The Psychological Role of Islam in Economic Development (Part-2)

Taking Islam as the basis for general organization allows us to set up all of our life, both spiritual and social aspects, on one foundation, because Islam extends to both whereas many of the social programs other than Islam are limited to the social and economic relations in the life of man and his ideals, writes MUHAMMAD BAQIR AL-SADR.


Islamic Morals and Values are Different

There is, in fact, an Islamic morality alive to one, or other, degree in the Islamic world, and there is a morality of European economy which accompanied modern Western civilization and wove for it its general spirit and prepared the way for its success on the economic level. The two moralities differ substantially in their orientation, their point of view and their value systems. To the extent that the morality of modern Western man is sound for European economic programs, the morality of man in the Islamic world is incompatible with it. This morality has deep roots which cannot be extirpated by merely diluting the religious creed.

Planning – any planning for the battle against backwardness – must necessarily take into account the resistance of nature in the country for which the plan is intended, the degree to which it will resist operations of production. So too, account must be taken of the resistance of the human element and the extent to which it is in harmony with this, or that, plan.

European man looks always to earth, not to heaven. Even Christianity, the religion in which European man believed for hundreds of years, was not able to overcome his earthly tendency. Rather than the Christian raising his view to heaven, he was able to bring the God of Christianity down to earth and incarnate him in an earthly being.

The attempts to tie man’s lineage to groups of animals and to explain humanity as an objective adaptation to the land and environment in which it lives, or the scientific attempts to explain the whole human edifice on the basis of productive forces which represent the earth and the potential within it: these attempts are nothing other than endeavors to bring God down to earth. This is their psychological signification. They are all morally tied to that deep-seated view in the soul of European man towards the earth, even though their style and scientific or mythical character may differ.

This view towards the earth allowed European man to give values to matter, resources and property which harmonize with his basic orientation.

The values rooted in European man over the ages expressed themselves in schools (madhahib) of sensual delight and pragmatism which inundated moral philosophic thinking in Europe. These schools, in as much as they were the product of European thought, registered great success in Europe. They had psychological significance and meaning for the general temper of the European soul.


Freedom is a Materialistic Aberration

In the same way, European man’s cutting of the true tie with his God and his looking to earth, instead of to heaven, snatched, from his mind, any true notion of a lofty presence on high, or of limits imposed from outside the circle of his own self. This prepared him psychologically and nautically to believe in his right to liberty and to submerge himself in a flood of feelings of independence and individualism.

Freedom played a principal role in European economy and the operation of development was able, to use to advantage, the deep-rooted feelings of the European man concerning freedom, independence and individualism for the success of free economy; it was a means in accord with the deep-rooted tendencies in the souls and minds of European peoples.

We all know that the deep sentiment of freedom provided a basic condition without which many of the activities in the process of development would never have taken place. That condition was the absence of any feeling of moral responsibility.

Freedom itself was an instrument to open up European man to the concept of struggle because it set every man loose from all limits save that of the presence of the other person opposite him. Every individual, by his existence, formed a limit to the liberty of the other person. Thus, the notion of struggle grew in the mind of European man, and this notion express itself on the philosophical level, as we said in the other basic thought which went to make up the mixture of modern Western civilization. This notion of struggle expressed itself in scientific and philosophical ideas of the struggle for existence as a natural law among all living beings, or on the inevitability of class struggle within society, or on dialectical movement and the explanation of the universe on the basis of thesis, antithesis and the synthesis arising out of the struggle between two contradictories. All these tendencies which bear a scientific or philosophical stamp are, before all else, an expression of the general psychological state and the vehement feelings of the man of modern civilization concerning struggle.

Struggle had a great effect in orienting modern European economy and the operations of development which accompanied it. This was so whether it took the individualist form and expressed itself in fierce unlimited competition between personal capitalist institutions and projects under a free economy, developing all resources through competition and struggle for existence, or whether it took the class form and expressed itself in revolutionary groups which took over the key positions of production in the country and moved all potential to the benefit of economic development.

This is the morality of European economy and, on these grounds, this economy was able to set itself in motion, achieve growth and register huge gains.


Eastern Man is Oriented to the Invisible

This morality differs from that which the Ummah in the Islamic world lives as a result of its religious history. Eastern man, brought up on the heavenly missionaries who lived in his lands, extensively educated in religion by Islam, naturally looks to heaven before he looks to earth. He accepts the 1nvisble world before the world of matter and sense. His deep infatuation with the invisible world expresses itself on the level of thought in the life of Muslims by the orientation of thought in the Islamic world towards the intellectual spheres of human knowledge rather than those tied to sense-reality.

This profound other-worldliness in the character of Muslim man, superior to the seductive force of matter for him and its capacity to impress him, in fact, explains why man in the Islamic world, when he is deprived of moral motives for interacting with matter and finds no enticement to exploit it, tends to take a negative attitude towards it – an attitude which takes the form of asceticism at times, temperance at others, or even laziness at others.

This other-worldliness has trained him to feelings of an unseen super-vision which may express themselves in the pious Muslim’s consciousness viz-a-viz his clear responsibility before God Almighty, or in the mind of another Muslim as a well-defined and directed conscience. In any case, it keeps man in the Islamic world far from sensing personal freedom and moral freedom in the way European man does.

And to the Community

This internal limitation felt by Muslim man has its moral base in the interests of the community in which he lives; consequently he feels a profound tie with the group to which he is related. There is harmony between him and the community, not struggle, the notion which dominates modern European thought. This notion of community reinforces the world framework of the mission of Islam for the Muslim and charges this mission with the responsibility of assuring its presence in the world and its extension in time and place.

If we look on this morality which man in the Islamic world lives as a truth represented in the being of the Ummah, we can put it to use in the economic program within the Islamic world by placing that program in a framework which marches with that morality so that it may become a force of impulsion and movement just like the morality of modern European economic programs was a great factor in the success of those programs because of the harmony between the two.

The regard of man in the Islamic world towards heaven before earth could lead to a negative attitude to earth, its resources and goods, and asceticism, moderation and laziness, if earth is separated from heaven. If, however, earth is clothed in the framework of heaven and action with nature is given the quality of duty and worship, then this other-worldly view is transformed for the Muslim man into active energy and impulsive force to participate to the greatest degree possible in raising the economic level. Instead of the coldness towards earth, which the negative Muslim feels today, or the psychological anxiety which the active Muslim who follows the styles of free economy or socialism feels for the most part, even though he is a watered-down Muslim, there will be generated a full harmony between the psychology of the man of the Islamic world and his anticipated positive role in the process of development.

The concept of internal limits and other-worldly supervision which prevents man in the Islamic world from living according to the European motion of freedom can help to avoid, to a great degree, the difficulties which spring from free economy and hinder economic development by providing moral justification for general planning.

Group ties and sensibilities can share in mobilizing the energies of the Islamic Ummah for the battle against backwardness, if the battle is waged under a slogan which coincides with those sensibilities, such as Jihad for preserving the essence and existence of the Ummah. This is what the Qur’an does when it says:

“Make ready for them all that you can.” (8: 60)

The order is to prepare all forces, including the economic, which are represented by the level of production as part of the battle of the Ummah and its Jihad to preserve its existence and sovereignty.

This brings out the importance of the Islamic economy as an economic program capable of using, to advantage, the morality of man in the Islamic world, and transforming it into a great impulsive and constructive energy for operations of development and for success in sound planning for economic life.

When we adopt the Islamic system we will profit from this morality and be able to mobilize it in the battle against backwardness, contrary to what would happen if we adopted the programs in economy which are psychologically and historically rooted in the ground of another morality.


Some European thinkers have begun to realize this truth and to take note of it, acknowledging that their programs do not accord with the nature of the Islamic world. I would like to expand on this on another occasion, for now suffice it to say that the orientation of man in the Islamic world towards heaven does not, in its authentic sense, mean that man submits to fate and relies on the conditions, opportunities and feelings of complete incompetence concerning creativity and invention; rather, this orientation of Muslim man is a true expression of the principle of the stewardship of man on earth. By his very nature he inclines to see his position on earth as an expression of his stewardship to God. I know of no concept richer than this for affirming the capacity of man and his energies; it makes him the absolute master of the universe. And I know of no concept further removed from surrender and fate than the concept of stewardship to God because stewardship gets to the bottom of the sense of responsibility concerning what one is made steward of. There is no responsibility without liberty and a sense of choice and an ability to master circumstance Otherwise, what stewardship would this be if man was bound, or remotely controlled? For this reason, we say that clothing the earth in the framework of heaven releases the energies of Muslim man and stirs up his potential; whereas cutting earth off from heaven annuls the sense of stewardship and fixes the view of Muslim man on earth in a negative way.


One Foundation for All – Islam

In addition to all that precedes, we would like to remark that taking Islam as the basis for general organization allows us to set up all of our life, both spiritual and social aspects, on one foundation, because Islam extends to both whereas many of the social programs other than Islam are limited to the social and economic relations in the life of man and his ideals.

If we take our general program for life from human sources instead of the Islamic system, we leave the organization of the spiritual side unsatisfied. There is no sound source for the organization of our spiritual life except Islam. There is no way but to establish both sides, spiritual and social, on the foundation peculiar to Islam. Moreover, the two sides are not isolated from one other, but interact to a great degree. This interaction makes it more sound and harmonious to set up the two on one base, given the unmistakable inter-connection of spiritual social activities in the life of man.



* 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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