Articles on Islamic Economics

Material Progress and Islam

Salman Ahmed Shaikh

Scope and objective of ‘Deen-e-Islam’ is to purify our souls and character in all walks of life and in our different roles in this world.  Islamic teachings enable us to shine in life hereafter where every soul is promised just and equal rewards for their actions and conduct.

The eternal and lasting success in life hereafter can happen with success in this life too. But, the ‘collective’ success of the society in this life depends on certain natural parameters, such as excellence in ilm-o-ikhlaq (knowledge and general level of higher social morality). Material success at ‘individual’ level depends on certain natural parameters too, but it is also subject to individual randomness. As per Islamic worldview, this worldly life is a trial for every human in his/her individual capacity and this trial fundamentally concerns the moral aspect of life.

In this world, the deprived and the privileged are both tested for patience and thankfulness to Allah and how they take care of society and its needs in their sphere of choice and authority in life. Quran says:

“Is it they who would portion out the Mercy of your Lord? It is We Who portion out between them their livelihood in this world, and We raised some of them above others in ranks, so that some may employ others in their work. But the Mercy (Paradise) of your Lord (O Muhammad – PBUH) is better than the (wealth of this world) which they amass.” (Al Zukhruf: 32)

So, neither the scope of Islam is to teach and guide towards material progress as an end nor does it promise it in this world in the deterministic sense for every individual. Randomness in material success at individual level is sometimes essential for the trial setting nature of this worldly life. However, by all means, people can plan and make efforts to achieve success in this world in material sense too. Islamic guidance steps in where there is question of ethics in our choices.

Allah asks people to use their intellect and exploit the nature’s blessings. Islamic principles neither stop one’s use of intellect in seeking material progress, nor the pursuit of success in life hereafter conflict in any way with success in this world provided that the ethical filters and Islamic injunctions are observed where they have been explicitly given.

It is very important to appreciate that we must not build our faith on wrong expectations. Even Prophets (pbut) had faced troubles in their lives in material sense of the term. But, their upright character has ensured their success in life hereafter and which can ensure our success in life hereafter too. Determinism which we want in this life for actions comes about holistically only in life hereafter in complete sense.

Another important question is that why certain non-Muslim or even non-religious nations had been and are successful in material sense of the word? Have they been following Islam or any other religion as a code? The answer is that they are successful in this worldly life following what is required for material progress, i.e. superior excellence in knowledge and general level of higher social morality.

This is not to say that Islamic economic principles cannot bring betterment in this world. They can, but with regards to general level of equity and efficiency in the economy and not necessarily with regards to successful material progress for particular business ventures at micro level at all the times and for all the people. Thus, it is quite possible that even Islamic investments may not do well in economic terms. But, these investments chosen by faith-compliant investors would ensure that the returns are Halal and it will help them avoid displeasure of Allah and loss in afterlife.

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