The Potential Opportunities with Fintech for Islamic Banking

Salman Ahmed Shaikh

Islamic finance can help in enabling access to financial services for people who want Islamic financial services. The key question is that can Islamic finance also provide access to financial services to the bottom of the pyramid population. Financial inclusion of the poor requires a different approach in product design, pricing and delivery. This requires innovation, flexibility, efficiency and committed leadership.

Islamic microfinance is yet to take big strides even though Islamic finance gives due emphasis to egalitarian financial structures and products in the Islamic economics and finance literature. Fintech offers an opportunity for Islamic financial institutions to efficiently reach the potential clients. Fintech can help in increasing Islamic finance outreach in regions where brick-and-mortar model of delivery will not be financially sustainable.

In the product structures, Fintech can assist in organizing completion of different steps involved in a typical Islamic finance transaction. A key issue is that whether Fintech would be welcome in Islamic banking institutions where the Shari’ah Compliance Auditors prefer more control and personal oversight in order to reduce the Shari’ah non-compliance risk. It remains to be seen whether Fintech increases or decreases Shari’ah non-compliance risk. To materialize the benefits of Fintech, it is important that there should be standardization in Shari’ah rules so that the scope of automation increases for integrating Fintech in product design and delivery.

If Shari’ah compliance can be done more efficiently with Fintech without requiring the day-to-day approval of the Shari’ah advisors, then it will be a welcome development and it will bring cost-efficiencies in Islamic banking. Furthermore, Fintech can help in cross-selling of financial products in Islamic banking and which can lead to economies of scope through integrated service delivery assisted by technology.

Fintech offers no choice as it will disrupt the traditional way of doing things by default. The best approach is to embrace it to withstand competition. Islamic banks need to cope up with the competition as Fintech would make the financial markets more competitive by enabling peer comparison and performance analysis at the fingertip of the consumer. Fintech might increase commercial displacement risk for Islamic banks which fall behind in integrating Fintech in their operations due to high cost or small scale of operations.

Islamic banking has made biggest penetration in Muslim majority regions which are not all well developed and which lack access to both financial services as well as telecommunication services. The key concern is that whether the increased use of Fintech would follow the advances in telecommunication services or could Islamic banks steer the growth by taking the first steps.

Around more than 400 million people in Africa are not banking clients. Fintech provides an opportunity to reach them cost-effectively. Same is the case in many Muslim majority countries where financial exclusion is significant. In Pakistan, less than 20% population has bank accounts. Thus, a great potential of the untapped market can be served with Islamic banking first and foremost by Islamic banks. Hence, Fintech can be a key catalyst in increasing the penetration and outreach of Islamic banking in Muslim majority countries.

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Science and Meaning of Life

Salman Ahmed Shaikh

Stephen Hawking has recently died after living a difficult life physically, but one which was highly productive in terms of intellectual journey and contributions. While acknowledging the tremendous value of the contribution of Stephen Hawking in Cosmological Physics, an attempt is made to clarify the limitations of science in exploring the meaning of life.

Stephen Hawking explains:

“Any physical theory is always provisional, in the sense that it is only a hypothesis: you can never prove it. No matter how many times the results of experiments agree with some theory, you can never be sure that the next time the result will not contradict the theory.”

Nonetheless, Stephen Hawking did not believe in God the way religious people do and he had also raised some critical questions and passed some remarks which are respectfully answered below.

Stephen Hawking once said: “I believe the universe is governed by the laws of science. The laws may have been decreed by God, but God does not intervene to break the laws.” What we do not often do is to think over the meaning of our own lives. We would do research in distant galaxies, distant past of the universe and in the smallest particles of matter, but are ignorant about meaning and purpose of existence. One Scientist aptly summed up “Natures does not explain, it is in need of an explanation”.

Stephen Hawking once said: “God may exist, but science can explain the universe without the need for a creator.” He also said: “Science is increasingly answering questions that used to be the province of religion.” It must be understood that rediscovering regularity in physical realities is not the end-objective of existence. How we develop as adults from birth as an individual or how and when humans as a whole came to exist in this form physically is all beside the point from the basic premise of religion. As per religious worldview, humans are created for a test. Their success in this test depends on moral excellence in matters involving free will. Science can never be an arbiter in moral matters.

Stephen Hawking once said: “We are the product of quantum fluctuations in the very early universe.” The physical appearance of life can be studied as biological and chemical processes, but is life just all that? Why should good and evil matter? Warlords died as outlaws. So how our aspiration to see the establishment of justice actualize if it ever can be? Belief in afterlife accountability actualizes the cause and effect in moral matters.

Stephen Hawking once said: “Before we understand science, it is natural to believe that God created the universe.” As a matter of fact, the faithful people have lived in the most primitive civilizations as well as in the most recent times. Despite racism, bias, discrimination, genocide and decimation of their native lands, the faithful population would almost reach 86.2% of the global population by 2050 as per Pew Research Center.

Stephen Hawking once said: “I have noticed even people who claim everything is predestined, and that we can do nothing to change it, look before they cross the road.” In answering this comment, it is important to understand that religious faith does not mean that after accepting faith, one can walk on water, fly in the air or defy physical limits in any other sense. Religion concerns moral content in choices made with free will. Repeatedly, Quran asks for people to strive for knowledge, discovery and virtuous livelihood.

Stephen Hawking once said: “Time didn’t exist before the Big Bang, so there is no time for God to make the universe in.” The universe exists as an act of Creation in which there exist living and non-living creatures. The Ultimate Creator has to be independent of the universe, physical laws and time and space. Even when the humans had not explored the World at large and crossed continents, the Quranic description of God is beyond human imagination and is what it should be of an Ultimate Creator. In Ayat-ul-Kursi, Allah introduces Himself “…the Ever Living, the One Who sustains and protects all that exists. Neither slumber, nor sleep overtakes Him. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on earth …” (2: 255).

However, Science is useful to understand physical phenomena, physical processes, behaviour of matters and to make use of matter and natural processes for developing creative and comfortable ways of living, transportation, obtaining food, communication, cures to diseases and performing tasks efficiently with programmed hardware and software. Nonetheless, values, morality and meaningfulness in life matter in all ages and require a worldview which can explain the deeper questions. It is pertinent to ask what Stephen Hawking also finds perplexing:

“We find ourselves in a bewildering world. We want to make sense of what we see around us and to ask: What is the nature of the universe? What is our place in it and where did it and we come from? Why is it the way it is?”

Even Stephen Hawking admits:

“Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe? The usual approach of science of constructing a mathematical model cannot answer the questions of why there should be a universe for the model to describe.”

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Future Sukuk Growth Depends on Overcoming Challenges

Salman Ahmed Shaikh

In the last few years, the growth in Sukuk market has been subdued. Sukuk market is mainly led by Malaysia now. It is important to have stable growth in the Middle East for the global Sukuk issuance to grow. In recent years, the governments in non-Muslim majority countries have also ventured in issuing Sukuk. It is important to have this trend continuing for the globalization of Sukuk market.

Sukuk issuance needs to be used in providing finance for diverse needs. Corporate issuances follow the trends in business cycles. Sovereign Sukuk for development finance can provide impetus to the Sukuk issuance in cyclical downturns. In addition to that, it can also provide long-term macroeconomic support to the governments and enterprises by building the infrastructure for tomorrow.

The development infrastructure related to meeting sustainable development goals needs to be prioritized. By default, the developing countries have to push towards achieving the sustainable development goals. Sukuk can be used to provide necessary funding which is required to purchase tangible fixed assets, technological infrastructure and real estate.

The recent default on Sukuk has fueled concerns in the market. Standardization and sound corporate governance are vital in building and retaining investors’ confidence. Lack of standardization across various global jurisdictions can act as an impediment for the Sukuk market to grow as impressively in other parts of the world as it has in Malaysia. Going forward, tax neutrality is vital for the increased penetration in the global Sukuk issuance.

Sukuk has the potential to be used in conducting monetary policy operations by replacing the T-bills. However, the Sovereign Sukuk market is still insignificant to realize that vision. Liquidity is immensely important for Sukuk to replace or be a viable substitute for T-bills. There is significant demand for more liquid Shari’ah compliant investment structures like Sukuk among banks and asset management companies for their treasury and portfolio management operations.

Innovation is also important to tap diverse markets and industries. In recent years, companies in the services sector including telecommunication, power and airline have also issued Sukuk where the underlying subject matter is a service which is made non-rival through coding and numbers, such as mobile cards and airline tickets, for instance. It is important to have such innovations in structures so that Sukuk market targets other sectors beyond just the manufacturing sector.

Sukuk can also help in developing infrastructure in Africa to meet the existing infrastructure deficit. Africa has abundant land and natural resources. This makes Africa and such developing regions a lucrative market for Sukuk issuance which can be backed up by real estate. Agriculture remains the mainstay in economic structures of many African economies. Thus, Sukuk can be used in financing new technologies and modernizing agriculture.

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Economics and Pro-Social Behaviour

Salman Ahmed Shaikh

A great number of empirical studies now challenge the position of conceptualising human behaviour only in the framework of a rational, utility-maximizing homo-economicus. Yet, this framework is used for the purpose of simplicity and tractability in situations where abstraction does not result in major loss of focus and information at hand. Nonetheless, it is appropriate to acknowledge selflessness resulting in sacrifices, pro-social behaviour and pure altruism. Excluding China, the Asian economies with rich cultural and religious values feature prominently in the World Giving Index 2016 despite having low per capita incomes. As per World Giving Index 2016, Iraq leads with the highest percentage of people helping strangers, and Turkmenistan, the highest percentage of people volunteering time.

Indeed, if preferences are amenable and social behaviour is learned like other behaviours, then we ought to acknowledge this. This could help in cooperative pro-social campaigns; lasting and fruitful social partnerships; and strengthening of social capital that could potentially relax pressure from the public sector. In weakly governed countries, social networks assume roles typically provided by market-based financial intermediaries or the public sector. In economics education, acknowledging these differences, experiences, success stories and alternate visions of policy, broadens the perspective and enriches the solutions toolbox to meet sustainable development challenges which require strong mutual understanding and efforts of diverse cultures towards a common vision of future.

The causal mechanisms through which culture and institutions mould and constrain human agents remain unexplored in neoclassical economics.  It is worthwhile to be cognizant of the role of cultural factors, social norms and spiritual stimuli in analysing and theorizing economic behaviour. For instance, Confucian beliefs affect one’s outlook about work and consumption habits in East Asia, where individuals tend to work harder and longer, with greater labor force participation rates. As per the Lifecycle Consumption Hypothesis, higher propensity to save depends on the proportion of working age people in a society. From growth theory, we know that savings is the most crucial variable affecting growth, along with other macro and institutional variables. Thus, remaining cognizant of the effects of values, cultures and norms will help avoid missing positive phenomenon.

Values and norms can be positively utilized in achieving development goals where commercial interests are not good stimulators. According to The Hunger Project, 2.4 billion people do not have adequate sanitation, and every day, nearly 1,000 children die due to preventable water and sanitation-related diarrheal diseases. This is partly because sanitation is not good business as compared to cellular services and life’s other comforts and luxuries. Interestingly, according to the 2015 report of Food and Agriculture Organization, globally, per capita food supply increased from about 2,200 kcal per day in the early 1960s to more than 2,903 kcal per day by 2014. Thus, redistribution of resources is vital to enhance income as well as the capacity to earn sustainable incomes. This requires income support programs, basic health and education as well as microfinance to build small enterprises.

Overreliance on Pareto efficiency paralyses equity and ethical concerns of development policy change. According to Pareto efficiency, it is inefficient to help make millions of poor better off, if a single rich person becomes worse off. Sustainable development goals have assumed poverty, hunger and inequality as important goals. However, economics education by and large outsources the realization of these goals to development agencies and governments. If aid is inefficient as argued by Nobel Laureate Angus Deaton, then the neoclassical toolbox is virtually empty. In a society where people regard ending hunger as the ultimate value to prioritize, then we can end hunger when the aggregate sum of endowments equals what is needed to feed everyone. Else, if we regard consumer sovereignty as the ultimate value to prioritize, like we do today, then no wonder we are setting goals for ending hunger by 2030 despite a global food surplus.

In economics education and discourse, our results suggest that expenditure can be on self-consumption as well as on consumption of others including dependents, family, neighbours, social circle and society in general. If an individual prioritizes certain ethical goals, e.g., contributing money and time in social causes over self-aggrandizement, then theorizing should not assume it away. Furthermore, leisure should not necessarily imply ‘non-work’. People can choose to donate more time in response to increase in wages since they may have a desire and inclination to help others. Situations often enable people to transform these traits into pro-social actions. Thus, leisure is better understood as non-market saving of labor hours which can be spent on self-entertainment as well as on volunteering.

Likewise, philanthropy should not be envisioned in the framework of reciprocity alone. It is not necessary that people dis-save lifetime endowments on self-consumption; they can leave philanthropic bequests and endowments, and are not necessarily following reciprocity in such actions. Rather, they may have a strong desire and willingness to help others even when not reciprocated. There are countless examples of people like Mother Teresa and Abdul Sattar Edhi who lived their whole lives serving humanity. Externalities between utility functions can create envy as well as compassion. Humans have the potential to be envious as well as compassionate. Even as neutral observers of the positive phenomenon, we should acknowledge supporting evidence that people help strangers, pay anonymously in charities, and sacrifice their wealth and even their lives in the pursuit of being a good person.

Published in Journal of Philantrhopy, Vol 1, Issue 1 – July December 2017

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Towards an Integrative Framework for Understanding Muslim Consumption Behaviour

In a new paper recently published in Humanomics (Vol 33, Issue 2), an attempt is made to integrate Islamic and mainstream economics framework towards a more realistic understanding of Muslim consumption behaviour. First, the paper gives an account of the descriptive postulates about human nature in Islamic texts. Then, it gives an account of moral principles in Islamic texts regarding overall consumer behaviour encompassing the pursuit of earning incomes to spending these incomes.

Based on this discussion, the paper highlights the points of distinction and compatibility between the Islamic and mainstream economics framework. The distinction comes in the decision horizon and additional moral filters on choice set. The distinction is even deeper in values whereby the Islamic framework encourages contentment, pure altruism and self-less behaviour while, the mainstream economics framework is at best neutral between moral content of economic choices.

Nevertheless, the paper shows how some of the Islamic principles and institutions can be integrated in the mainstream economics framework, especially in research studies where the objective is to understand and describe reality rather than persuasion and idealization.

The paper attempts to use Zakat Augmented Overlapping Generations Model (ZA-OLG) to present an example of integrative theoretical framework for understanding Muslim consumption behaviour. The model incorporates some of the Islamic institutions like period-wise deduction of Zakat from endowments. It also includes bequests which could be significant given the Islamic injunctions on inheritance distribution and the significance placed on the institution of family.

In ZA-OLG model, the institution of Zakat ensures contemporaneous redistribution from endowment surplus households (those having Zakatable endowments above Nisab) to endowment deficient households (those having Zakatable endowments below Nisab). On the other hand, bequests affect inter-temporal redistribution.

Even after incorporating some of these Islamic institutions, we arrived at a comparable Euler equation as in the original OLG model. But, the difference is that the levels of choice variables would be different, i.e. the actual quantity of consumption today and tomorrow. The lifetime resources are scaled down for endowment surplus households due to the payment of Zakat in both periods and leaving bequests in old-age period, while the lifetime resources are scaled up for endowment deficient households due to the receipt of Zakat in both periods and receiving the bequests in youth.

So, a Muslim consumer who pays Zakat, who wants to leave family in a non-poor position after the end of his/her life and who wants to contribute in charity even during his/her lifetime in general would still use the (scaled down) lifetime income acquired from Halal sources whereby among the two substitute Halal consumption goods, he will buy the cheaper (all else equal) and among the two Shari’ah compliant investment options, he will prefer the one with highest return over risk (all else equal). The difference will be in the levels of consumption (contemporaneous and inter-temporal), but the analysis will be at the margin given the Islamic injunctions are satisfied and in the presence of Islamic institutions.

Full paper can be downloaded at: Towards an Integrative Framework for Understanding Muslim Consumption Behaviour

Interested readers without access to Emerald publications can also contact for the full paper at:

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Exploring Meaning of Life

This book aims to understand the position of science and faith on questions of meaning in existence. Mutual understanding of original views of both camps is necessary for the mutual progress and co-existence of both reason and values in a healthy, progressive and spiritual society.

Science should not be at the service of faith, but dedicated to identifying natural cause and effect relationships. Nevertheless, we hope to show that faith does not frustrate that purpose. Science should be universal and its established knowledge through evidence should benefit all mankind and should be developed and contributed in by people from diverse backgrounds.

No religious text is a pure science book nor any religion claims as such. On the other hand, understanding and explaining the deeper meaning of life is beyond the domain of science. Science cannot be an arbiter in philosophical, moral, social and political matters.

It is hoped that this essay will clarify the epistemological boundaries. It supports non-overlapping Magesteria and makes a case for mutual co-existence of both reason and values in the future of society.

Salman Ahmed Shaikh

Download Link: Exploring Meaning of Life

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Need for a Well-Directed Muslim Response

Salman Ahmed Shaikh

Some of the non-Muslim contemporaries of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) used to tease Him (PBUH) during His life. Qur’an mentions that people who did not believe in Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) called upon Prophet (PBUH) in words which had dual meanings and their hearts implied the meanings which tease (2:104). God forbid, they used to call Prophet (PBUH) a poet, fore-teller and magician (69:41-42). God forbid, they even called Him (PBUH) as mad (15:6) and Muftari, i.e. forger or liar (16:101).

Qur’an denies these claims and mentions that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was on a exalted standard of character (68:4) and sent as blessing for all worlds (21: 107). Qur’an also guides towards the right response. “God knows all that is in their hearts; so ignore what they say, admonish them and speak to them in such terms as will address their minds.”(4:63). Quran says: “Invite to the Way of your Lord with wisdom and fair preaching.” (16:125). Qur’an says: “So remind them, you are only a one who reminds. You are not a warden over them.” (88:21-22). Qur’an also says: “Don’t insult those whom they worship besides Allah… (6:108).”

Few years back, Muslims shared some information on Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) using #WhoIsMuhammad hash tag. Many hundreds of non-Muslims also shared the messages on social media platforms and they were amazed to know such information. We must recognize that their most often instance of engagement with Islam is not through Qur’an, but through meeting Muslims. We need to educate ourselves on the right mindset required from us. Qur’an says that there is no compulsion in religion (2:256), preach with wisdom (16:125), be just even with enemies (5:8) and know that killing a human is like killing humanity (5:32). Tolerance will come in our society if right education is received.

Qur’an mentions that capital punishment can be given in the case of murder or in the case of Fasad-e-fil-Ard (5:54). Fasad-e-Fil-Ard refers to mischievous activities which harm people’s lives, wealth, honour and rule of law in society. The punishments pronounced by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as head of state to some individuals belonged to one of these categories. Kab ibn Ashraf was punished not instantly when he started blasphemy, but when he indulged in high treason against the state. Likewise, Abdullah ibn Khatal killed his sub-ordinate. Islamic laws prescribe capital punishment for murder of a human being. Abdullah Bin Ubai, who was a hypocrite, but who did not indulge in murder or Fasad-e-Fil-Ard, was never prosecuted and punished and he died and buried as a Muslim in this world.

Maulana Zahid Ur Rashidi in Al-Shariah journal (Oct, 2011) explains how Abdullah Ibn-e-Abbas (rta) and Hanafi jurists like Imam Abu Yousuf, Imam Tahawi and Ibn-e-Abidin viewed blasphemy. As per them, capital punishment does not apply to non-Muslims and even when it is applied to Muslims, it is pardonable upon repentance.

Qur’an credits Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as having best morals. His (PBUH) life explains that. He (PBUH) pardoned and forgave those who plotted plans to harm and kill Him [God Forbid], those who tortured Him (PBUH) emotionally, physically and financially, those who banished Him (PBUH) and those who misbehaved and harmed His (PBUH) family members including wife (rta) and daughters (rta).

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “A Muslim should speak the truth when he says anything, and fulfil his trust when he is in position of trust.” He (PBUH) said: “He is not one of us who dies without having shown kindness to our young ones and respect to our older ones.” He (PBUH) defined a Muslim as: “One from whose tongue and hands, others are safe”. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) looked at Ka’aba and said: “You are sacred, but the life of a human being is more sacred than you”.

Silence is also a conscious stance. We will be judged for our actions, intentions, mindset and conscious efforts in understanding the true message. As per Qur’an, on Judgement Day, not even blood relations will share each others’ burden, let alone any thought leaders. The contemporaries who did not believe in Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) practiced political correctness. Their fate and Qur’an’s verdict on them shows us that there is no benefit in political correctness when the need is to be clear and decisive. Spare a thought to understand what it means to be a Muslim in the words of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). He said: “A Muslim is one from whose tongue and hands, others are safe”.

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Who Is Muhammad (Prophet PBUH)

Salman Ahmed Shaikh

In early 2015, Muslims took to twitter to introduce our beloved Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to the world. Below are some of the tweets by the scribe.

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A Dialogue with Atheists

Salman Ahmed Shaikh

A lot of people these days present themselves as ‘Realists’ and ‘Atheists’. Often, they do not understand the basic premise of religion. Religion concerns itself first and foremost with the question of ‘Why’ rather than ‘What is’ and ‘How it is’. In answering the question of ‘Why’, Islam’s basic demand is ‘tazkiyah-e-nafs’ (ethical purification of actions) and ‘ibaadat-e-ilahi’ (submission to Allah and worship only Him) in a person’s life.

Allah asks in Quran, ‘Were they created by nothing, or were they themselves the creators?’ (At-Tur: verse 35). If we have been created, then the intellect with which we discover knowledge about matter in physical sciences to answer the question of ‘What is’ and ‘How it is’ and the conscience with which we differentiate between right and wrong, both are  bestowed by Allah.

Inner conscience, intellect and external guidance through Prophets are all given by Allah. Atheists deny Prophets and commonly shared history of more than three-fourths of human beings belonging to Abrahamic religions, but do not answer where the conscience and intellect come from?

Some Atheists refer to their doctrine as Secular Humanism. The basic source of knowledge and guidance then becomes conscience alone. That still begs the question that who created conscience and why it does not go through a biologically evolving process. Another problem with conscience only approach is that it cannot settle conflicting moral axioms and it also does not answer at all the purpose of existence and why exactly one should follow the righteous path if one can avoid material law, especially if there is no life after death.

Animals wake up, find food, eat, sleep and wake up again. As per Atheism, humans are also supposed to have only that same purpose. If I believe in this life only, then as long as I can avoid conflict with material law, control legislation by funding political cronies and muster military and diplomatic strength, I can commit genocide, kill, steal, rob for 50 years of my life and the victims and society cannot do anything unless they gain same power and make me powerless and define a different standard of justice and ethics.

According to this belief, a murderer who died before punishment or who committed more than single murder cannot be given absolute justice and victims cannot be given life again since this life is the only life. Belief in afterlife accountability promises absolute justice for any tiny act of evil or kindness in this life.

Conscience may not err in helping to differentiate between right and wrong, but the right ethical choice may not be chosen by a person if it conflicts with self interest. If I believe that this life is the only life, then why shall I use my limited time, income, abilities and resources to help others? Altruism and sacrifice shall be nonsense. Belief in Atheism entails evading responsibility and encourages pursuit of absolute freedom.

Atheists sometimes argue that science and its advancements have dispelled the need to use religious explanations to events and how things work. First, it must be understood that religion concerns with the moral conscience and strengthening it to elicit positive actions and behavior. Belief in the Creator without seeing Him personally does not mean that one can believe in all types of magic, superstitions, miracles and dogma.

Science concerns with the question of ‘What is’ and ‘How it is’. Any physical explanation of matter, either correct or incorrect, complete or incomplete, does not answer ‘Why it is’. Religion answers the question about purpose of existence and that can help humans to use matter in ways that can result in societal well-being. Else, the same technology bestowed by scientific advancement can be used to kill millions and millions of people instantly with the latest weaponry. Every civilized society with law accepts freedom with responsibility. When that responsibility is determined and guided by the Creator Himself, belief in Tawheed enables a person to be free from being subservient to anyone else except the Creator. Belief in Tawheed ensures equality since every human being is the creature of Allah like everyone else.

Religion has a distinct worldview. It does not have to borrow it from any other doctrine. Science is not a worldview since science is just a way to simplify the understanding of matter in a way to be able to make use of it. The intellect with which we discover nature’s wonders is created by Allah. If religion is not used to suggest lawmaking, then we will be using collective conscience of human beings which is again created by Allah. The Creator of conscience and the Creator of intellect has also provided a third source of guidance through the pious Prophets. Religion does not argue for ‘Creation’ doctrine alone. It gives a worldview which explains the meaning and purpose of life which is ‘aboodiyat’ (submission to Allah) and ‘tazkiyah-e-nafs’ (ethical purification of actions) and which will bring deterministic rewards with absolute justice in afterlife. The alternate worldview to religion is emptiness and anarchy of mind, soul and action.

It is correct that conscience is a powerful source to guide towards the straight path. Conscience is created by Allah. The important thing is that having knowledge of the right path, what will encourage righteous action. When someone believes that there is no Creator and that there is no afterlife and one musters diplomatic, media and military strength, then even if genocide is committed, how shall absolute justice be ensured in this world? What makes the conscience functioning? Religion is not just a source of information to know right and wrong. Religion gives a worldview that explains the purpose of life. Belief in afterlife accountability promises absolute justice which is not possible in this world for crimes like genocide or crimes for which criminals could not be convicted or punished in proportion to their nature of crime because of informational, legal, time and other natural constraints. The promise that every action and even intention will be given full justice by the Creator makes the ‘static conscience’ created by Allah a ‘self-regulated functioning conscience’.

The objective of religious guidance is submission to Allah alone and ethical purification of one’s actions and it should be reflected in one’s duties to the Creator and the environment (which includes other humans and animals of present and future generations).

Atheists often argue that why would Atheists doing good acts not get anything in afterlife from Allah. If a person does not believe in Allah and afterlife, then, it is important to understand what will have been the motive of that person for good actions. Among other reasons, it may be one of these things: 1) helping others and to see their lives improve IN THIS WORLD, 2) getting a good name and die in good records TILL THIS WORLD ENDS and 3) gain self-satisfaction TILL THE LIFE ENDS. These can be some of the broad objectives for a person who does good act and who knowingly does not believe in Allah and afterlife. As far as this world can provide justice, all of these objectives will be achieved to a certain extent. If not achieved or if a person anticipates that the world will not be just enough to reward good actions and right intentions; then, one has to explore as to how the ‘aspiration of absolute justice’ can be fulfilled. Religion promises absolute justice for every willful action and intention in afterlife for everyone. To expect any gain from Allah in afterlife, one already believes that there is Allah and that there is afterlife.

Human mind wants absolute justice, but it is not possible for natural reasons like an army general cannot be given equivalent punishment for committing genocide and in cases where the oppressed are in weak position legally, diplomatically, politically and militarily. Human conscience wants justice for oppressed and for all events where there is injustice. But, this aspiration is not possible to be realized in totality in this world for natural, informational, political and legal constraints. Belief in afterlife accountability gives meaning to the life and what we and others do in it. Else, in an Atheist paradigm, it is just the game of survival of the fittest. Animals play it as well as humans with no difference between the two.

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Some Misconceptions about Jihad in Islam

Salman Ahmed Shaikh

Jihad is a broad term and besides armed struggle against injustice, it encompasses academic, diplomatic and moral support to the righteous cause. In the specific meaning of armed struggle, Holy Quran says that Jihad in the meaning of armed struggle can only be undertaken for the sake of eliminating injustice [Surah Al Hajj: 39].

It is not a fight against non-Muslims. It is a fight against injustice. It can only be undertaken as a last resort to eliminate injustice. It can only be undertaken by the government and cannot be done privately. Jihad cannot be undertaken for the expansion of the state, against innocents, against non-combatants and against any contract of peace.

According to Islamic worldview, Allah sent His messengers who invited mankind towards Tawheed (belief in no Creator except One), belief in afterlife accountability and to engage in righteous conduct in all spheres of life. Some of these messengers were sent as ‘Rasool’. According to the Sunan-e-Elahi (law of Allah) of divine appraisal of chosen nations, several Rasool came in this world and established this Sunan-e-Elahi based on the will of Allah.

The struggle of any Rasool goes through these steps: 1) Dawat (initial stages of preaching), 2) Dawat-e-Aam (preaching publicly on a large scale) and 3) Itmam-e-Hujjat. Itmam-e-Hujjat refers to the situation where truth is explained in its complete form and where subsequent denial remains only due to prejudice, pride or communal interests.

After Itmam-e-Hujjat, the direct recipients had to accept the message received or if they refused the truth, then they had to face punishment in this world. According to the Islamic worldview, this world is a place for test where the objective of creation of man is obedience to Allah. Those direct recipients of the Rasool who disbelieved without any reason and remained disobedient and thankless to their Creator were punished by their Creator. Those who were obedient, steadfast and morally upright were rewarded by their Creator. This divine appraisal concerns all human beings. But, the direct recipients of Rasool who denied the message of Rasool without any reason were punished in this very world as well.

Since the direct recipients got the message of truth firsthand, so if they denied the truth after Itmam-e-Hujjat, they were punished in this world. Establishment of this Sunan-e-Elahi becomes a way of remembering divine appraisal in Qiyamat (judgement day) for all human beings to come. This is Sunan-e-Ilahi and this was commonly and consistently applied to Qaum-e-Noah, Qaum-e-Aad, Qaum-e-Samoud, Qaum-e-Lot, Qaum-e-Shuaib, Qaum-e-Younus, Qaum-e Musa and Qaum-e-Isa before Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

Non-believers of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), a Rasool, were also dealt in the same way by Allah. The only difference is that in the case of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), this divine punishment to the non-believers who fought against Muslims came in the form of defeat of non-believers in the armed struggles with believers. It is because in the case of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), there were enough followers and these armed battles also became a way to distinguish between true believers and munafiqeen (hypocrites).

In verse 17 of Al-Anfal, Allah says:

“You killed them not, but Allah killed them. And you [Muhammad (pbuh)] threw not when you did throw but Allah threw, so that He might test the believers by a fair trial from Him. Verily, Allah is All-Hearer, All-Knower.”

In various time periods, Rasool of Allah came with undeniable signs to their nations and when their nation decided to not accept the message received directly and clearly with undeniable signs, then the non-believers were punished by Allah in the form of natural calamities if the believers were fewer in number or through the triumph of believers over non-believers who fought against them as in the case of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). The specific verses in Holy Quran describing jihad in the meaning of armed struggle against non-believers of those times are clear from the context that they refer to this Sunan-e-Elahi we explained above. When Rasool come with clear signs, they establish this Sunan-e-Elahi which is a divine appraisal of their nation the way it will happen for all people on the Judgement day.

This history is common heritage of all Abrahamic religions which represents almost three-fourths of all human population. Quranic verses about Jihad specifically with non-believers are often misunderstood by West and also misunderstood by some minority Muslims as well when they generalize these verses out of context.

From a community of 1.5 billion people spreading in 7 continents of the world, individual instances from a small minority of deviants are picked in an effort to embarrass and tease peaceful mainstream Muslims. Close to 100 million Muslims live in developed regions alone. There has to be acknowledgement and understanding of this fact that Islam and Muslims are two different things.

There can be difference of opinion, but selectively picking particular types of arguments, peoples and actions and generalizing them over 1.5 billion people is unjustified. The objective of religion of Islam is not its political enforcement. The basic thesis of religion is to inform people about their role and relation with Creator and what attitudes, behavior and actions can lead them to success in life hereafter.

A faith must never be studied from the followers’ actions. Christianity is not to be studied in the light of holocaust, colonization, slavery in Africa and crusades. In the light of teachings of Jesus (pbuh), these events were wrong as per the true teachings of Christianity.

Likewise, we shall not judge liberal democracy or secular humanism based on two World Wars, invasions, transnational wars, undue sanctions, embargoes, political interference to topple democratic governments, advancement in race to produce ever more destructive weapons of mass destruction, and paying lip service to thousands and thousands of people suffering genocide in Bosnia, Kosovo, Burma, Gaza, Kashmir and at other places. Indeed, these actions by the authorities do not represent the aspirations, values and views of common man in west.

Quran says in verse 256 of Al-Baqara ‘There is no compulsion in religion”. Indeed, as per Islamic worldview, people are created and for the specific purpose of testing their thankfulness to their Creator and would be judged on merit by their Creator when they return towards Him after death in this world. However, this test period has granted freedom to people in this world and hence Islam does not direct Muslims to make everyone else Muslim in this world by force. Allah says to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in verse 21-22 of Chapter Ghasiya “So remind them, you are only a one who reminds. You are not a dictator over them.” In verse 125 of Chapter Nahl, Allah says “Invite (mankind, O Muhammad ) to the Way of your Lord (i.e. Islam) with wisdom and fair preaching, and argue with them in a way that is better.”

Islam does not teach hate and violence. It is a source of spiritual contentment and fulfillment for a quarter of world’s population. It teaches a believer in Islam to never tease, hurt or inflict any harm with hands or tongue to humans, animals and environment and no matter whether there is any law about it and whether it is being enforced because all people for all their intentions and willful actions shall be accountable on the Day of Judgment.

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