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.

  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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