are veneers of Hell that prevent us from interrogating our actions. Abdullah ibn `Amr , one of the Companions of the Messenger of Allah, related that the Prophet (pbuh) cursed both those who take bribes and those who offer them. (Abû Dâwûd, `Aqdiyyah, 4:3580).
Unfortunately, these days wealth is poisoned by this custom, and many related customs, on all sides. If a Muslim is not as careful, attentive and informed as if he would be if he were walking through a minefield, he cannot protect his wealth from these poisons.
What kind of care, attention, and sensitivity are you advising?
We must shape our commercial lives not according to the exploitation and self-interest of capitalism, but by a determined observance of the boundary between the lawful and the unlawful.
Again, we should protect ourselves from organizing our affairs in the service of an economic system that encourages wastefulness. The increase of extravagance and luxury severely damages society. Credit cards, which cause the increase in spending, are also economic traps: they are means of exploitation. Being in need cannot justify their use. Islam offers a better solution to those who have needs but no money: qard hasan (well-managed debt for the sake of Allah). This kind of debt is designed to relieve those who have financial difficulties and help them to recover. It is credit given to the needy without asking for any interest. The kind of debt provided by credit cards, however, leads to the bankruptcy of their users. It is a system in which the winners are those who make you spend, but not those who do the spending.
Advertising lead you to spend so that other people behind the scenes may use you to make money. In this cause they exploit even the poor, without feeling any responsibility. Fascinated by deceptive advertisements, many poor people are victimized by following illegal procedures. For example, an advertisement may put out the message, “A young girl will look great only if she uses such-and-such a product! If you do this and that, you will be very attractive and sought after!” Having seen the advertisement, the poor girl becomes full of desire and anxious to get those things. But since she lacks the money to afford them, she may begin to live immorally and destroy her life…
Thus we must always remember that the greatest wealth is to be content and satisfied with our lot. Allah the Almighty did not command us: “Be rich!” His command is: “Earn your sustenance lawfully, spend it lawfully, and give charity!” If we never forget the needy, we will establish our commercial life on a lawful foundation.
It seems that Muslims who observe religious commandments change their commitment at times.
Unfortunately, today capitalism has destroyed our spiritual world so much that even in companies whose owners have religious sensitivities, it has become natural to carry out business in a manner contrary to Islamic ethics and ideals. There are so many people who perform their daily prayers regularly and have made the Pilgrimage to Mecca, yet argue, “I must earn more so that I can give more charity!” But this argument cannot be justified. That is, in many cases you see the mixture of the lawful and the unlawful. Take for example advertising claims made without any moral concern, or female secretaries who are hired specifically to attract customers. These are clearly unacceptable things. When we emphasize the wealth of the world more than the revenue of the Hereafter, our selfishness will always excuse itself by saying, “That’s just how things are!” The lower soul does not care about the prohibited aspects of the business in question. Unfortunately, this is not real wealth. It is a mine of bankruptcy that will explode in the Hereafter.
Thus, in commercial life, each and every issue must be carefully studied. We must be careful of whom we employ, and should never violate Islamic rules for any reason whatsoever. We should not force women to do men’s work, or force men do women’s work: people should never be compelled to do anything contrary to their nature. Our ultimate guidelines must be Islamic ethics and principles that set the highest standards. In the light of the divine warnings about our conduct of affairs, we must be careful of our duties as servants and the rights of other people over us.
Before he died, our Prophet (pbuh) commanded, “Be careful of the ritual prayer, and be fearful of Allah concerning the rights of those who are under your rule!” (Abû Dâwûd, Adab, 123-124/5156; Ibn Mâja, Wasâyâ, 1). He had been careful throughout his life about the rights of all creatures, yet just before his death our Prophet (pbuh) did something that dramatically underlined the importance of the rights of other people. Though he was very weak, he went to the mosque and said to his Companions, “O my companions, if I have taken the wealth of any of you without being aware of it, here is my property: let him come out and take his right!. And if I have struck any of you, here is my back: let him come forward and strike!…” (See Ahmad, III, 400).
Upon hearing these words, the Companions began to weep.
These words show us the importance of the rights of other people. By them, the Prophet (pbuh) provided a model to his community – a model that can be imitated by his community until the Last Day. It is our duty to behave ourselves according to the guidelines provided by this example.
Abuse of the rights of other people is the kind of violent ignorance and injustice that will remain until the Day of Judgment, and that will always lead those responsible for it to eternal destruction. Today, capitalism does not respect the rights of others. It oppresses further those who are oppressed already. Capitalists consider everything permissible. But for Muslims, there are things that must be forbidden.
In sum, today we need a deep self-criticism, a shaking up that will bring us to consciousness! For at present, capital has precedence over persons. However, persons must take precedence over capital.
How can we achieve this, since money is the essence of capitalism and everything revolves around it?
In order to achieve this we must rule money but not be ruled by it. And this, in turn, can be achieved by following the commands of the Ruler of rulers.
Look around you. There are many people with abundant material opportunities, but they are not peaceful. Some fall into insanity. Compared to earlier times, the level of wealth and welfare has increased greatly – but cases of depression and madness have also increased. Family life has been damaged. Cases of divorce have increased. Children experience terrible situations. A generation that is deprived of a peaceful family environment looks for its happiness in the streets. And it is simply left to the mercy of the streets. The selfish capitalist system, which does not recognize the distinction between lawful and unlawful, has not brought peace to our society.
Nurettin Topçu, with whom I took classes during my Imam-Hatip high school education, used to ask us, “Who is happier, people today, or people who lived in the past?” Then he would answer the question in detail, explaining how the people of the past were happy and how contemporary people lack peace and mercy.
Dear Ustadh, being wealthy seems to be a difficult trial.
Depending on conditions, both being wealthy and being poor can be difficult trials. Neither was ever easier than the other. Thus you should not take my words to mean that in order to be peaceful, one must be poor! My emphasis on our responsibilities and the importance of observing the divine limits should not result in your misunderstanding that poverty should be encouraged. One should know that Islam never prohibits people from getting rich. To the contrary, we read the command “Give charity!” more than two hundred times in the noble Qur’an. This may be taken as advice that people acquire enough wealth to be able to give charity. The point we would like to make is that one should not push too far the limits of the divine division of property, which are the limits of fate. One should not consider all means to be lawful in order to get wealthy. Yet it is necessary to earn the degree of lawful sustenance allotted to us by Allah, and to acquire the virtue of being able to give charity.
In fact, we need merciful people with lawful earnings who accumulate enough wealth to support those who are poor and needy. They were needed in the past, and they are needed today.
The point is that we should not lose peace of heart for the sake of material welfare. We should not destroy the peace of heart that results from the beauties of Islam. We should be people of love, and never forget that the true and endless wealth is found in the life of the heart.
Might we take as an example Abû Hanîfah, who engaged in commerce and who was also a great Muslim scholar?
Yes, certainly. Abû Hanîfah (founder of the Hanafi school of religious jurisprudence, which is followed by the vast majority of Turks) is an exemplary figure in regard to good practice, as well as in regard to scholarship. His morally praiseworthy, indeed ideal, behavior in his commercial transactions displays the noble properties one would look for in a major Muslim personality. We might say that we need a campaign to uphold moral values like those of Abû Hanîfah in today’s society, in which the feeling of solidarity has weakened, social peace and tranquility are lost, and hatred and animosity have become common. Here is one of the many stories about him.
Abû Hanîfah was a wealthy person who earned his livelihood through commercial activities. Since he was occupied with scholarship, studying and teaching, he employed agents to carry out the commercial activities on his behalf. Abû Hanîfah would monitor whether the agents’ activities were compatible with religious rules. He was extremely careful in this regard. Once he sent his business partner Hafs ibn `Abdurrahman to sell cloth. He said to him, “O Hafs! This package of cloth has this and that deficiency. So let the customers know of its defects, and sell the package at such-and-such a discount.”
Hafs sold that package of cloth at the price identified by Abû Hanîfah. However, he forgot to tell the purchaser about the cloth’s defects. When Abû Hanîfah learned of the situation, he asked Hafs ibn `Abdurrahman, “Do you know the customer who bought that cloth?” Hafs said that he did not..
Hearing this, Imam Abû Hanîfah gave everything he had earned on the transaction to charity. He feared that the money received for goods with undisclosed faults would spoil the lawfulness of his earning. This kind of behavior, which resulted from his fear of Allah, brought divine blessing to the material as well as to the spiritual commerce of Abû Hanîfah.
In order to understand whether a person is virtuous, sincere and honest, we must consider not the acts of worship he performs, but the spiritual state in which he performs his actions. That is, we must consider whether his behavior is compatible with Islamic morality and whether his income is acquired in lawful ways. In this regard, when somebody praised a certain person to `Umar , he asked three things: “Have you ever lived in the same neighborhood with that person? Have you ever traveled together with him? Have you ever had commercial dealings with him?” The praiser said “no” to all these things. `Umar said, “Then don’t praise him, because you do not know him properly.”
In the same vein, Sufyân as-Sarwî said, “The degree of one’s spiritual state corresponds to the degree that one’s bread is lawfully earned.” One day, somebody asked him, “O master! Could you please tell us the value of performing the ritual prayer in the first line at the mosque?” Instead, he started talking about the importance of lawful earning. Then he said, “O my brother! First pay attention to how you obtain your food! If your earning is lawful, then go and pray in whichever line you want. You will find no difficulty in this regard.”
My deceased father Musa Efendi used to tell the following story to indicate how very important and blessed it is for people to earn their livelihood in lawful ways, and to avoid contaminating their earnings with unlawful ingredients.
We had a non-Muslim neighbor. Later on he accepted Islam. One day I asked him why he had done so. He told me: “I became Muslim thanks to the noble moral principles Rebî Molla practiced in his business.. He and I had neighboring lands. Rebî Molla used to earn his livelihood by selling milk. One evening he came to our house and said, “Here you are, this bucket of milk is yours!”
I was surprised. I said, “How can this be? I didn’t ask you for milk!”
He was a delicate and sensitive person. He said, “I saw that one of my animals was grazing in your garden. I could not tell when it had entered your garden, or how far it had gone. That is why this bucket of milk is yours. Until the end of its digestive cycle, I will be bringing you its milk.”
I exclaimed, “There’s no problem, neighbor! It’s only grass and plants. I don’t claim any rights over you!”
But Molla Rebî said, “No, no, I cannot accept that. This milk is your right!” And he brought us the milk of that animal until its digestive cycle was over.
The behavior of that virtuous man touched me, and helped remove the veils from my eyes. Thus the sun of divine guidance rose. I said to myself: “The religion of a man with such a noble character must certainly be the best of religions. Who could doubt the truth of a religion when its followers are so refined, so appreciative of the rights of others, so perfect and sincere?” So I said the words of testimony and became a Muslim myself.”
These models seem too lofty to be realized in our money-centered world. But of course there are many good examples! Finally, could you give us some direct advice?
These wise stories show us clearly how much care we should take in the matter of lawful and unlawful earning. Indeed, lawful earning is an essential part of taqwa, mindfulness of Allah.. This is why we read in a saying the Prophet (pbuh), “The honest and reliable laborer shall be found together with the Messengers of Allah, the people of sincerity, and the martyrs.” (Tirmidhî, Buyû’, 4). This is because a working person who has a sensitive heart becomes an agent bringing peace and blessing to all who meet him. He thus earns happiness both in this world and in the Hereafter. However, for those who are defeated by the craving for this world, the situation is different. Although they may seem to have magnificent worldly lives, they are destitute and deprived with regard to the endless life of the Hereafter.
The Prophet (pbuh) did not count as members of his community those who were greedy in commerce and deceived others. He excluded them. We have the following report.
One day the Prophet (pbuh) visited a merchant in the marketplace. He plunged his hand into the man’s pile of wheat, and felt that it was wet. He asked, “What is this?”
The man answered: “Rain made it wet, O Messenger of Allah!”
The Prophet (pbuh) said: “Could not you leave the wet part on the surface, so that your customers would see it? Those who deceive us, do not belong to us.” (Muslim, Imân, 164).
Again the Messenger of Allah said: “Every community has a trial. The trial of my community is wealth.” (Ahmad ibn Hanbal, IV, 160)
And: “There will come a time when people will not care whether they earn their property in lawful ways or unlawful ones.” (Bukhârî, Buyû’, 7, 23).
And: “I fear that after I leave you, you will be presented with the flowers (goods) and ornaments of the world. And you may fall in love with them!” (Bukhârî, Jihâd, 37; Muslim Zakâh, 121-123).
And once, addressing his Companions, the Prophet (pbuh) declared, “I do not fear poverty for you. But I fear that the world will be spread before you, as it was spread before earlier generations. And I fear that just as earlier generations did, you will compete for it. And I fear that just as the world destroyed earlier generations, so it will destroy you.” (Bukhârî, Riqâq 7, Jizya 1; Muslim, Zuhd, 6).
This saying seems to summarize contemporary conditions. People who manifest the negligence indicated in the sayings of the Prophet (pbuh) may find it very difficult to leave unlawful acts. And if their hearts cannot leave the unlawful, it will be a great challenge, and constitute an act of worship, if they attempt to hold on to the lawful.
Today, Muslims must try hard to protect ourselves from the evils of capitalism. Beware of making money an object of anxiety and desire! Instead, let us assume the characteristics suitable to virtuous believers. Under all conditions, let us be mindful of Allah, seek the divine acceptance, act compassionately in society, absorb the principles of Islamic ethics, respect the rights of others, and observe the limits of lawful and unlawful things.
Remember that, given contemporary conditions, every just and merciful heart must feel the pain of the poor, the weak, and the grieving. But those who truly deserve to be pitied are conscienceless oppressors, even more than the helpless they oppress; slaves to their egos, despite their luxurious lives; greedy-hearted exploiters, even more than the needy they exploit.
These truly miserable people require more mercy than others. Our sense of pity and mercy is a way to save them from the terrible situations into which they have fallen, and may help them to find guidance toward the path of truth.
Our Prophet (pbuh) said: “O my Allah! I take refuge in you from useless knowledge, from the insensitive heart, from the unsatisfied stomach, and from the unacceptable prayer.” (Muslim, Dhikr, 73).
And: “Hurry up, before you fall either into the poverty that makes people forget, or into the wealth that leads people astray!” (See, Tirmidhî, Zuhd, 3/2306)
So let us always remember what the Prophet (pbuh) stated here: that the poverty that makes people forget Allah, and the wealth that leads them astray from Him, may be considered equal.
May Allah the Almighty cause all of us to live surrounded by divine beauties! May He keep us away from all unlawful or suspect things!.