I was in Singapore last week for a short meeting interview for the Asia Leadership Fellow Program 2014. The ALFP is a program organized by the International House of Japan and the Japan Foundation. It was launched in 1996 with the objective “to create a close, personal and professional network of public intellectuals in Asia, deeply rooted in and committed to civil society beyond their own cultural, disciplinary and geopolitical backgrounds. (ALFP Primer, 2014)
I took the PAL Flight 511 that departed Manila at 0600 last March 11, 2014. The entire was relatively okay and I enjoyed the hospitality and professionalism of our flag carrier.
After an hour, the flight attendant asked me what breakfast meal I prefer, a chicken adodo or corned beef? I chose chicken adobo. The meal had a bread, fruits, coffee, and salad.
As I was enjoying my meal, I thought about the people behind that prepared the food that I was eating. I also thought about the whole process of food chain from the famers that planted the rice and all the necessary preparations needed for me to have this meal on board a plane flying at 36,000 feet.
After the fall of the Berlin wall, the end of Cold War, and ultimately, as what Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr said, “the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and in its heartland, the Soviet Union, the world is yet again dominated by the practices and laws of capitalism”. Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr is a Muslim scholar that looks at Islam using the frame of political economy.
Today’s world economy is shaped according to Adam Smith. No other alternative routes for economic development are envisaged but to let “the laws of the market” play their course in the marketplace”.
With today’s world economy, many believe that the “invisible hand” of the market is more visible now than at any time as the determining and decisive factor in the lives of nations and men. In a book of Mark Fisher, he said that “it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.”
Can we all agree with this? Can we surrender ourselves in believing that capitalism is indeed the only realistic political economic system?
I don’t think so. As many Muslim thinkers and political activists would agree with me would say that “Islam provides humanity with solutions to problems created by imperfect man‑made political systems and moral values”. Islam can guide us of having a social framework for all humanity to achieve peace and development in life, in this world or “dunya” and in the hereafter.
In Islam, principles and programs are derived from the following: the Holy Quran, the Sunnah and Hadith of the Prophet (SAW), and the “Ijma” (Ijmāʿ is an Arabic term referring to the consensus or agreement of the Muslim community basically on religious issues).
As always, my view is an out of the box thinking about Islam. I propose a change of paradigm of the way we see our resources.
Let us discuss first the concept of economic relationship in Islam.
Muslim jurists classify the three types of relationship of man with his environment. These relationships are social, economic and religious. These then connects to other men, to the environment, and to God. The economic relations, however, are outcome of his inner instinct of self‑love that “always drives him to seek good things for himself, to secure his interest, and satisfy his needs. (Al‑Sadr, “Al‑Nizam al‑’Islami muqaranan bil‑nizam al‑ra’smali wa al‑Markisi” (The Islamic System Compared with the Capitalist and the Marxist Systems) in Ikhtarnalak, 160.)
History of humankind’s civilization showed that mankind has an unending desire to want more and more that the environment and his society can offer. Thus, some of us became too greedy and tend to exploit the situation for their own benefit. “Consequently, some men were willing to oppress others to satisfy their greed and egos (both outcome of self‑love). It was then that the human community faced oppression in the form of economic exploitation”.
All these things are happening even prior to the advent of Islam. Sadr argues that historical conflict is between two classes: those individuals who control the environmental resources (economic and social) and endeavour to protect their interest and the rest of the society which strives to live in peace and cooperation.
Marxist believed the problem originated with a few people controlling economic resources. The only way to bring about peace to the social order is through the revolution of the oppressed class to destroy the special interest of the privileged class. Capitalist, on the other hand, believe such social conflict to be the result of limited natural resources of the environment, which are not sufficient to satisfy the needs of all people. (Al‑Sadr, The Economic Perspective of Islamic System in Ikhtarnalak)
In summary, we can say that social conflict will always be there. However, we can manage them through incremental and gradual reforms that our educational system can offer and the more of civil society in helping us achieve human progress. We believe that environmental resources are sufficient to satisfy all people’s needs.
Therefore, we propose a solution to these problems. Sadr specifies three components of the Islamic solution in which I edited to fit our context: (1) cessation of the various forms of oppression manifest in the unjust distribution of economic resources; (2) educating our students and communities to the value and essence of compassion to all mankind and, (3) utilization of economic resources to satisfy the needs of all humanity.
The next time you shop for a branded shirt or a bag, think about the whole production chain for it to exist. If you eat at a fancy restaurant or spend time in an expensive hotel, think about the people behind that made sure that you get what your money’s worth in enjoying your life.