Edited by M. Kabir Hassan and Mervyn K. Lewis
Chapter 3: Islam versus economics
The most fundamental difference between Islamic and secular economic teachings is caused by diametrically opposed views on the purpose of creation of man and the universe. Islam teaches us that the universe was created as a testing ground for human beings. Those who succeed will receive an eternal reward, while those who fail will be severely punished. According to secular thought, the universe was created by a cosmic accident, and man came into existence through a random and purposeless process of evolution. Furthermore, life will finish with death, when we will turn to dust. It is no surprise then that secular economists think that all humans should maximize pleasure during this life. According to Islamic teachings, although the nature of the test we face is complex and multi-dimensional, at the most fundamental level we are tested to see whether we can look through the appearances and recognize and love God. All meaningful human activity, economic or otherwise, is directed towards the Day of Judgement. Any other kind of activity is either meaningless or harmful in distracting us from our purpose. In particular, the purpose of economic activity is to earn the pleasure of Allah. One cannot decide on what is the best way to organize economic affairs, or any human affairs, without first specifying the purpose of human life. This is why Western attempts to ‘describe’ optimal social structures are deceptive – they implicitly specify a purpose, but this purpose is both concealed and in conflict with Islamic views.
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