By Sauvik Chakraverti
Having proved beyond doubt that Hinduism, the religion of the majority, is in complete and total opposition to statism as practised here, let us now turn our attention to Islam, the religion of those who comprise the world’s largest minority, and see how their faith rests against Indian statism.
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), did not start a new religion. He conveyed the same message as all other prophets of God - including Adam, Noah, Ibrahim, Moses and Jesus. This eternal faith is not named after him. Islam means peace and submission to God. The Islamic method, or Sunnah, includes the life of the prophet (lived in the full light of history), or sira, and hadith, the daily utterances and discourses of the prophet. From these we can make many useful deductions.
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), came from a civilisation in which cities traded freely with each other: there was no other way. The prophet was one such free trader. His life thus reveals clearly how morality emerges from the market. This incident is illustrative: One day, a trader from Yemen was cheated by a group of dishonest Meccans. The Yemeni wrote a satirical poem about the cheats and recited it aloud in the market square. A meeting of city elders was called and an order of chivalry established with the dedicated aim of protecting the oppressed of the city, whether local or foreign visitors. The young Muhammad was an ardent member of this organisation, Hilf al-fidul. In time, with his integrity, honesty and wisdom, Muhammad earned the title Al Amin - the trustworthy. Reputations are also earned in the market.
One of the most important events in Islam is the Hijira to Madinah. When the prophet arrived with his flock of Meccans, he asked the citizens of Madinah to ‘fraternise in Allah’ and share their possessions. But the people of Makkah said: ‘Show us the way to the market and we will maintain ourselves by working.’ Julian Simon should be widely studied in Islamic universities.
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), although an illiterate man, laid great store by knowledge. He said: “The search for knowledge is a sacred duty imposed upon every Muslim. Go in search of knowledge, even to China.’’ The Muslims responded. This shows that the prophet would go by Hayek’s theory of knowledge, assuming that each of us was capable of having it and processing it.
Statism, which ‘denies the economic principle’ by assuming us to be incapable of responding to price signals of the market, goes against the Islamic view of knowledge. The concept of ilm demanded a knowledge-based society for Muslims. We have noted earlier that Hinduism too does not agree with the statist view of knowledge, and by giving every individual the freedom to find his artha, assumes him to be capable of it. Statism is blasphemous to both faiths.
When we proceed to the question of the poor, and how they should be looked after, Islam endorsed private charity and not statal action.
The prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), said that we leave only three things behind when we die - our charity, our knowledge and our righteous offspring. Yet Islamic zakat is not charity out of generosity. It is a duty and a social obligation. Hinduism too , believes in private charity. Lord Bauer has often said that beggary in India has less to do with poverty than the fact that the two major religions of India believe it is good to donate. There are no Sikh or Parsi beggars.
Lastly, about property rights. In Islam, adl, or justice, is a supreme value. Can there be any justice, amongst traders, without property rights? Certainly not, and the Qur’an is explicit on these rights. Muslim scholars have opined that the purpose of revelation and the basic tasks of prophets is to establish justice on earth. Surely this justice has evaded modern India, thanks to statism.
There is no getting away from the fact that Islam, like Hinduism, is a pro-market philosophy. The morality that these great religions sought all emerged from the market. Just as Hindus said shubh laabh, so did the Muslim scholar Ibn Khaldun found profits ‘legal’ - going well beyond the Medieval scholastics. It is also asserted that hard money is the Sunnah method for establishing sound money through the natural process of the market. Islam is against statal debasement of currency.
Our ancient morality is pro-market. We are an ancient civilisation in which everyone has the capacity to participate meaningfully in the market. Give us liberty. We will find prosperity.
(Courtesy: Economic Times, June 6, 1998)