God and Commerce


Recent Wall Street scandals, bankruptcies and acts of malfeasance have served us well. No doubt we are all upset, disappointed, and mortified by the amount of corruption and ambivalence to ethics that these events portrayed, yet, when we consider that what is actually happening is a sort of “ethical correction,” we might humbly count our blessings.

The men that only last year, we had exalted, and deified as icons of contemporary capitalism, have now been reduced to examples of what we hate most about humanity, and that is imperfection. We love not the imperfect, and that might be a good thing. So far as we understand the significance of mankind’s imperfection, there is no real harm in our moral posturing, and pontification. We are happy that God in His mercy simply will not allow us to confuse Him with others, and especially not with CE, CF, or UFOs, or even accountants and auditors for that matter.

Our dislike for imperfection, and our search for perfection, or excellence, might be an inherited trait. We may have picked these two of our most compelling human traits, up from our forefather Abraham. Abraham searched for and found perfection, in the laws of life, as taught by God, that when personalized, caused Him and his righteous descendants to be exalted among mankind, and to achieve wealth, and the status of leaders and legends in both common myth and religious liturgy. The Qur’an retells the story of Abraham’s search for perfection saying in chapter 6, “al-Anam” (The Cattle),

” So also did we show Abraham the power and the laws of the heavens and the earth, that he might have certitude. When the night covered him over, he saw a star and said:

” This is my Lord.” But when it set, he said, “I love not those that set.” When he saw the moon rising in splendor, he said: ” This is my Lord.” But when the moon set, he said, “unless my Lord guide me, I shall surely be among those who go astray.” When he saw the sun rising in splendor, he said, ” This is my Lord, this is the greatest of all.” But when the sun set, he said: “Oh my people, I am indeed free from your guilt of giving partners to God. For me I have set my face, firmly and truly towards Him who created the heavens and the earth, and never shall I give partners to God.”

There are those, who in reading this passage have submitted that Abraham was here, in fact searching for God, and that it was through this observation of creation that he (Abraham) realized God. Yet, the verse of Qur’an that seems to most relate to a search for God, that culminated in Abraham’s realization of God as “One” is pointed out in his disputation to that effect in a different discussion. This discussion is found in al-Baqara, Chapter 2, verse 258, where it says:” Has thou not turned thy vision to one who disputed with Abraham about his Lord, because God had granted him (the man) power? Abraham said: ” My Lord is he who gives life and death. He, (the man) said, ” I give life and death.” Said Abraham, “but it is God that causes the sun to rise from the East, do you then cause it rise from the West?” Thus was he confounded who (in arrogance), rejected faith.” It is as if to say that Abraham was here invoking one of the primary manifestations of ! God, which is the divine order, or law.

In the al-Anam Chapter, it appears that what Abraham may have ascertained through observation of the stars and moon was in fact law, and order, and the imperfection of created things in comparison with the perfection of the Creator of all things, who is God. Yet, he also, according to the Qur’an learned from this exercise and observation, the “laws of the heaven and the earth,” wherein was power and certitude, the first verse saying at the beginning, ” So did we show Abraham the power, and the laws of the heaven and the earthé.” It was this power of organization, adaptation of the law, and divine order that empowered Abraham, the progeny of Abraham, and his community, who constructed the first Sacred House, ummat, or nation of monotheists. It is what has distinguished advanced societies from those that have been retarded by ignorance, ill will, and rebellion, and not revolution, and that have no observable organizational structure, or purpose. ! Most importantly, Abraham realized that life is indeed regulated by a universal law and righteous order that is observable, and that can be utilized to mankind’s benefit, which is its purpose. He realized that God’s Will, or force, is a part of creation, and that when recognized, harnessed and set in motion, carries mankind beyond conscious limits, and outside conformity, and mediocrity, and towards excellence, or human perfection.

In the New Testament of the Bible, in the Letter of James, this same concept of law and the power of the higher law and order are discussed. James opens his letter saying, ” James, a slave of the One God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes that are scattered about: Greetings.” James begins his dissertation on excellence, asking his brethren in faith to be patient under trial, saying that in life, there is purpose. James identifies this purpose, realized through trial as mankind’s “completeness and soundness in all respects.” James says: ” Consider it all joy my brothers when you meet trials, knowing as you do that this tested quality of your faith works out endurance. But let endurance have its work complete, that you may be complete, sound in all respects, not lacking anything.” Is this human perfection to which James is calling? He goes on in Chapter 2, to credit the prophet Abraham as the example of this basic of all religious concepts, which! is the purpose of divine law and principle to elevate the human species from animalism, to human perfection. James taught that this is accomplished through the actuation of God’s law, which results in the realization of a higher order or life. The reward says James is completeness, and ample sustenance, or “soundness in all things.” James says:” A certain one will say “you have faith and I have works. Show me your faith apart from your works. You believe there is one God, do you? You are doing quite well. And yet the demons believe and shudder. But do you care to know, oh empty man, that faith apart from works is inactiveéWas not our father Abraham declared righteous by his worksé?”

Works, as discussed in the Holy Books are the conduct of our daily affairs. They are not, as some have suggested, only the preaching work, or what is considered “religious” work. James himself makes this clear saying: ” Not many of you should become preachers.” This work, it seems, thought James, was for a certain group of people, those who had submitted their whole selves to God. James said further: “We shall receive heavier judgment.” Then he speaks again, but this time about all of humanity, saying: “We all stumble many times,” and then distinguishes the group of teachers, saying: ” If anyone does not stumble in word, this one is a perfect man, able to bridle also his whole body.” These distinctions are important since they allow us to see that contrary to the rhetoric of so-called secularists, there was never any competition between God and “Caesar,” in the way of kingdom or in the works of man. There is no competition in respect to what is due to one or! the other, since Caesar, representing a human authority or government, is but a lesser, imperfect manifestation of the perfect and divine order, which includes an authority, with rights and duties.

God’s laws exists, and according to the prophets, are universal, yet they become operative in the individual human soul and affairs as a matter of choice, not compulsion, and in various ways. Yet, every man has the duty, upon acquiring, and according to his achieved level of knowledge and occupation, to actuate his truth in pursuit of excellence in daily affairs, since what sane person is in pursuit of failure, poverty, and injustice. This realm of human activity includes of course our public institutions, which are also the benefactors of our works. The public works of the human being, whether it be the proper teaching of children, the organization of governments, commerce, and even deciding through a democratic process, what policies are best suited to just ends, or rather, completeness, “not lacking anything,” is guided by our beliefs, and realized through our works. Perhaps the “Kingdom of God” includes the realm of man, where there is truth, choice, and! consequence.

One of the most inspiring parts of James’s letter in the Bible, is his discussion on the attainment of peace, and prosperity. In James 3:18and 4:1-3, James says: ” éthe fruits of righteousness has its seed sown in peaceful conditions for those who are making peace.” He asks,” from what source are there wars and from what source are the fights among you? Are they not from this source, namely, from your cravings for sensual pleasure that carry on a conflict in your members? You desire, yet you do not have. You go on murdering, and coveting, and yet you are not able to obtain. You go on fighting, and waging war. You do not have because of your not asking. You do ask, and yet you do not receive because you are asking for a wrong purpose (emphasis mine), that you may expend it upon your cravings for sensual (selfish) pleasure.” Here, it seems that James is making the distinction between the selfish desire or pursuit of good things for one’s own pleasure ex! clusively, and the good work performed for the right purpose, which might be the betterment of all mankind, which includes of course, the self. James explains this saying later in 5:1-6, ” Come now, you rich men, weep, howling over your miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted, and your outer garments have become moth-eaten. Your gold and silver are rusted away, and their rust will be as a witness against youéLook! The wages due the workers who harvested your fields, but which are held up by you, keep crying out, and the calls for help on the part of the reapers have entered the ears of Jehovah of armies. You have lived in luxury upon the earth and have gone in for sensual (selfish) pleasure. You have fattened your hearts on the day of slaughter. You have condemned, and you have murdered the righteous ones. Is He (God) not opposing you?”

In reading these passages from the Letter of James, we are forced to ask ourselves, what is the crime of those who seek selfish pleasures at the expense of others? Is it their wealth, ownership of property that is criminal, as socialists or communists might say? Is it that these men or women live in societies where there are different economic classes of people, one class enjoying wealth, while another is poor? The Qur’an, which was revealed years after James’s letter was written, picks up on James’s theme, and defines for us, with perhaps more clarity, the Islamic concept of economic injustice. In the Qur’anic discussion, we see that it is not personal, or private wealth that is deemed immoral, or sinful. Rather, it is corruption, as in nepotism and cronyism, unfair discrimination, restricting the circulation wealth through commerce, as well as breach of contract, including breaching the public trust, which are covenants, and greed, or covetousness, that is! deemed sinful. In Islam, it is also prohibited to become preoccupied with the desire to acquire wealth, to the extent that we are distracted from the pursuit of righteousness. Yet, some have interpreted this verse as a condemnation of competition, while the Qur’an teaches us that “competition” is an aspect of the divine order, and that mankind must “strive” and that he will get nothing, except what he strives for. The Qur’an says to us, “Vie as though in a race.” We are vying for God’s grace, for what purpose? That we might seek and attain the bounty and favors of God, which include property, wealth, and all good things, and even the simple desires of our hearts, so far as we have not desired evil. The Qur’an says in Chapter 10, “Yunus,” verses 58-60: ” Say; In the Bounty of God, and in His mercy, in that let them rejoice; that is better than the wealth that they hoard. Say, see you what things God hath sent down to you for sustenance? Yet you hold forbidden some things the! reof, and some you make lawful.” Say, “Hath God indeed permitted you, or do you invent things to attribute to God? And what think those who invent lies against God of the day of Judgment? Verily, God is full of Bounty to mankind, but most of them are ungrateful.”

The Qur’an says in Chapter 102, “Al-Takathur,” (The Piling Up), verse 1, ” The mutual rivalry for piling up the good things of this world diverts you from the more serious things.” The Qur’an teaches us that whereas every human being has the right to private ownership, and to profit from their at risk investments, which include labor, as well as money, equipment, etc., no one has the right to withhold wages, or to cause poverty, or economic hardship. In Islam, as in other faiths, it is wrong to cause a loss to others, or to challenge the good purpose of public economy, which is a common good that takes priority over individual gain. The Qur’an says, in Chapter 83, “al-Mutaffifin,” (The Dealers in Fraud), verse 1, the following: ” Woe to those who deal in fraud, those who, when they have to receive by measure from men, exact full measure. Yet, when they have to give by measure, or weight to men, they give less than what is due.”

It is perhaps true that the texts of Books such as the Qur’an and the Bible, can be interpreted in any number of ways, and used to support almost any position, or argument. Yet, when we consider that along with the Holy books, God sent prophets who lived according to His guidance, and who served as examples, this makes it difficult, if not impossible to distort to any significant degree the meanings of the text. In the Qur’an, and the Bible, both the Hebrew scriptures and the New Testament, we see that there were righteous people who accumulated and enjoyed not only wealth, but also power, and authority, or “kingdom” as it is described in the Qur’an. Among these prophets, enjoying such authority, power and wealth were of course David and Solomon. According to some hadith, or traditions, God gave the prophet Muhammad (pbuh) the choice. He could have been either a prophet, like Jesus who adopted asceticism, and who lived among the poor, or a prophet lik! e David and Solomon, about whom God said: ” And he enjoyed indeed a near approach to Us, and a beautiful place of final return.” The prophet Muhammad, it is said, chose asceticism, but did not forbid the seeking of God’s Bounty to any other man, and in fact encouraged investment, risk, and profit. The Qur’an says on this issue, in Chapter 2, verses 261 and 265, the following: ” The parable of those who spend their sustenance in the way of God is that of a grain of corn, it grows seven ears, and each ear has a hundred grains. God gives manifold increase to whom He pleases.”

The question that has been raised due to the recent Wall Street scandals, among some religionists, whether or not the capitalist system is an economic evil in the sight of God? Many, including some Muslims, believe that capitalism is an evil, and that it breeds greed, and immorality, and class strife, and that it rewards mankind for besting one another in vice rather than virtue. Yet, the question that actually seems to be presenting itself for our review is whether or not God’s law, as it was revealed to Abraham, and observed by, revealed, and advanced by other righteous men and prophets, prohibits free markets, competition, profit, private wealth and property. We agree that immorality, which includes corruption, greed, and other wrongs are prohibited. We also agree, that there is an obligation, not only upon individuals, but also upon institutions, and governments to give in charity, and to respect and protect the rights of the weak, the disabled, and some! specified others, when they are in need. Yet, in respect to private ownership, one does not have to look far to see that private ownership is allowed in Islam. In fact, it is encouraged, and not discouraged. The right of the individual to own property is protected in Islam and more than this, it is unlawful to take, or to force an individual to share what he or she has earned with those who have not earned. The following verses of the Qur’an support these assertions, and disprove the Communists and socialists argument that ownership is an evil, or that anyone has a right to, as Marx suggests in his Communist Manifesto, “abolish the right of personally acquiring property as the fruit of a man’s own labor.” Without much thought it might be clear, especially to Muslims, that what Marx suggested was merely rebellion against the divine law, and order, which is why socialism and communism are hard pressed to co-exist with religion. Marx sought to create a system of politics and e! conomy that would enslave mankind to dictators, who by some self assumed right could determine the “just” distribution of a nation’s wealth, place a value upon your labor, and distribute your property according to what criteria? Is it the criteria of God, who says in the Qur’an, “Who is it that prohibits the beautiful things of this life to the servants of God? They are for them in this life, and “purely” for them in the next life?” Or is it their criteria? Friends, concubines, and cousins, who stand first in line and receive the fruits of your labor?

The Qur’an says that God has given us cattle, and other things in which we take pleasure, not only in their use as food, medicine, etc., but also in their beauty. The Qur’an said we use them for trade, as well as for food and other purposes. The Qur’an says that we ride the backs of animals with pride, and it condemns the one who rides arrogantly, as though he himself is a god, a creator of these things, while it praises the man who rides with gratitude to God, for His favors bestowed upon mankind. God says we have the right to inherit, what can our children inherit if we don’t own anything? The Qur’an says, that God subjugated all things to mankind that we might seek of his Bounty, and that God created the seas that we might sail its waves seeking His Bounty. In all of this is an “individual interest.” The interest is to stay alive, be healthy, to marry, to pro-create, to live according to the divine law, and rhythm of life, and to be free, enjoying what Go! d has created, feeling gratitude that God created, loving God for what He created, and subjected to mankind. So thankful are we to God, so much do we love Him, that we establish His revealed order, His Kingdom in our very hearts. The power of this Kingdom then manifests in our societies through the recognition and actuation of His law, and order, and the protection and perpetuation of the systems and institutions that support and guard mankind’s quest for lordship. Marx would have us believe that we are like animals, whose value is only our labor, Islam says our value is unknown, until we have ascertained, or understood our proximity to God, and come into our purpose, which the Qur’an says is to worship God. If this is our purpose, how has the Muslim become enslaved to communists and socialists in the Muslim world who hide behind the banner of Islam, while they usurp the rights of the people to be lords in the Kingdom of God, and who have instead made the lords into slaves a! nd the beast into kings? Can we not understand that man cannot be free if he cannot own, if he cannot expend his labor and his investment in his own interest first. Societies are groups of individuals, individuals are not societies until they are organized, have structured administration, and commerce. Look at the Kingdom of David, the Kingdom of Solomon, and the Muslim nation under the prophet Muhammad. When the prophet’s companion Abu Bakr told the prophet Muhammad, that upon his (Abu Bakr’s) death, he wished to turn over the ownership of all of his gardens to the Muslim treasury, the prophet discouraged this and told Abu Bakr that his children should inherit his wealth, and that only “some,” should be set aside for charity. Does it mean anything to us that the prophet Muhammad owned private property, and that his companions also owned private property? Some of them eventually gave up their property to charity, yet for much of the Islamic campaign, they maintained private ! ownership and distributed their earnings, or profits at their own discretion.

The Qur’an says in Chapter 16, “Al Nahl,” verse 81, ” It is God who made out of the created things some things to give you shade, of the hills he made some for your shelter. He made you garments to protect you from heat, and coats of mail to protect you from your (mutual) violence. Thus does He (God) complete His favors on you, that you may bow to His Will in Islam (return to perfect and complete monotheism). And in verse 83 of this same chapter, the Qur’an says: ” They recognize the favors of God, then they deny them, and most of them are ungrateful.”

So deeply entrenched is the evil of communism and communist thinking in the Muslim world, that the people can no longer recognize their own interests, not as individuals and not as a society or ummat. They have been taught that their interest is a sin, while the interest of the authority that stands with both feet on their throats is akin to god’s interest. Are they god? If not, why do we worship despots, and tyrants, and oppressors? The people think the crime of the dictator is that he steals wealth, including freedom from the people, while the real crime is that he closes all opportunities for self-development in the face of the people, and transfers our rights to his friends and concubines, and cronies. They are killers of promise, opportunity, possibility, hope, ingenuity, faith, struggle, and worse of all, they hinder our progress toward the lordship we have inherited from prophets, and implant their godless authority through brute force over the! people, while they lie on God, and corrupt and hide the truth. Shame on the Muslim who supports a tyrant, in protest against right thinking and prudent policy. Shame on the Muslim who would enslave himself for fear of struggle, and who would share in the earned wealth of another without having earned. Shame on the Muslim whose politics is driven by greed, and envy, and self-hatred, because he feels that God created him impotent, when it is God who ordered you to fight against the tyrant, the usurper of authority, the killer of hope, and progress, and the stealer of our inheritance, and called you “Uppermost.” Shame on the Muslim who has rejected peace, law, and order, and adopted in their stead, disorder, and violence, and rebellion. Those who support those who have denied God, and who have in fact persecuted and killed the believers, merely for their faith, forced them from their homes, hoping to obscure their message of freedom, progress and human development for the Musl! im too. Why should the Muslim be impoverished, illiterate, and the proletariat? We are inheritors of a legacy of Lordship!

We should always remember what James said in his letter. He said to the believers, to count trials as joy, and allow trial to have its work completed, which is endurance, and through endurance (strength, power) you shall be complete, “not lacking anything.” If we can’t, or don’t want to hear James, even though the Qur’an says in al-Ahqaf, verse 10,” Say; See if this teaching be from God, yet you reject it, and a witness from the children of Israel testifies to its similarity with previous scripture, and he believed while you were arrogant, how unjust you are, and God guides not a people unjust.” The Qur’an says, in Chapter 47, “Muhammad,” verses 36-38:” The life of this world is play and amusement, and if you believe and guard against evil he (God) will grant you your recompense, (earnings, and rewards) and will not ask you to give up all of your possessions. If He (God) were to ask you for them, and press you, you would withhold, and he would bring o! ut all of your ill-feeling. Behold, you are those who are asked to spend in the way of God, yet among you are some who are stingy (and greedy). But any who are stingy (and greedy) are so at the expense of their own souls. But God is free of all wants, and it is you who are needy. If you turn back from the path (the struggle for human progress) He (God) will substitute in your stead another people, and they will not be like you.” In the Qur’an, Chapter 34, “Saba” (Sheba), in verse 47, God commanded the prophet Muhammad to say to the peopleé” it is all in your interest.”

The writer is the Founder and President of the National Association of Muslim American Women.