Mr Abdal Hakim Murad, you are a muslim scholar but you also have a modern education. You studied Western thought and civilization. Islam is always mentioned in context with terrorism and extremism. But now we have a crisis of the capitalist system. What is the message of Islam on economic area?
Abdal Hakim Murad: All religions, not just Islam, are opposed to greed, and to the extent that modern economics assumes that prosperity comes from encouraging greed-based competition, modernity is at odds with faith. In a sense this tension is one expression of the larger incompatibility between religious ideas of humanity as essentially ethical, and those which see us as the successful outcome of millennia of brutal competition through evolutionary processes ruled entirely by selfishness. Islam, and other faiths in their distinctive ways, offer a prophetic and radical challenge to the capitalist apotheosis of greed.
What role does money play in Islam?
Murad: No Muslim society today operates an Islamic economy. National elites and the logic of globalisation militate against the revival of indigenous ethically-based economics. The Islamic banking sector is only a very partial exception. In the traditional Muslim understanding, wealth can be anything that human beings value, including intangible goods; but money is gold and silver. That is to say, it is possessed of a value rooted in its natural scarcity, which precludes exaggerated and
unreal speculation and wealth creation based on promises. This reduces the chances of rapid economic growth based on flexible credit, but also works against the possibility of sudden and wild fluctuations, since the money consists of a static and not a potentially infinite resource.
How do you see the role of the Islamic Bank?
Murad: Few if any Islamic banks operate according to classical Sharia rules. Virtually all are integrated into the global monetary system which drastically reduces their freedom of action, and imposes upon them the notion of money as an arbitrary marker. However even these institutions
play a valuable role in ensuring that Muslim deposits are invested ethically, rather than in, for instance, the alcohol trade or the gambling industry. Total deposits now approximate to USD 600 billion, allowing the Muslim world a partial financial autonomy, and providing a capital base for ethical investment. And despite their partial compliance with capitalist banking techniques, they have been spared the worst ravages of the recent slump, largely due to their avoidance of usurious mortgage lending, and leveraged and other speculative money market transactions. To some extent they have also been protected by avoiding a spectacular bonus culture among senior management.
There are numerous references to economics and commerce in the Qur’an and in Islamic Law. What can we learn from these sources?
Murad: To the extent that the Sharia financial sector is rooted in the Qur’an, and is successful, we can say that the revealed sources have immediate relevance. However religious finance systems will always generate resistance and cynicism in the established financial sector, partly because of its sense of the irrelevance of all non-Western values, and partly also because capitalism seems empirically to have provided a model of sustained and massive economic growth. The place of the
Qur’anic vision is with fairly radical green and ethical alternative visions of economic life; it will never be palatable to mainstream bankers or investors looking for high yields.
As mentioned, you are a muslim scholar. You analize the origin of suicidal terrorism and the modernist organisations in the muslim world. What is the position of traditional Islam to these matters?
Murad: Traditional Islam is today not so easy to find. In my book ‘Bombing without Moonlight’ I try to present suicide bombing as a consequence of modernisation as well as a reaction against it. Traditionally, one would call it ‘bid’a', reprehensible innovation; and a strict application of classical fatwa mechanisms would certainly reach that conclusion. Looking at present-day fatwas on suicide bombing, from takfiri and Muslim Brotherhood writers in particular, but also at the views of the ‘salafised’ Taliban, one is amazed at the ignorance of traditional jurisprudential procedures. The ugliness of terrorism is a sure sign of the decadence of the juristic mechanisms as applied by many modern Muslims.
What is the role of wahabism? Did the wahabi ideology support terrorism? Can we generalis it, or are there different sections?
Murad: Wahhabism is not a single movement. Like all fundamentalisms, it subdivides easily. Essentially it is a kind of Reformation Islam: scripturalist, anti-scholastic, anti-superstitious, and anti-mystical. None of these core Wahhabi principles are in themselves hospitable to terrorism; in fact, official Saudi Wahhabism is strongly opposed to suicide bombing and to al-Qaida. The problem is that, as at the European Reformation, a relatively homogenous tradition suddenly split into many conflicting factions. Reformation Islam is unstable: it does not necessarily produce terrorism, but one observes that virtually all ‘Islamic terrorists’ adhere to some form of Wahhabised religion. Despite this truth, it is vital to realise that Salafis and Wahhabis should not automatically be stigmatised as supporters of violence against civilians – very often this is simply untrue. In the current atmosphere of hostility to Muslims in Europe, and the search for simple formulas, we need to differentiate clearly between subgroups.