by Zafar Bangash (Editorials, Crescent International Vol. 45, No. 7, Dhu al-Qa'dah, 1437)
Muslims have enormous wealth at their disposal: $11.5 trillion almost equal to the US GDP of $17 trillion. How Muslim wealth is utilized will have enormous implications for their future well-being.
Whatever Muslims possess, or indeed anybody else for that matter, is an amanah (trust) from Allah (Â). They will be answerable to Him on the Day of Judgement for how they use or abuse it. Many Muslims, unfortunately have a tendency to assume that what they possess is due to their own talent and expertise. They consider others as “inferior” and begin to look down upon them.
There is also the other side of the picture. There are well-meaning Muslims who want to give but their resources are channeled into palliative activities like feeding the poor or donating to building masjids, but donations, regardless of the amount, will not ameliorate the underlying causes of poverty. There is nothing wrong with either but we need to look deeper. Most Muslims want to donate to build masjids because a hadith of the noble Messenger (r) that says that Allah (Â) will build a house for them in Paradise. It raises several questions: is it guaranteed that such people would automatically enter Paradise even if they have a house there? Further, how many houses do they need in Paradise anyway? The issue of the function of masjids also needs discussion; are they fulfilling the role for which they are supposedly built? Muslims are fond of building cathedral-type masjids not to reflect the glory of Islam but to hide their own impotence. The Prophet’s Masjid in Madinah was a very simple structure yet it did not take away anything from the power and glory of Islam.
Let us fast forward to today and consider some statistics. Muslim liquid wealth (owned by individuals, institutions and governments) is estimated at $11.5 trillion (Bloomberg News, August 15, 2016). This is exclusive of the mineral wealth of Muslims that runs into tens of trillions of additional dollars. The tragedy is that the Muslim world has been parceled into nation-states, like cages in a zoo, where their wealth is controlled and used by others. Even the assessment of Muslim wealth comes from a non-Muslim source!
The “Muslim wealth mountain,” as Bloomberg puts it, has triggered a race among asset managers to tap into this massive pool of capital. While led by money managers in Southeast Asia, it has also attracted Western financial sharks. Islam and Muslims may be branded as enemies of the West and their values as “incompatible” with Western values but their money is still kosher. There has been a mushrooming of Shari‘ah-compliant investment ventures in the West, many of dubious nature but Muslims are easily deceived by the notion of Shari‘ah-compliance.
Islam forbids investments in companies that deal in gambling, prostitution, alcohol, weapons of mass destruction, or pork-related products. Islam also forbids usury-based financial dealings. This raises the question about how Shari‘ah-compliant instruments can separate their assets from usury-based activity when all banks and financial institutions are deeply immersed in usury?
The only silver lining in this murky business is that some Muslims have started to think outside the framework of usury-based finances. Should this come to fruition, it would be a big step in the right direction. The industry is forecast to grow to mammoth proportions given that about $9.5 trillion of Islamic wealth still remains outside the Shari‘ah finance industry.