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Edited by Jan Peil and Irene van Staveren
Chapter 38: Islam
38 Islam Rodney Wilson Islamic economists are credited with taking an ethical approach to the subject of economics, emphasizing social justice and equality. These writers are producing a growing volume of literature, the emergence of which raises critical questions. First, what is distinctive about this literature, and to what extent does it represent a coherent body of ideas? Second, should Islamic economics be classified as a separate discipline, or as a separate school of economic thought? Third, to what extent can it be considered ethical? Or would it be more accurate to depict the approach as moralistic, indeed proscriptive, with a stress on right and wrong, halal and haram, rather than as pointing to ethical dilemmas that are arguably best dealt with by widespread debate? This chapter suggests some possible answers. Approaching economics from an Islamic perspective Most economists, including those who are Muslims, separate their religious beliefs from their teaching and writing. They view their professional and academic output as being of relevance to the material world, and quite distinct from the religious teachings that may shape their spiritual reflection and worship. In the Western world this separation tends to be taken for granted – though in the eighteenth century the founding father, Adam Smith, conceived economics as a branch of moral philosophy. Increasing disciplinary specialization for at least the past two hundred years has resulted in economists being deterred from involvement in moral or theological debate. At the same time the interventions and pronouncements of religious leaders, especially in...
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