The Psychological Role of Islam in Economic Development (Part-1)

My faith and conviction have grown that the Ummah has actively begun to open up to its true mission represented in Islam, and to realize, despite the various types of colonialist delusion, that Islam is the way of salvation and that the Islamic system is the natural framework within which it must achieve its life and release its potential. It is on the foundation of Islam that the Ummah must create its existence.

The Ummah is living out a holy war (Jihad) against backwardness and collapse, attempting politically and socially to move towards a better existence in a more firmly rooted entity with a richer and more prosperous economy. After all the attempts made – some wide of the mark, others less so – it is clear that the Ummah will never find the way except in following the Islamic line. It will never find the framework within which to work out the solution to problems of economic backwardness except in the economic framework of Islam.

Mankind, beset by tormenting anxiety as it oscillates between the two world currents which are mining its path with bombs and rockets and [other] means of destruction, will never find salvation except at the one door to heaven which remains open – Islam.

When the Islamic world opened itself up to the life of European [culture] and conceded the precedence of the latter and its leadership in [the making of] civilization, it turned from its authentic mission of conducting [the Islamic message in] the life of mankind. The Islamic world accepted the European classification of the world according to economic criteria of rich and poor and found itself in the category of the poor countries which, in the logic of the Europeans, have no choice but to admit the leadership of the developed countries and allow them to breathe in their spirit and plan the way for the poor countries to rise up.

The Islamic world’s subordination to the pioneering experience of European man in modern civilization found expression in three contemporaneous forms – forms which are still found in various parts of the Islamic world:

1. Political subordination in the direct rule of economically advanced European peoples over backward peoples;

2. Economic subordination which accompanied the setting up of politically independent entities for government in various countries. This found expression in giving room for European economy to perform its role on the stage of that country in various forms – exploiting raw materials, filling the void with foreign capital, monopoly of several economic services on the pretext of preparing the people of backward countries to bear the burden of the economic development of their country;

3. Subordination in the program followed in many an attempt within the Islamic world to get free of the dominant European economy and to begin to think of relying on one’s own power to develop the economy and overcome backwardness. It was impossible to conceive one’s own understanding of the nature of the problem embodied in one’s economic backwardness outside the framework of the European understanding of it. One found one’s self called to choose the same program which European man followed in building his towering modern economy.

The modern experiments at economic building in the Islamic world ordinarily faced two forms of experience in economic building in modern Western civilization, namely, free-economy based on capitalism and planned economy based on socialism. Both of these form a sizeable experience in constructing the modern European economy. For application in the Islamic world, there was study to see which of the two forms merited to be followed as more capable of assuring success in the struggle of the Ummah against economic backwardness and in building an economy. The Islamic world leaned towards capitalism because the capitalist axis of European influence was quicker to make inroads.

Then during the Ummah‘s political struggle with colonialism and its attempt to liberate itself from the capitalist axis, some of the experimental governments found that the European opposition to the capitalist axis was the socialist. Thus, there developed another tendency leaning towards the choice of the second form for development (i.e., planning on a socialist base). It was a way of combining faith in European man as the pioneer for backward countries with the actual struggle against the politics of capitalism. The economic subordination of backward countries to the developed posed faith in the European experience as pioneer, but the emotions provoked by the battle against the lived reality of colonialism clashed with the capitalist wing of this experience; so socialist planning was chosen as another form of the pioneer experience.

Each of the two tendencies has proofs to justify its point of view. The first usually argues that the great progress which the European capitalist countries have made, [with regard to] their levels of production and industry, is because of their free economies. They add that it is possible for backward countries if they follow the same style and live the same experience, to shorten the road and make the leap to the desired level of economic development in a shorter time because they will profit from the expertise of the capitalist experiment of European man and use all the scientific capacities which it took him hundreds of years to gain.

The second tendency explains its choice for planned economy on a socialist base rather than a free economy because, although free economy was able to realize great gains and continued progress in technology and production and growth of domestic resources for pioneering European countries, it is not possible that it play the same role in backward countries today. Backward countries today face a formidable challenge in the great progress made by the Western states and at the same time are confronted with unlimited competition.

Both tendencies, to explain their failure in the area of application, point to the artificial conditions created by the colonialists in the region in order to hinder the operation of development. Though they sense failure, they do not allow themselves to think of any program which might offer an alternative to the two traditional forms which modern European experience took in the east and in the west. And yet there is an alternative, [which is] ready-made, and alive in the theory and belief of the Ummah, even though it has been segregated from practical application – the Islamic program (Manhaj) and the economic system (Nizam) of Islam.

Here, I merely wish to compare the two wings of European economy, capitalism and socialism, with Islamic economy from the point of view of their capacity to share in the battle of the Islamic world against backwardness and to offer a framework for its economic development. To judge this, it is not sufficient to focus on the theoretical data of each of the two, but it is even more necessary to note, in detail, the objective conditions of the Islamic Ummah, and its psychological and historical composition.

Need for a Program which Forms Part of an Integrated Whole

Since the Ummah is the field in which the economic program is applied, it is necessary to study the specificities and conditions of this field to see how effective the application of one or other of the systems may be.

The effectiveness of the free capitalist system or that of socialist planning in the European experience does not necessarily mean that the program in itself is effective and that wherever it is followed it will be equally effective. Rather, the effectiveness of the program may come from the fact that, in Europe, it formed part of an integrated whole and was a link in the chat of Europe’s history. It is possible that if the program is isolated from its general frame and history, it will not be effective.

A comparative study of numerous economic schools and the possibility of their succeeding practically in the Islamic world bring to the fore a basic truth which must be the ground of any judgment. It is this: the need of an economic program for economic development is not merely the need for a framework for social organization which the state adopts and adheres to. No, economic development and the battle against backwardness require a framework which is capable of incorporating the Ummah and which stands on a base with which the Ummah can interact. The movement of the whole Ummah is a basic condition for the success of any development and of any comprehensive battle against backwardness. The movement of the Ummah expresses its growth, the growth of its will and the release of its inner talents. If the Ummah does not grow, there can be no process of development. The development of external resources and internal growth must go hand in hand.

The experience of European man is a clear historic expression of this truth. There was success on the material level because European peoples interacted with these programs in all aspects of life. The tendency of these programs was in accord with their aspirations and their psychology, formed during long years of assimilation and interaction.

When we want to choose a program or a general framework for economic development in the Islamic world, we must take this truth as a basic [condition] in choosing the ship capable of moving the Ummah and mobilizing all its potential for the battle against backwardness. We must take account of the feelings of the Ummah, its psychology, its history and its various intricacies.

The Psychological Element and the Resort to Nationalism

There are, for example, particular psychological feelings concerning colonialism which the Ummah in the Islamic world experiences. There is doubt, suspicion and fear resulting from a long, bitter history of exploitation and of struggle. These feelings cause the Ummah to recoil from the organization of European man.

It was the clarity of this truth that made many of the political blocs in the Islamic world think of taking nationalism as a philosophy and foundation for civilization and as a basis for social organization. They were [eager] to bring forward slogans which were completely separated from the ideological entity of colonialism. Nationalism, however, is nothing but a historical and linguistic tie; it is not a philosophy with principles, nor a creed with foundations. By its very nature, it is neutral concerning the various philosophies and social, ideological and religious schools. For this reason, it has to adopt a specific point of view concerning the universe and life, and a particular philosophy on the basis of which it can formulate the main lines of its social organization, its renaissance and its civilization.

Apparently many of the nationalist movements felt this and realized that nationalism as raw material had need of adopting a certain social philosophy and system. They tried to reconcile nationalism with authenticity through the slogans they raised and, thus, cut it off from European man; so they called for Arab socialism. They called for socialism because they realized that nationalism alone was not sufficient; it needed a system. And they called for socialism in an Arab framework because they discerned the sensitivity of the Ummah to any slogan or philosophy tied to the world of colonialists. By describing socialism as Arab they tried to cover the foreign reality it represented from the historical and ideological point of view. But it was an unsuccessful cover; it did not fool the sensitivity of the Ummah because this uneasy framework was nothing but a purely external and formalistic framing of the foreign content represented in socialism… The propagandists of Arab socialism were not able to distinguish between Arab socialism and Persian or Turkish socialism, nor could they explain how socialism differed merely by giving it this or that nationalist framework because the fact is that the content and substance were no different. This framework only expresses exceptions which differ from one people to another according to the type of traditions reigning among the people.

Despite the fact that the propagandists of Arab socialism failed to present a truly new content for this socialism by placing it in an Arab frame, still this action of theirs confirms what we stated earlier, namely that the Ummah, because of the sensitivity resulting from the era of colonialism, cannot construct a new renaissance save on an authentic base which is not connected in the mind of the Ummah with the colonialist countries themselves.

The Ummah Feels that Islam is its Proper Expression

It is here that the great difference emerges between the programs of European economy and the Islamic program. The European programs, in the mind of the Ummah, are tied to the man of the colonialist continent, no matter what framework is drawn up for them, but the Islamic program, in the mind of the Ummah, is bound up with its history and proper glory and expresses its authenticity with no imprint of the colonialist countries. The feeling of the Ummah that Islam is its proper expression, the title of its historic personality and the key to its former glory is considered an extremely weighty factor for success in its battle against backwardness for development when the program is derived from Islam and chooses the Islamic system as the framework for its point of departure.

Besides the complex feelings of the Ummah in the Islamic world toward colonialism and all programs connected with colonialist countries, there is also another complication which presents a sizeable difficulty blocking the success of new European economic programs applied in the Islamic world. It is the contradiction between these programs and the religious creed which Muslims live. Here… I merely want to underline this contradiction between the programs of European man and the religious creed of Muslim man, characterizing this creed as a living force in the Islamic world without giving any value judgment. Whatever our estimation of this force may be as a result of the disintegration and decline which followed from the action of colonialism against it in the Islamic world, it still has momentous influence in directing behavior, shaping feelings and defining a point of view towards things. We acknowledged above that the operation of economic development is not merely one which the state adopts, puts into practice and legislates for; it is an operation in which the whole Ummah must participate and share in one way or another. If the Ummah senses a contradiction between the framework imposed for development and the creed which it still reverences and whose outlook on life it guards, at least on some points, then to the degree that it acts in accord with that creed, it will recoil from contributing to the operation of development and from being drawn into the imposed framework.

The Islamic system, on the contrary, does not face this complication; it suffers no contradiction in this respect. Rather, if it is applied, it will find in the religious creed a huge support and a helping factor for the success of the development placed in its framework because the basis of the Islamic system is the rules of the Islamic Shariah and these are rules in the sanctity and inviolability of which the Muslim usually believes. He has an obligation to carry them out by force of his creed and his belief that Islam is a religion revealed by heaven to the Seal of the Prophets.

Without a doubt, the most important factor in the success of the programs adopted to organize social life is the respect which people have for them and their belief that these programs should be executed and applied.

(To be concluded)


* Born in Baghdad, Baqir al-Sadr (1933-1980), was an intellectual, religious, and political leader, who excelled in religious studies in Najaf and wrote his first book, Our Philosophy, in 1959. This was followed by Our Economy (1960), among the most influential twentieth century books on Islamic Economics, as well as other works on Qur’anic interpretation, jurisprudence, theology, and philosophy. A member of the Jama’at al-Ulama in Najaf, founded by his uncle, Murtada al-Yasin in 1960, he published the review al-Adwa’. Baqir al-Sadr is also credited with having begun a reform of the courses of study in Najaf and had a project to reform the institution of religious leadership. His published fatwas are considered innovative. Two fatwas led to his elimination by Saddam Hussein’s government. One prohibited membership in the Ba’ath party and praying behind Imams who collaborated with the regime. The other called for open armed struggle against the regime. On 8th April 1980, he was liquidated along with his sister, Bint al-Huda.

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