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Monday, December 12, 2011

99 percent movement; the handwriting on the wall

Introduction

There has been a great deal of discussion in recent months about the "99%" protest movement, its supporters 'occupying' parks and other public spaces in both major and small cities across the United States. Its members have even engaged in actions such as chanting slogans at speeches of politicians. Commentators across the spectrum have been giving their perspective, oftentimes with sarcasm, expressing the view that the protestors have unrealistic goals, or, perhaps far worse, an incoherent complaint and wish list{ft.1}

Immediate causes of the protest movement

The financial crisis, lack of jobs, and the sense that big government cares little for the poor and middle class, whether or not one agrees with these assertions, it seems that these basic reasons succinctly describe the background, at least of the immediate nature behind the protests, a description that should not be disputed by anyone.

Protest movement a symptom of deeper issues

The Bank Bailouts, while average Americans suffer financially, was perhaps the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back. Inspired by the protest movement that swept the Middle East [popularly called the "Arab Spring"]{ft.2}, the 99% was born!

A greater sense of disillusionment with the way we conduct business, the culture of greed and apathy that seemingly anoint every facet of business, financial and political life.

I think that the frustrations will continue to be expressed, both in positive and negative ways, for a long time to come.

Eventually, it seems to us that an awakening will occur, which will show in the minds of people that the entire system is inherently unjust and exploitative, built upon a position of influencing the baser desires, narcissism, and spiritual bankruptcy!

Does Islam have anything to say on these issues?

Islam sees itself as a completion of God's will and plan for the spiritual and material salvation of mankind. Indeed, it proposes a system of business and politics that places firm moral and ethical principles above that of strategic or financial interest. Islam seeks the reformation of both the person and the group, soul and body, of theology ['Aqeedah] as well as methodology!

As such, we present below a variety of guidelines from the Qur'an, a scripture with information which is relevant for all times, places and contexts.

[1] Overindulgence must be placed under control.

" And give to the near of kin and the needy, and the wayfarers their, dues, and do not squander [your wealth] wastefully. Certainly, the squanderers are like satansand Satan is always ungrateful to his Lord." [Q 17:26-27, Amatul Rahman Omar translation]

[2] Discarding evil, harmful or immoral habits.

One example is that of alcohol, drugs and gambling [ 5:90-91 and also 2:219]. These prohibitions are also to be applied, by analogy [Qiyaas] to that which clearly has harm that outweighs benefits{ft.3].

[3] Strengthening of family and community ties.

A strong family and community feeling will be a source of love, team work, security and fidelity. Indeed, rather than one person buying a house, a group of family or friends, whose responsibility and abilities are proven, should work together to acquire a home, share in its benefits as well as the costs associated with it. In this way, the interest rates associated with bank loans and the like can be limited, if not completely eliminated, even within the framework of the current economic culture!

The strengthening and bonding of peoples, especially in contrast with systems of exploiting the weakest of society members, is a constant mission of all of the Prophets and messengers of God, something that we read throughout scriptures. The Prophet Muhammad, the seal of the Prophets [Q 33:40], established a pattern in which he would almost literally bond two families or individuals, from different tribes and social status, in which they shared everything. This bond became emotional, creating a series of networks based on trust, faith, fidelity and honesty. For more details, please refer to The Life of Muhammad, by Muhammad Husayn Haykal, pp 176-178 [ American Trust publications, 1995 edition, Plainfield, Indiana].

A strategy of communal/family ties protecting the interests of its family members can also be adopted with regards to major transactions such as College tuition. In this way, borrowing from banks and lending institutions can be almost eliminated.

The above guidelines only work in a framework of community, of brotherhood, of patience, commitment and determination.

By thinking differently, we can then act differently, and then have better results. In this way, perhaps more than anything else, we can come to see the systems of Ribaa [Interest and Usury] and Dhulm [Oppression, the usurpation of rights] die natural deaths!

Ribaa has been so thoroughly condemned within the Qur'an! Yet, its elimination must take place in a context of moral, social and spiritual reform. Any other way will lead to more corruption and stagnation, albeit with an "Islamic face"{ft.4]!

"I cite as witness the time. Verily, a person ...is pursuing a losing bargain, different, however, is the case of those who believe and do deeds of righteousness and [who] exhort one another to [accept and preach] the truth and exhort one another to [abide by it with] patience and perseverance." [Q 103:1-3, Amatul Rahman Translation]

"..and [bear in mind] for the one who keeps his duty to Allah, he will provide facility in his affair for him." [Q 65:4]

"O you who believe! Do not practice Usury and interest involving multiple additions, and keep your duty to Allah and take him as a shield so you may prosper." [Q 3:130]

"Allah annuls usury and interest and promotes charity.."[ Q 2:276]


Footnotes

[1] See the following clip from "The Colbert Report", as an example of the perception that the 99% movement is incoherent.

[2] We shared some observations on the "Arab Spring" in its very beginning stages. Please see http://shamsuddinwaheed.blogspot.com/2011/02/revolutionary-passions-flare-in-middle.html.

[3] Cigarettes and other tobacco products are excellent examples of this. Traditionally, 'Ulamaa have seen these items as Makrooh [Disliked], and not Haraam [Islamically forbidden]. But it is common knowledge that these items cause cancer, a number of other ailments, as well as a financial drain. Thus, we should treat those items as forbidden to us and thus abstain from them!


[4] One example may be that of inheritance rights. The Qur'an admittedly gives smaller amounts of inheritance for women [ see Q 4:11-13], but that is perfectly logical and reasonable when one considers that the Qur'an has placed financial burdens on men [meaning, fathers and husbands] and not women! Thus, recognizing this, it makes sense that since men are imagined in a Quranic worldview to be responsible that they would have more of an assistance in the form of inheriting. It is worth noting that in the Pre-Islamic era in Arabia, women had no rights of inheritance at all. On the responsibility of men, particularly husbands, see here. It should also be noted that traditionally women are given a large dowry upon marriage, a safety net in case of death of divorce!

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