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Regenerative Livelihood

What is the Islamic Gift Economy?

The Islamic Gift Economy is an integrative economic system grounded in Islamic ethics and principles, promoting cooperation, mutual consent, and partnership, while emphasizing mercy, gratitude, generosity, and trustworthiness, fostering an economics of abundance rather than scarcity.

The Islamic Gift Economy (IGE; al-Iqtisad al-Infaqi or al-Iqtisad al-Ihsani) can be envisioned as an integrative economic system based on the operative principles of:

(1) cooperation (ta'awun),

(2) mutual consent ('an taradin/muradatin),

(3) and partnership (musharakah),

and these are in turn founded on the principal ethical precepts of mercy (rahma), gratitude (shukr), generosity (karam/ihsan), moderation (tawazun/ 'iffa), khilafah (trusteeship), and amanah (integrity). These operative precepts are grounded in the foundational psycho-cosmological outlook expressed in the belief that:

(i)  the natural and cultural (4) resources of the world are abundant,(5) while,

(ii) the material needs, wants and desires of human beings are in fact limited (6) and should be limited. (7)

Indeed Allah is beautiful, and loves beauty.

The natural and cultural resources of the world seen as blessings and bounties (fadl) from the Merciful Creator (ni'am/ala' al-Khaliq) are abundant and even unlimited in principle because wa in ta'uddu ni'mataLlahi la tuhsuha: "if you count the bounty of Allah you will not exhaust it" (Ibrahim: 34). (8) Viewed in the light of justified true belief (iman), these resources are gifts and favors (ala') from the realm of transcendence to which the human ethico-cognitive response is gratitude (shukr), which in turn results in contentment and fulfillment (qana'ah). Hence humankind will take according to his need but not his greed, for because of abundance and plenitude there is no anxiety over scarcity that feeds greed (tama') and accumulation (takathur/jam' al-mal wa ta'diduhu). (9) Moreover, shukr itself becomes an existential and psychological state of being that is itself generative of abundance (ziyadah) both material and spiritual, for la in shakartum la'azidannakum, or "verily, if you give thanks, I will indeed give you more" (Ibrahim: 7).

Thus by definition, Islamic economics is an economics of abundance, (10) and never an economics of scarcity. (11)

In the secular darkness of disbelief and ingratitude (kufr), however, these resources are severed off from their transcendent, spiritual source, and restricted to their limited, purely quantitative level of being; hence humankind view these resources as limited and scarce, despite its actual abundance, and they will engage in mutual, unending competition over them out of anxiety over their perceived scarcity: "al-shaytanu ya'idukum al-faqra wa ya'murukum bi al-fahsha'i wa Allahu ya'idukum maghfiratan minhu wa fadlan" = "the devil promises you destitution and enjoins on you lewdness, but Allah promises you forgiveness from Him with bounty" (al-Baqarah: 268). Without belief, man will, out of anxiety, take and exploit these resources according to his greed (tama') without any sense of recognition of, and reliance on, their true, transcendent source, which in turns results in ingratitude (kufr al-ni'mah) and hence loss of contentment, leading to an existential and psychological state of perpetual anxiety and endless yearning and insecurity: "wa la in kafartum inna 'azabi la shadid" = "but if you are thankless, then indeed my punishment is dire" (Ibrahim: 7).

In this state, which can be referred to as the "pathology of consumption," what is attained is never really felt to be attained, and satisfaction is fleeting leaving in its wake disillusionment boredom and a gnawing sense of meaninglessness, and of course, ecosystemic desolation of the cultural and natural landscape. (12) The Australian economist, Clive Hamilton, has referred in his interesting book to this paradoxical state of perpetual anxiety and endless yearning in the midst of plenty that is never resolved as a disease called "affluenza." (13) Although he was not at all referring to the Islamic perspective on the situation, his thinking is of some significance in the light of what my friend Faizel Katkodia of South Africa has referred to as the current informal cross-cultural "convergence on commonalities" (14) in the shared quest towards finding common solutions to the common problems of humankind.

Mindless consumption - the other side of neoliberal economics.

Thus, Muslims, if they are sensitive to the worldview of Islam, (15) cannot go on agreeing explicitly or implicitly with the standard secular definition of economics that more or less asserts itself as the study of "the allocation of scarce resources to fulfill unlimited wants." (16)

This is because this and similar definitions of economics in the standard economics textbooks (17) used throughout the world are based on two basic mistaken and largely unexamined dogmatic assumptions, one cosmological and the other psychological.

The cosmological assumption, as implicit in the phrase "scarce resources," is that nature is purely material without a transcendent source of being, renewal and regeneration, and so it must be a closed system, hence finite, limited and mono-dimensional in structure. The psychological assumption, as implicit in the phrase "unlimited wants," makes a claim about the nature of man, in that he is limited to his physical self and materialistic ambition without any deeper spiritual substance and higher, transcendental aspiration, hence he lives only to realize his immediate sensual, bodily desires and to create new desires, thus leading, from the Islamic point of view, to his seduction into "rivalry in worldly increase" as the only goal of his purely temporal life: "alhakum al-takathur hatta zurtum al-maqabir" = "rivalry in worldly increase distracts you until you visit your graves" (al-Takathur: l-2). This reduction of man mere sensuality and physicality fragments his vision of his nature and his destiny.

In contrast, Muslims believe that:

(i) both nature and culture and their resources have a transcendent source of being, regeneration and renewal, and hence natural and cultural resources are not limited in respect of that transcendent source of renewal and regeneration, but rather they are abundant: "wa atakum min kulli ma sa'altumuhu" = "and He gives you of all that you ask of him" (Ibrahim: 34); and that,

(ii) man's self is both physical and spiritual, in which the physical is embedded in and serves the spiritual.(18) Hence man voluntarily limits his material desires through cultivating the self-discipline of zuhd (spiritual detachment and economic downshifting) (19) in order that he might better realize his higher and truer spiritual aspirations by which he finds his true self and place in the larger order of creation and being. Freedom finds its truly creative and constructive purpose only in the context of discipline.

He pursues his short-term material needs only in the conscious context of higher, more encompassing and long-term non-material goals and objectives and thereby attains to meaning and happiness in service of those higher imperatives. (20) Thus man's material needs and wants are limited by virtue of his own innate impulse toward self-realization of his higher, spiritual (i.e., intellectual, ethical and moral) calling, which transcends the temporal, sensual life of the body and the world; "bal tu'thiruna al-hayata al-dunya wa al-akhiratu khayrun wa abqa" = "Indeed, you prefer the life of the world, but the Afterlife is better and more lasting" (al-A'la: 16-17). In other words, he finds his identity and destiny in the service of the transcendent and not in serving his whimsical ego. Professor Yahya Michot says to the effect that your 'identity' consists in your service to your Creator.

This foundational Islamic cosmo-psychological outlook has deep and far reaching implications for how we should go about understanding and engaging both Islamic and Western economics. Muslims need to be critically and creatively self-conscious about these two cosmo-psychological principles in order to formulate an authentic, integrative Islamic economic system that is viable in the contemporary age; namely, one that is autonomous and can stand and prosper on its own ethical and economic principles, while in constructive engagement with the West; instead of one that is coopted, wittingly or unwittingly, into the mainstream, neoliberal free-market system, as is largely the case with what currently goes by the name of Islamic Banking & Finance (IBF). (21) This foundational consideration brings us to the notion of the Islamic Gift Economy (IGE) and the manner in which we should go about defining it and outlining its general cognitive and operative parameters.

Defining the Islamic Gift Economy

For our limited, critically reflective and programmatic purpose here, the Islamic Gift Economy (22) (IGE) can be provisionally defined as:

the provisioning and sharing, by mutual giving and receiving, of natural and cultural abundance for realizing material and spiritual well-being. (23)

This definition takes into consideration that the world and humankind are not only material or physical but more fundamentally they are also spiritual and have a higher, spiritual or metaphysical significance. They serve a cognitive and moral purpose that transcends their immediate physicality or sensuality; namely, a purpose which is indicative of a higher, more encompassing Reality (al-Haqq) on which they depend, in which they are embedded, and to which they respond. (24)

This definition of the IGE is made operative in practice by a systematic, integrative revival of the ethico-legal mechanisms of religious, social and commercial exchange as formally embodied in the traditional adab and fiqh of 'ibadah and mu'amalah, (25) such as:

  • zakat (obligatory charity),
  • waqf (charitable endowment),
  • sadaqah (voluntary charity),
  • hibah (gift-giving),
  • fara'id/irth (estate division),
  • wasiyyah (bequest),
  • qard hasan (goodly personal loan),
  • 'ariyyah (lending something for use),
  • Ijarah (renting and hiring),
  • ja'alah (job wages),
  • mudarabah (venture capital or financing a profit-sharing venture), and,
  • musharakah/sharikah (business partnership). (26)

Here the foundational notion of the 'gift' or rather gifting, giving and provisioning (sadaqah, hadiyah, hibah and infaq) (27) is significant, for deep reflection on the above-mentioned religious, social and commercial exchange structures will show that they have less to do with taking than with giving, and hence, ultimately more about serving wider, communal/public rather than narrow, individual/private interests. As a matter of fact, even the so-called individual 'private interest' that is served in formal commercial exchange is inseparably embedded in the larger fabric of communal 'public interest', for it is a principal precept of Islamic legal theory (usul al-fiqh) that public, communal interest (maslahah 'ammah) has precedence over private, individual interest (manfa'ah nafsiyyah). Hence, the commercial is never in spite of the communal, the societal and the community. (28)

To illustrate this point, let us look at the institution and rules of fara'id/irth (the Islamic law of inheritance and estate division). Because of this law even the most greedy and accumulative of people will be compelled at the end of his life to redistribute his accumulated wealth amongst legally eligible members of his family, such that at the end of the day he gives away, in a redistributive manner, very much more than what he has actually consumed in his life-time of his hard-earned wealth. Another case in point is the august institution of zakat, which ensures that the urgent, material needs of the most vulnerable members of the community are immediately taken care of through a system of obligatory giving by its relatively more well-off members. (29)

Even in the various formal structures of commercial exchange, such as the business partnership (musharakah/sharikah) and the venture capital (madarabah/ qirad), the basic, underlying governing vision is still that of giving, i.e., mutual giving, of capital by the investor, on the one hand, and of skill, by the entrepreneur, on the other hand, to a common business enterprise, and the mutual sharing of the risks that go together with the benefits inherent in that common enterprise. Hence, what we have here is an economics of giving and receiving based on reciprocal partnership, not one of taking and hoarding based on exclusion.

We can glean from a close, intelligent and creative reading of, say, Ja'far ibn 'Ali al-Dimashqi's (circa 600/1200) slim treatise (30) the underlying message that

good management of the self (ethics, akhlaq) is the basis for good management of the household (the original meaning of 'economics', or tadbir al-manzil); and this in turn is the basis for good management of society (politics, siyasah), and therefore the material economy should be embedded in the moral economy in order to realize a true economy of right livelihood (kasb tayyib) for the common good (maslahah kulliyyah), thereby leading to felicity in temporal and eternal life.

As Essid explains: "We see here the beginnings of an ideology of the common good in which commercial exchange satisfies the common necessity, with trade raised to the rank of an eminently social link." (31)

And so, in this mode of thinking, the market aspects and the welfare aspects are both integral, constituent aspects of the same economy, which, in this regard can be termed as the 'market-welfare' economy,(32) or the Islamic Gift Economy (al-itqtisad al-infaqi), or an economics of provisioning in which profits and surpluses are to be reinvested into serving local communal well-being rather than the speculative interests and bottom-lines of far-way, indifferent absentee stockholders, or rather, free-riders, and their agents.

This understanding of the underlying notion of 'giving' or 'gifting' finds support in Michael Bonner's careful study of early, pre-Dimashqian economic thought in Islam as exemplified in al-Shaybani's important Kitab al-Kasb or The Book of Earning a Livelihood. (33) Here the corresponding notion is that of a virtuous circulative exchange between rich and poor or an economics of interdependence between rich and poor in which:

the surplus of the rich is to be "returned" (radd, ruju') to the poor and destitute in order to maintain order, peace and balance in society, especially in urban society. (34) So the "gift" economy is the "return" or "circulative" economy, in which the circulation of wealth is from the rich to the poor and not from the rich to the rich, so that "it does not become something which circulates among the wealthy in your midst" (al-Hashr: 7).

The kind of run-away speculative, overly money-centered economics that has been systematically destroying middle-classes worldwide for the past decades or so, would be something unfathomable to the Dimashqian and Shaybanian economic vision. (35) As a matter of fact, al-Dimashqi devotes a number of pages of his treatise to warn hardworking, honest business people against the temptations of all sorts of speculative enterprises marketed by the sophisticated smooth talkers of his time, (36) the kind of economic predators we now call "economic hit-men." (37) Similarly, his lucid explanation of why gold and silver have been the commonly-agreed medium of exchange and unit of value among all people since ancient times doves tail perfectly well with the current call-in the face of the ongoing financial meltdown-for abandoning the overly centralized fiat, paper-money system and returning to the gold and silver system, and other forms of community-based "healthy" money and currency systems. (38)

This governing vision of mutuality, participativeness and partnership, or common interest and common good instead of narrow self-interest, can be contrasted to the generally one-sided affair in conventional banking (including so-called 'Islamic' banking and finance, IBF) in which capital is merely rented out by one party, say the bank, to another, the businessman/entrepreneur, through various elaborate mark-up instruments (as in the case of IBF), thus ensuring guaranteed returns to the bank without obliging it in any way to participate in the risks inherent in the enterprise, risks which are to be borne exclusively by the businessman/entrepreneur.

لَن تَنَالُوا۟ ٱلْبِرَّ حَتَّىٰ تُنفِقُوا۟ مِمَّا تُحِبُّونَ ۚ وَمَا تُنفِقُوا۟ مِن شَىْءٍۢ فَإِنَّ ٱللَّهَ بِهِۦ عَلِيمٌ

You will not attain to goodness unless you spend from that which you love. And whatever you give is certainly well known to Allah. (Imran, 92)

يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوٓا۟ أَنفِقُوا۟ مِمَّا رَزَقْنَـٰكُم

Oh you who believe, give from what We have provided for you. (Baqarah, 254)

Even informal, social giving or general voluntary charity and alms giving (sadaqah) has been institutionalized in Islam into a system called waqf (charitable endowment or trust). Through the formal, legal system of waqf, a normally one-off gift is transformed into a particular kind of charitable capital for diverse types of social enterprises that indefinitely generates either revenue or usufruct or both which perpetuates for its specified beneficiaries the benefits of that initial act of giving. Thus waqf is also called sadaqah jariyah (39) = "perpetual charity," an "ongoing" charity that is always current, whose benefit always flows out to the beneficiaries as long as the original charitable corpus stands or is preserved, enhanced and maintained. In the waqf (literally, to retain, to restrain, to reserve) system, private wealth is voluntarily retained and dedicated for the perpetual, free provision of public goods and services in order to serve the larger, public interest of the community, in the hope of generating perpetual spiritual reward to the waqif or endower, who takes to heart the Qur'anic admonishments:

"la tanalu al-birra hatta tunfiqu mimma tuhibbuna", translated as

"you will not attain to goodness unless you spend from that which you love"

(Ali 'Imran: 92); and,

"ya ayyuha alladhina amanu anfiqu mimma razaqnakum" translated as

"O you who believe, give of what We have provided for you"

(al-Baqarah: 254). (40)

In contrast, neoliberal privatization is a system in which public wealth and the commons are retained (or "enclosed," hence the so-called "enclosure of the commons") (41) and dedicated for the provision of private profit, in which the larger communal and societal interest is only of an ad hoc, marginal and incidental consideration, despite sweet-sounding political rhetoric and elaborate economic jargon to the contrary.(42) In the case of waqf we have the "pouring-out" economy, whereas in the case of privatization we have the "trickle-down" (i.e., cream for the rich, and crumbs, if any, for the poor) economy. On the one hand we have the Islamic Gift Economy (IGE), and on the other hand we have the Neoliberal Scoop Economy (NSE). Since as Muslims (or as decent human beings) we can't have both, we better then think carefully which of the two systems we want to adopt, develop and implement, at the communal, national, regional and global levels of exchange.

 وَمَا تُنفِقُوا۟ مِنْ خَيْرٍۢ يُوَفَّ إِلَيْكُمْ وَأَنتُمْ لَا تُظْلَمُونَ

...And whatever good thing you spend shall be repaid to you in full, and you shall not be wronged. (Baqarah, 272).

It is in the nature of giving, gifting and the gift that ultimately nothing is actually given away never to return to the giver. As a matter of fact, the giver, instead of being impoverished, stands to benefit as much as if not more than the receiver, in both material and spiritual terms, for, indeed, if everyone gives then everyone receives, and none is left out, and everyone is embedded and is participative in the material and cultural life of the community, which in turn leads to social cohesion and belonging rather than fragmentation and alienation: "wa ma tunfiqu min khayrin yuwaffa ilaykum wa antum la tuzlamun" = "and whatsoever good thing you spend, it will be repaid to you in full, and you will not be wronged" (al-Baqarah: 272). The basic idea here is that wealth must always be circulating amongst people and not be systemically siphoned off from the community into the hands of the rich to be accumulated for narrow self-serving interest, "so that it won't circulate among the wealthy in your midst" (al-Hashr: 7).(43)

This universal ethical principle of reciprocity, mutual help, mutual consent, partnership, mutual kindness (tabadul, ta'awun, taradin, muradatin, musharakah, mu'amalah, jaza' al-ihsan bi al-ihsan) underlies the gift culture of traditional Islamic societies, including traditional, non-westernized cultures in general.(44) This principle of reciprocal giving and receiving is enshrined in the Qur'anic verse: "hal jaza' al-ihsan illa al-ihsan" = "is the recompense of goodness aught save goodness?" (al-Rahman: 60). In a community in which everyone gives, everyone receives also, and most times, everyone receives in return much more than what he or she has given out in the first place, hence none is left out, none is marginalized or alienated or ostracized, but everyone belongs as a way of truly humane living, well-expressed in the South African traditional socio-cultural concept of ubuntu. As Justice Mahomed Jaybhay explains it:

In South Africa the culture of ubuntu is the capacity to express compassion, justice, reciprocity, dignity, harmony and humanity in the interests of building, maintaining and strengthening the community. Ubuntu speaks of our inter-connectedness, our common humanity and the responsibility to each that flows from our connection....Ubuntu means that people are people through other people....It not only describes human being as "being-with-others," but also prescribes how we should relate to others, i.e., what "being-with-others" should be all about. (45)

The Nature of the Gift

Before we go on, enhancing our critical understanding of the meaning and practice of mutual giving and receiving requires us to analyze the nature of the gift, both conceptually and culturally. I think it is best that we do this by looking at the various forms of giving, or rather, "gifting," in the traditional communities which many of us still live in, or identify with, or have learnt about.

Maybe I can start by giving my own experience of traditional gifting in Malaysia, my home country (as encapsulated in the term gotong royong = "mutual helping"). (46) Here we really need to extend the concept and practice of gotong royong from merely helping out during kenduris (social, communal feasting) (47) to the wider context of social and commercial exchange in general for the promotion of communal solidarity. We may also be acquainted with some of the inspiring examples of the giving and gifting culture in South Africa, which I visited twice a couple of years ago on the generous invitation of its non-governmental (or rather, civic societal) National Awqaf Foundation (AWQAF SA) (48) to talk and exchange views and experiences on this very topic of giving in its various forms, tangible and intangible, especially in the form of waqf.

Now, the significance of waqf for the tiny yet relatively affluent South African Muslim minority (roughly 1.8-2% of a population of almost 50 million), is that its beneficiaries need not be restricted to Muslims but can also include non-Muslims, especially the still economically marginalized majority black African population. Hence waqf is one of the most effective ways by which affluent South African Muslims can give back to the land on which they have found their home and prosperity and thereby embed themselves more firmly into the larger South African cultural landscape as indigenous sons and daughters of the soil. We can here also invoke some of the many, high quality formal academic, specifically anthropological, studies that have been undertaken on the culture of gifting in both historical and contemporary times, in both Muslim (49) and non-Muslim societies (50). But what, precisely constitute a true gift?

A gift has basically three tangible integrals:

(i) the giver,

(ii) the receiver,

(iii) the object or service gifted; and three intangible integrals or qualities: it has to be:

(i) beneficial,

(ii) of some non-trivial value,

(iii) of some relevance or meaning.

If the object of exchange has these features, then it constitutes in essence a gift, even if the exchange is ostensibly formal, commercial, or for personal profit, since the profit is earned through profiting others.

Thus in the gift economy, mutuality obtains, whether in commercial or social exchange. In both cases, the governing precept is that one desires for his fellow human being what he desires for himself, as Imam al-Ghazali so elegantly expresses it in his book on The Proprieties of Earning & Living. Thus one's pursuit of Right Livelihood is inseparable from one's concern for the Common Good.

The Gift and the Problem with Islamic Banking and Finance

Contemporary discourse on Islamic economics is too narrowly focused on issues related to Islamic banking and finance (IBF), whereas Islamic Economics, by definition, involves also domains of exchange other than the purely financial or commercial or market-driven. As a matter of fact, it can be shown from Islamic economic history and the formal fiqh of 'ibadah and mu'amalah that by far the major domain of exchange in an Islamic economy is the voluntary, devotional and communal one, involving the operative structures of zakat, sadaqah, waqf, hibah, qard hasan, hadiyah, fara'id/mirath, wasiyyah, including non-monetary lending and borrowing of tools and facilities, and reciprocal non-financial exchange of skills, services and expertise, and even goods. I think that it can be argued quite empirically that these non-market exchange mechanisms were in fact just as efficient, if not more so, in the just, equitable and timely allocation of natural and cultural resources to those who needed them most. One fundamental problem with current IBF, as has been pointed out by Meera, Larbani, Cook, El Diwany, Vadillo, el-Gamal and many others (51), is its adherence to the Fractional Reserve Banking (FRB) model also adhered to by conventional, usurious banks by which deficit-based money is created as credit as a multiple of the capital base in accordance with the capital requirements set out by the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) in the 1988 Basel Accord. (52) So we have a situation in which an Islamic bank may be compliant on paper in its contractual form with the basic principle of loss and profit sharing in its financial relations with customers, but the fact remains that at bottom the bank is still funding its profit-making operations through fiat money it creates out of nothing thanks to the usurious FRB principle. (53) According to Cook, "this reality is at best not made clear by Islamic banks and is at best deliberately obscured," and thus he concludes that "Islamic banking as currently practiced is an Islamic veneer on an un-Islamic reality." (54) Shari 'ah integrates legal form and ethical substance, lest it gets corrupted, narrowed, fragmented and reduced to vacuous self-serving formalism and legalism. As Meera and Larbani elaborates:

Fractional reserve banking (FRB) is the basis of the present day monetary systems. In most countries, Islamic Banking and Finance too operates under this principle.... FRB has effects on the ownership structure of assets in the economy, and that this effect violates the Islamic principles of ownership.... money creation through FRB is creation of purchasing power out of nothing which brings about unjust ownership transfers of assets in the economy, to the bank effectively, paid for by the whole economy through inflation. This transfer of ownership is not based on human effort by taking on legitimate risks and neither with the knowledge nor the consent of the initial owners. These violate the ownership principles in Islam and tantamount to theft. It also has the elements of riba. On the same basis, Islamic governments should not create fiat money since this is equivalent to taking assets of the people, rich and poor alike, forcefully without compensation. It is, therefore, important that Shariah scholars come up with a fatwa on both the fiat money and the fractional reserve banking system. Such a fatwa is urgent and pertinent before Islamic banking and finance that operate under these systems, takes a course that may prove to be difficult to reverse later. The Islamic economic and finance system cannot be founded upon a money system that is fundamentally equivalent to theft and riba. (55)

In short, fractional reserve banking allows the very few to consume the wealth of the great majority, wrongly and unjustly, in direct disregard of the divine injunction:

وَلَا تَأْكُلُوٓا۟ أَمْوَٰلَكُم بَيْنَكُم بِٱلْبَـٰطِلِ

"and do not consume your wealth amongst yourselves in vanity [i.e., wrongly] 

(Baqarah: 188). (56)

As a matter of fact, quantitative studies have shown a direct correlation between FRB and compound interest, and the systemic destruction and desolation of the cultural and natural environments in both so-called first and third world countries. It is also this system that privileges the short-term interests of the elite of the present generation over the long-term interests of future generations, who are forced to bear the debt-burden of our current life-style of profligate consumption and the systemic dissipation of wealth and resources that goes along with it. (57)

Another problem in the current obsession with IBF is what has been called the murabahah (cost-plus, mark-up, rent-seeking) syndrome, (58) which is the emphasis on loan- or debt-financing (even though this may be formally "asset-backed") (59) by means of elaborate mark-up instruments to ensure lucrative, risk-free profit on the part of the financing institution, regardless of the economic situation of the borrower or the financial performance of the borrowing enterprise and its market prospects. This predilection for loan-/debt-financing results in the systemic marginalization of venture capital financing (or commenda,qirad/mudarabah) and financing by means of the business partnership (sharikah, musharakah) in which the financing institution or investor provides (i.e., gives instead of lends) capital and is thus participative in the conduct and outcome of the enterprise, which is thus seen and treated as a truly common enterprise. (60)

As far as I know, there is only one Islamic banking group in the whole world that is exclusively devoted to equity-financing and venture capital financing, (61) while the rest are mainly devoted to conventional murabahah, rent-seeking, mark-up, cost-plus instruments, with venture capital or commenda (qirad), business partnership (sharikah), and the goodly loan (qard hasan) thrown in only as an afterthought in order to give some semblance of substance to the label "Islamic." Even when it comes to equity or venture capital financing, as in the case of that particular bank or rather venture capital investment company, the question arises as to whether the investment portfolio is spread out more or less evenly over both up-scale projects yielding high financial returns and medium- to small-scale ones yielding relatively low financial (but perhaps higher "social") returns, or concentrated on the up-scale ones. If the latter, then it is no better in essence than conventional western venture capital firms, whose motivation is mainly very high profit margins or return on investment over the short and medium terms, with little or no concern for contributing to, and participating in, the larger communal well-being in which a particular enterprise is located.

In contrast, decentralised, community-rooted Islamic venture capital firms (instead of faceless big banks) would be one whose investment portfolio is more or less evenly spread out over both market-driven and community-driven productive investment projects. In this way equitable allocation and reallocation of productive wealth are built into the general business culture in which the focus is not on financial growth per se but, much more importantly, on communal well-being and cohesion, or social growth. Such a way of doing business will still make money and generate moderate profit and even moderate growth over time up to a certain optimum size, beyond which a part of the company could break off and become a separate, autonomous entity, thus preempting over-accumulation and over-concentration of capital and wealth in the hands of a few powerful individuals or organizations.

The ideal company or corporate organizational structure would then be in the form of a management-cum-employee-owned enterprise (or common-ownership enterprise) instead of the present conventional structure in which ownership is largely vested in far-away absentee investors or shareholders (financially headquartered and coordinated for the most part at Wall Street) led by CEOs who don't really care a jot about the enterprise except as a disembodied, money-making machine-growth for growth's sake. This means we also have to really, really rethink the conventional notion of the corporation as a legal person. (62) So, while the Islamic Gift Economy (IGE) willingly participates in the well-being of the community, the Wall Street Scoop Economy (WSSE) deliberately free-rides parasitically on communal wealth and sucks it dry, which explains the system-wide financial and economic melt-down in the United States, Ireland, Greece, Spain, Iceland and Italy. (63)

Rethinking Money, Finance, and Economics

Of course, if we think along these radical (i.e., values-based-going-to-the-root-of-the-problem) lines, then we obviously have to rethink the concepts of 'bank' and 'banking' (64), including the mutually related concepts of 'money' (65), 'finance', 'currency', 'cost', 'benefit', 'revenue', and 'profit'; the concepts of the 'market', 'firm' and the 'corporation', (66) employer-employee and management-owner relationships; (67) the organization of labor and commerce, and ultimately the concepts of 'economics' (68), 'growth' (69), 'wealth' (70) and 'development' (71); including the largely unexamined concept of the GDP/GNP (Gross Domestic Product/Gross National Product) as a measure of well-being which has been so hegemonic over our economic thinking for the past five decades or so (72). In short, we really need to re-examine and rethink practically all the key-terms and key-concepts governing current discourse and debate on economics and the economy.

It is beyond the scope of this general re-visioning to go into these rethinking in any detail. I myself have started researching these issues only recently (since 2008) and am still in the process of critically synthesizing them within a coherent and viable counter-economic framework which engages conventional economics leading to a positive counter-economics and while systemically grounding itself in our worldview, tradition, historical experience, sacred law and cultural norms. But if we have more like-minded intellectuals, researchers and ulama joining hands and minds in systemically rethinking these foundational mu'amalah and economic issues, then eventually something positive will bear fruit, intellectually and operationally, in the very near future, in sha Allah. By way of example, I believe everyone should seriously consider Chris Cook's very sound and practical ideas on "21st Century Islamic Finance," based on various forms of "debt-free asset-based finance" and "mutual interest-free deficit-finance or credit" that are "entirely consistent with the values underpinning Islam." (73) But the more we think about it, the more we realise we don't really need banks; and we need to do away with the term 'finance', which is all about getting everyone into debt and servicing that debt indefinitely.

It is also pertinent here to say that this manner of systemic rethinking has been taking place for some time amongst the more conscientious economic and social thinkers and intellectuals of the West, such as Karl Polanyi (74), E. F. Schumacher (75), Kenneth Boulding (76), Bill McKibben (77), Herman Daly (78), Howard Zinn (79), Noam Chomsky (80), and Hazel Henderson (81), including Mark Anielski (with his interesting book, Economics of Happiness) (82), and Charles Eisenstein, many of whose proposed solutions are in harmony, at least in spirit and ethico-moral substance, with the Islamic precepts of giving, gifting, sharing, temperance, moderation, justice, mutuality and gratitude, as these were realized in practiced in the long history of our traditional, community-centered socio-economic institutions. As a case in point, I see much of the traditional Islamic economic ethos reflected in the "green economics" of Molly Scott Cato's 'green economics', and in Tim Jackson's economics of "growth-less" prosperity. (83)

Muslim economists, including intellectuals, policy makers, fuqaha and ulama in general, should make it an aspect of their communal obligation (fard kifayah = the duty of sufficing the community) to take a deep, critical and proactive interest in these constructive trends toward an alternative economics or counter-economics, and thereby contribute a systemic and creative Islamic viewpoint to the global post-economic discourse. One important aspect of this communal intellectual obligation would be for ulama, researchers and intellectuals to work together to rearticulate traditional Islamic economic ethical precepts (84) in contemporary discursive terms, and then to systemically work out the implications of this ethical framework for what is actually happening on the ground now in the modern economy and the manner in which it impacts on people and communities. Thus the IGE outlined here can be the basis of a comprehensive, long term Islamic Economics Research Program (IERP), leading to the eventual reclaiming and reviving of our civilizational heritage in the economic domain of life. We should therefore view our tradition as the beacon of the present toward the future.

In tandem with the growing worldwide trend away from the Scoop toward the Gift economy, leading eventually to a future of global conviviality (85), Muslims today should remind themselves (through the works of Professor Murat Cizakca, for instance) (86) that they do have a 1000-year civilizational track record in developing a successful and prosperous global gift economy, and that they should start revisiting, reviving and reliving that track record (87), both for their own well-being and for the well-being of humanity at large, and both for today and for the future: "wa ja'alnakum shu'uban wa qaba'ila li yata'arafu" = "and We have made you nations and tribes that you may become acquainted with one another" (al-Hujurat: 13).

وَمَن يَشْكُرْ فَإِنَّمَا يَشْكُرُ لِنَفْسِهِ

And whosoever shows gratitude,

he shows gratitutde for the good of his own soul. (Luqman, 12)

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