Home > Uncategorized > Islam’s gift: an economy of spiritual development

Islam’s gift: an economy of spiritual development

from Asad Zaman

My article with the title above is due to be published in the next issue of the American Journal of Economics and Sociology (2019). This was written at the invitation of the editor Clifford Cobb, as an introduction to Islamic Economics for a secular audience. The Paper explains how modern economics is deeply flawed because it ignores the heart and soul of man, and assumes that the best behavior for humans is aligned with short-sighted greed. Islam provides a radically different view, showing how generosity, cooperation, and overcoming the pursuit of desires leads to spiritual progress. Islam seeks to create a society where individuals can make spiritual progress and develop the unique and extraordinary capabilities and potentials which every human being is born with. Pre-print – to appear in American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 2019 – is available for view/download at the bottom of this post.

As an excerpt, I am posting Section 2 of the paper, entitled

The Flawed Foundations of Modern Economics

The defeat of Christianity in a battle with science led to an extraordinary respect and reverence for scientific knowledge, sometimes called the “Deification of Science,” in Europe (Olson 1990; Zaman 2015a).   This had fatal consequences. Even though all scientific knowledge is inherently uncertain, a concerted effort was made to prove the opposite—that scientific knowledge is not only certain, but it is the only source of certain knowledge.  Because of distortions necessary to prove something which was not true, the methodology of science was dramatically misunderstood by the logical positivists. read more

  1. Helen Sakho
    February 5, 2019 at 2:28 am

    I read your original paper. The good news is that the Pope is (first time event) in the UAE.
    So, let us hope that they can strike a deal to save the Muslims in Yemen (biggest humanitarian disaster in recent history) and in fact in the vast majority of MENA (mostly Muslim) from abject poverty and starvation. After all, as far as I am aware, despite differences, there is only ONE god?
    Personally, I would rather stick to the one that is humane enough not to kill anyone, and godly enough to embrace death whenever it’s time to do so.

    • Robert Locke
      February 5, 2019 at 10:11 am

      I am a child of the Enlightenment, so all of this is hocus pocus to me, but perhaps we can meet up on the road to the alleviation of human suffering. My wife I might add is no friend of religion, which she thinks is the source of all evil; my son, who was a theologian, believed there could be no moral order without religion. Wife and son met on the grounds of practicality. Good luck.

  2. February 5, 2019 at 11:57 am

    Asad, your battling on is much appreciated, but you need to be careful with Western history.

    I take it the point of Helen’s comment is that Muslim UAE is not yet a good example of “Islam [seeking] to create a society where individuals can make spiritual progress and develop the unique and extraordinary capabilities and potentials which every human being is born with”. Likewise Robert and his wife, as children of the Enlightenment, have only a Humean version of what religion is, while Asad’s history is anachronistic: the Catholic church accepting that Galileo was right was hardly a defeat, but a sign of honesty and willingness to understake a great deal of rethinking (the intention of its humorously named Devil’s Advocacy being the equivalent of today’s peer review). Later, it was Hume’s epistemological reinterpretation of Bacon’s scientific method that misled the twentieth century Logical Positivists.

    ‘Religion’ means literally ‘re-tie’, and was a code-word for binding oneself to Christ in gratitude for his having redeemed us from [economic as well as psychological] bondage. The problem is not with this, it is with ‘catholic’ (for everyone) religion being open to evil as well as good people. I recommend Robert and his wife to go back as near as possible to primary religious sources. In the early pages of the Old Testament they will find the story of Cain and Abel, with the one – ungrateful for what he had – killing the other, disputing his duty to be his brother’s keeper. That’s not religion, with its morality based on love. That’s absolute power over others corrupting absolutely. Today’s Pope Francis is virtually powerless. The two themes of Good Pope John, who inspired me, were the love of God and the reciprocity of rights and duties.

    On the flawed foundations of modern economics, I would like Robert to read and comment on Soddy’s analysis of the absolute power of our fraudulent money system, downloadable from


    I found in it what I have largely worked out for myself, although 84 years on, the information age has arrived, offering new [more ‘spiritual’] evidence and a different solution.

    • Robert Locke
      February 5, 2019 at 2:57 pm

      Dave, my wife was born in Anapha, a small town in the Crimean, from a Polish refugee mother whose family fled the Germans in 1939, and a Russian father, who was Orthodox Christian and studied in the seminary, and spent 20 years in the Gulag under Stalin, before released in 1944. The cruelty of the Bolsheviks and the Whites, from both of which he and his family suffered personally, made him highly skeptical about anything good coming from a secular religion like Bolshevism, Polish Catholicism or Russian Orthodoxy. Actions speak louder than words in this case, and what Vera sees happening before her eyes in current Polish society would not convince her to take up the faith, despite what texts you give her to read. When the priests came to her door when she lived in Poland, she threw them out.

      • Robert Locke
        February 5, 2019 at 4:13 pm

        About the Enlightenment. Most US college students didn’t read much Hume, or Adam Smith, but people on the continent.

        I learned about the Enlightenment through Voltaire (The Age of Louis XIV), Spirit of the Law’s Montesquieu, Rousseau, Emmanuel Kant, the Encylopaedists (Denis Diderot) Just as I believe today, the great British thought was not, as important as thought on the Continent.

        When I spent a week in 1982, eating evenings at table with A.J. Ayer on the USS Bremen, he told me that there was no philosophy being taught on the European continent, just a few Scandinavians, otherwise only in the English speaking world. That surprised me since I had just spent a year in Germany where Habermas and the Frankfurter School was being much discussed. So I answered, what about Habermas?, he answered “Who.?” I thought, how singular that this great man was stuck in a small world, even after having studied the Logical=Positivists in Vienna. So it had to be continentals that warped my mind, not Hume.

      • February 5, 2019 at 7:42 pm

        Robert, I totally agree actions speak louder than words. Our area was among the first to take action against a paedophile priest. The point I was trying to make is that one shouldn’t judge a group of people by its worst members, though experience of the worst is probably good enough reason for steering clear of the group. Love in the end is a decision.

        On the ‘Enlightenment’, I think that derogatory term must have come into Britain via Hume, who spent time with Voltaire. I was introduced to him as an ‘English’ Empiricist reacting to Hobbes, Locke and Berkeley, followed by Bentham, Mill and via Moore, Russell and thence the Logical Positivists. Bacon, the Father of modern science who conceived the Encyclopedia even if he didn’t call it that, was not then even mentioned. I’d come across Kant’s reaction to Hume, which played back into the Continental philosophy I became aware of largely through Australian John Passmore’s “A Hundred Years of Philosophy”, picking up what I could of it in translation. I’m guessing that we are both right: you learned from continentals but they had been influenced by Hume.

      • Robert Locke
        February 6, 2019 at 11:26 am

        The problem, Dave, is that there is more to the Enlightenment than economics, and you seem to avoid that truth. I did not read and appreciate Voltaire because he met Hume, but because he believed in freedom, and opposed the “infamous thing,” the Church, through their Parlements, condeming men to death for their beliefs (the Calas Affair), or cutting out their tongues because they had been blasphemous. Or, perhaps more importantly, historically, for the Church being involved intricately in the injustices of the society we call the Old Regime. You are thinking anachronistically, projecting your present days concerns about finance capitalist into the 17th-18th century. We need to judge people in terms of there own times. When we do, we find out about all sorts of incongruities, e. g. why men who are bankers and railroad builders in 19th century France could believe in devine Right Monarchy. That fact sent me on a ten year investigation-reflection to explain why.

      • February 6, 2019 at 5:45 pm

        Robert, you are doubtless right about why you read Voltaire, but what I said was not that Voltaire had met Hume. Hume had met Voltaire, and I saw the outcome: he threw the baby out with the bathwater. If you had looked at what Christ taught you would see that the viciousness you complain about in the Church of the time was not Christianity but absolute power corrupting absolutely, with self-serving politicians blaming the Church to normalise their own brutality. In Christian teaching the Divine Right of Kings was for them to be given the means to do their job. As the tax-payers of our Charles I’st time interpreted that, it was an objection to their paying for whatever the King wanted to do, since they no longer recognised the restraints of the Christian ethic. I accept that the leaders of the Catholic church have made a lot of bad mistakes, but it is only fair to point out that they accepted that, and our Council of Trent was all about their trying to put things right. You don’t very often get politicians admitting they have made mistakes!

        To get back to Asad’s theme, Islam didn’t make the mistake of compromising with usury, but I wonder whether he could enlighten us on whether Islam has found it necessary to get together to try and sort out their own problems and differences?

    • Robert Locke
      February 6, 2019 at 9:37 pm

      Dave, I have taken a serious look at Soddy’s piece on the Role of Money. I understand why, as a scientist you are stimulated by it, since it lucidly examines a scientific explanation for the creation of money based on the energy of nature.

      What strikes me from the reading is the extent to which ideas DO NOT drive historical developments. As a scientist, Soddy clearly believed that his should be clear to intelligent people and that we should move on to reform our money system along the lines he examines. But the piece is also an exercise in frustration, in that the implementation of his reforms are frustrated by greed, ignorance, self-interest, and a host of other obstacles that opposed his reforms.

      I got the idea in the piece that he thought in the early 1930s his time had come, that in the world crisis people would finally recognize and implement the scientific ideas he outlined.

      Were he alive, I think he would be astonished that we are eighty+ years after he wrote, still clinging to the old economics in places of learning and power, without much hope of change along the lines he advocated.

      I can readily understand his frustration and yours for the way your science based views have been received. But as an historian, I also understand that ideas do not drive history, although we think that sometimes they do. In emergencies, or when big events occur, scientists can have their way in public policy. That happened during and after WWII when science was applied to the management of public and private affairs, unfortunately its triumph in the postWWII era did not set us free. Now we are hoping in the current crisis that the shock will give Soddy’s view an operational chance. But the greedy and ignorant don’t give up easily.

      • Craig
        February 6, 2019 at 10:01 pm

        Ideas Do drive history. It’s just that those ideas are so thoroughly stuck in obsessive dualistic contention and are of lesser integrative nature and import than the natural philosophical concept of grace. And of course unconsciousness of same plays a role in history, which is why history is mostly the tremendously interesting and occasionally enlightening….chronicling of Man’s unconsciousness of the concept of grace.

        Wisdom is the integrative process including the integration of the practical and the ideal which is just another definition of wisdom and shows that real wisdom NEVER misses or fails to consider all relevant factors. Hence wisdom and grace its pinnacle concept and self actualized experience CANNOT be either unreal or unscientific.

        Contemplate grace in all of its aspects and you can’t go wrong.

    • Rob
      April 22, 2019 at 10:21 am

      Asad, your battling on is much appreciated, but you need to be careful with Western history…. ‘Religion’ means literally ‘re-tie’, and was a code-word for binding oneself to Christ in gratitude for his having redeemed us. (Dave Taylor, RWER, 2/5/2019)

      The term religio predates Christ and the eventual evolution of Christianity. Dave is loose with the truth and intellectually sloppy with regards to Western history, yet presumes to warn Asad to be careful. What Dave is doing is pushing a sectarian, ahistorical, narrow, view of religion only shared by a narrow sect of undelighted Christians who neither know their own history let alone the history of religion.

      The word is originally from the Latin religio, a term that eventually was used in a great variety of senses, even by a single writer, without precision. In any case its pristine significance, continuing at least until Roman religious and other life came under the powerful and transforming influence of Greece, was much more restricted and specific than what it came to mean later. Modern scholars4 are divided as to whether it first designated a power outside man obligating him to certain behaviour under pain of threatened awesome retribution, a kind of tabu, or the feeling in man vis a vis such powers (or, indeed, whether the religious connotations are secondary developments from an originally secular word). The difference between the former two can easily become blurred, since these powers, we as outsiders would hold, were conceived subjectively—though they were believed, or felt, to reside in some objective thing or practice. Thus that in which ‘mana’ was felt to dwell, and the person whose scrupulousness towards it was vivid, were each termed religious. There were religiosae locae, sacred places; and viri religiosi, reverent or devout persons careful in the conscientious fulfilment of the corollary prescriptions. (Smith 1964, 23, in The Meaning and End of Religion)

      Wilfred Cantwell Smith in the introduction to his The Meaning and End of Religion writes:

      Many considerations, then, must be taken into account in any analysis that is to satisfy a serious modern inquirer. We may enumerate four or five as among the more weighty. First, of course, there is science. This impinges both in a general and in several particular ways. It is relevant in its broadest coverage, as signifying the growing body of knowledge about the empirical universe in all its sweep; as signifying further the method and mood of attaining that knowledge; as signifying also the practical mastery that it imparts. It is relevant also more specifically in so far as particular studies such as psychology, sociology, economic history, and also the ad hoc sciences of Religionswissenschaft have seemed to illuminate the ostensibly religious behaviour of man. Science radically modifies life intellectually and practically for all men, including those who would live it morally and spiritually; as well as modifying the scholar’s understanding of its processes. (Smith 1964, 7-8)

      Secondly, there is the multiplicity of religious traditions. In addition to a myriad of lesser groups, there are on earth not one but at least four or five major religious communities each proclaiming a faith with a long and impressive, even brilliant, past and with the continuing creative allegiance of mighty civilizations. This is known in theory; the knowledge is today supplemented in practice by personal contact and widespread social intermingling. Any adequate interpretation of a Christian’s faith, for instance, must make room for the fact that other intelligent, devout, and moral men, including perhaps his own friends, are Buddhists, Hindus, or Muslims. (Smith 1964, 8)

      Somewhat related to this consideration is the further fact of diversity within each tradition. Every faith appears in a variety of forms. Regarded from another angle, this may be seen as a problem of authority: the multiplicity of guidance with which modern man is faced religiously, which may approximate to an absence of guidance. It is no longer easy or even possible to have a religious faith without selecting its form. (Smith 1964, 8)

      Next may be noted the sheer fact of change. The world is in flux, and we know it. Like other aspects of human life, the religious aspect too is seen to be historical, evolving, in process. Any modern endeavour to clarify what religion is, must now include a question as to what at various stages of development religion has been. And if it does not venture on some speculation as to what it may become in the future, at least there is recognition that, like everything else that we know on earth, religion may be expected to continue to change. (Smith 1964, 8)

      One has not understood religion if one’s interpretation is applicable to only one of its forms. On the other hand, neither has one understood religion if one’s interpretation does justice only to some abstraction of religiousness in general but not to the fact that for most men of faith, loyalty and concern are not for any such abstraction but quite specifically and perhaps even exclusively for their own unique tradition—or even for one section within that. The Christian and the Muslim must be seen, certainly, in a world in which other men are Hindus, Buddhists, and Jews. (Smith 1964, 9)

      The rich panorama of man’s religious life over the centuries presents the observer with a bewildering variety of phenomena, and the studies of those phenomena present him with a cacophony of interpretation. Those who would understand, and those who would intelligently participate, are confronted with a task of no mean proportions. (Smith 1964, 10 )

      There are three main groups from whom comes a challenge to any scholarly inquiry into religion. First there are those who would disdain comparative or empirical study on the grounds that the elucidation of religion’s meaning and nature, and an insight into its functioning and processes, is to be obtained only from a knowledge of Christianitv—or of Islam, or whatever is one’s own faith—as representing religion at its highest, or the only true religion. Such men would hold that to consider other religions as well, is to falsify and distort, rather than to enlarge one’s understanding; that one gains in breadth by sacrificing both depth and truth; that an understanding of roses is not enhanced by a study of rosettes…. [O]ne need not accept the either/or dichotomy of those who thus contend that one should study Christianity (or, Islam; etc.) rather than religion in general. One may, and should, study both the Christian and the Islamic and the other individual traditions, so that ultimately one’s interpretation may do justice not only to the insight or force or validity of one faith but at the same time to the facts of all. (Smith 1964, 10-11)

      The two most fundamental questions confronting twentieth-century man, the one social, the other personal, both involve religion: how to turn our nascent world society into a world community, on a group level; and on a personal level, how to find meaning in modern life. To neither of these, of course, is the answer even primarily intellectual; and yet it is perhaps not fatuous to suggest that adequate answers will require inter alia an understanding of religion more clarified and effective than is now to hand…. Unless men can learn to understand and to be loyal to each other across religious frontiers, unless we can build a world in which people profoundly of different faiths can live together and work together, then the prospects for our planet’s future are not bright (Smith 1964, 13-14)

      The history of religion shows that no faith tradition is immune from the evils of institutional religion, sectarian fanaticism, or imperial conquest, depending upon what period in history one is looking at. There are saints and sinners in every world tradition. Christianity has just as much blood upon its hands as Islam for those who know their history. So too, Islam and Christianity have revelations of truth, goodness, and beauty in the lives and teachings of their saints. Dave would conveniently overlook this simple truth in his use of RWER as place to proselytize his narrow brand of Christian theology. Not all Christians are so anti-intellectual in their theology and would not stoop ot using RWER for sectarian apologetics as Dave does regularly.

  3. Craig
    February 5, 2019 at 6:41 pm

    Whether one chooses Islam or Christianity or Buddhism as their vehicle, self actualizing grace as in love in action/policy is the first and last step in that process. All the more reason to awaken to the new paradigm of Abundantly Direct and Reciprocal Monetary Grace as in Gifting that will underlay and buoy us in that necessarily individual mental effort.

    There is absolutely no conflict between science and the natural philosophical concept and self actualized experience of grace, and a culture of grace/graciousness has always been the goal and the light we’ve simply needed to stand in….until it’s many aspects are part of our very beingness.

    • Helen Sakho
      February 5, 2019 at 11:45 pm

      My point was, remains and will be that religion is a system of beliefs, an ideology. Whether one is a Communist, a Buddhist, a Muslim or a Jew, there is no getting away from the fact that entrenched dogma/fascination (that is to say not seeing the bigger picture that is staring us in face, day after day on all really urgent matters that I shall refrain from repeating) is immoral by any measure.
      Economics (as far as I know!) was never a religion. Turning any religion that tries to explain it, or justify it, or contextual it at this crucial point in human history, will only give this very imperfect social science greater importance than it ever deserved. All this is intended to derail progressive discourse.

      • February 6, 2019 at 10:05 am

        Helen, your “one size fits all” attitude to religion doesn’t become you, and if your own dogma is that dogma is the enemy it follows that mainstream economics is an enemy. It is wise to recognise that fact and reasonable to debunk those who are dogmatists.

        The problem is, the dogma may be as near right as you are going to get, or the person you may see as being dogmatic is actually accepting positions he has come to agree with through a life-time of experience and critical reflection on the available evidence. Indeed, dogmas have to start with someone articulating them. Progressive discourse has to start by pointing out what a dogma (or dogmatic denial) is concealing by omission, e.g. the purposes of religion and economics. If something has no purpose one has no measure by means of which you can say it is moral or immoral.

        If on the other hand, the purposes of religion and economics are to thank God for life and to facilitate our service of each other, that is moral; if the unstated purpose of its teachers and adherents is to live comfortably at the expense of others, that is immoral. Debateably, thinking here of Craig and Frank, one needs to allow for innocent dogmatists comforting themselves instinctively with self-rightous belief in the truth of their dogma. It is not as if these two are living comfortably at our expense.

      • February 6, 2019 at 11:16 am

        PS. You say: “Economics (as far as I know!) was never a religion”. I mentioned “dogmatic denial” with Hume’s atheism in mind, and Adam Smith being a colleague of Hume, so perhaps it was (and is) an anti-religion.

        Incidentally, I have previously excused Hume to the extent that he was judging religion by the way the establishment clergy of his day were behaving, spelled out a little later by Cobbett, approaching Ryall near here on his Rural Rides, 25-27 September 1826.

      • Craig
        February 6, 2019 at 6:55 pm

        Grace, which is simply love in individual action/systemic policy, is the fulfillment of the law. Contemplate grace so it becomes your own SELF ACTUALIZED reality….and you’ll “never put a foot wrong” as the British say.

  4. Helen Sakho
    February 7, 2019 at 12:40 am

    Dear Dave, I honestly do not mind various sizes at all. What I do have a problem with is when sizes change so frequently that one forgets one’s own size!
    Try ordering a size ten tea shirt or trousers from any reputable dealer, and you will be in for a big surprise. Our body sizes are manipulated as are our brain sizes. But our conscience? This is where I welcome authentic “fundamentalism”. Otherwise, we never believed in anything constant.
    Economists are humans, so I would never attack them on a personal basis (even when I have been personally insulted on this blog – see the links for yourselves) But Economics ( and yes most mainstream Economists) do have a lot to answer for. They really need to change their positions and positioning.

  5. February 8, 2019 at 5:54 pm

    My point was, remains and will be that religion is a system of beliefs, an ideology. Whether one is a Communist, a Buddhist, a Muslim or a Jew, there is no getting away from the fact that entrenched dogma/fascination (that is to say not seeing the bigger picture that is staring us in face, day after day on all really urgent matters that I shall refrain from repeating) is immoral by any measure.

    Economics (as far as I know!) was never a religion. Turning [to] any religion that tries to explain it, or justify it, or contextual it at this crucial point in human history, will only give this very imperfect social science greater importance than it ever deserved. All this is intended to derail progressive discourse. ~ Helen Sakho

    As always I enjoy your comments Helen. I am new to the study of economics on more than mere superficial Econ 101 and 102 classes from business school. But over these last few years I have repeatedly ran across well known economists making the very claim that mainstream economics functions more akin to an ideological belief system than a science. More like a religion than a science. More like pseudo-science than science. And of course there is the every present point that economics was a moral and political philosophy before its age of mathematization under the progressive movements desire to rid economics of moral philosophy and turn into a science more like physics (P-Envy). Whether they be religious, atheitst, or agnostic it seems there is a rising choras of voices calling for a more human (ethical) working economy.

    Nelson lays a cogent argument down that economics as religion is alive and well even today. Scientism (materialism) is a religion every bit as dogmatic as the most dogmatic/ideologically encrusted religion. Science too can become an ideologically driven enterprise when it departs from the facts and espouses unfounded beliefs, disproven empirical claims, etc. The great strength of science has been its self-correcting mechanism that sooner or later the old dogmatists die off and a younger generation replaces them that is unafraid to challenge the dead dogma of their predecessors and reexamine old (and new) evidence through a new set of tinted glasses.

    Economists think of themselves as scientists, but as I will be arguing in this book, they are more like theologians. The closest predecessors for the current members of the economics profession are not scientists such as Albert Einstein or Isaac Newton; rather, we economists are more truly the heirs of Thomas Aquinas and Martin Luther. Economists think that their role in society is to provide technical knowledge to operate the economic system. The members of the economics profession do make important contributions in this regard. The inflation, unemployment, and other data collected by economists, for example, are critical to monitoring the current state of the economy. However, another basic role of economists is to serve as the priesthood of a modern secular religion of economic progress that serves many of the same functions in contemporary society as earlier Christian and other religions did in their time.* Economic efficiency has been the greatest source of social legitimacy in the United States for the past century, and economists have been the priesthood defending this core social value of our era. (Nelson, Robert H.. Economics as Religion: From Samuelson to Chicago and Beyond . Penn State University Press. Kindle Edition.)


    1. Illiberal Reformers

    2. Economics as Religion

    3. Economics of Good and Evil

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