Ahmad Danyal Arif
29th December 2020
THE REVIEW OF RELIGIONS
Message from Chief Editor: We are pleased to announce to readers the launch of a new ‘Economics’ section in The Review of Religions. Currently, the world is passing through an unprecedented economic crisis due to the global Covid-19 pandemic. Recently we published a series of historic letters written to world leaders by His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba). Those who read them will know His Holiness (aba) especially highlighted the fact that severe economic strains on nations may be a potential cause of conflicts dangerously escalating and world stability being put at serious risk. An economic depression is currently a reality worldwide with tens of millions losing their jobs and future employment prospects for a generation of youth looking bleak. As such we decided that economics is an area that requires a dedicated section within The Review of Religions. Readers can expect the section to deal with everyday economic issues (such as Brexit, Covid-19) in addition to alternative solutions to today’s economic matters such as the Islamic economic model, how economics impacts our everyday lives and the history of economics. Our new Economics Section Editor, Ahmad Danyal Arif, introduces the section in this article.
Once upon a time, economics was the science of managing a household, then a subset of religious, theological, ethical, and philosophical disciplines. But, little by little, it seems to have become something quite different. Economists started to exchange too much wisdom and humanity for exactness and mathematisation. As a result, we may sometimes feel that economics has gradually lost all of its shades and hues to a technocratic world where black and white rule. But the story of economics is far more colourful.
Let’s take the example of the so-called theorist of modern capitalism: Adam Smith. Who knows that he was first and foremost a professor of moral philosophy? Contrary to many assumptions, his work entitled The Wealth of Nations was not written to show us how to make a lot of money, but rather how to promote fair and equitable relationships between human beings. Rooted in ethics, the message hidden in all economic discourses has to do with human values and the kind of society we want to build.
Since then, a lot of water has flowed under the bridge. Economists now tend to view morality and beliefs of the past from an amused distance. They are trained to avoid normative judgments and opinions as to what is good and bad. The reality is that we stopped giving them the mental tools to grasp the whole. Since the widespread abandonment of theology, no field of study has sought to understand the human condition as a whole.
In the vicinity of the ground, the situation is no brighter. While the socialist economic experiment has failed, the capitalist economic order, despite long strides in the fields of economic growth, is in the throes of an ever-deepening crisis. In the final analysis, again, we observe that the material advancements of the century have concealed from our eyes the persistent erosion of the moral base of human culture.
It is true and universally recognised that resources are scarce compared with the claims on them. However, it is simultaneously admitted by practically all civilisations that economic justice and the well-being of all human beings needs to be ensured. For this purpose, every nation needs to develop an effective strategy, which is consciously or unconsciously conditioned by its philosophy.
Secular and materialistic philosophies attach maximum importance to the material aspect of human well-being and generally tend to ignore the importance of the spiritual aspect. They often argue that maximum material well-being can be best realized if individuals are given unhindered freedom to pursue their self-interest and to maximize their want in keeping with their own tastes and preferences.
In contrast with this, religious worldviews give attention to both the material and the spiritual aspects of human well-being. There is a great deal that is common between the worldviews of most major religions, particularly those of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Indeed, according to Islam, there is a continuity and similarity in the value systems of all revealed religions to the extent to which the original message has not been lost or distorted over the years.
In this regard, the second Caliph and worldwide head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Bashir-ud-Din Mahmood Ahmad (ra), says:
“Religions that believe in the hereafter in general, and Islam in particular, do not view the issue in simple economic terms, but from a religious, moral and economic perspective. Religion does not seek a purely economic solution because such a solution might interfere with the moral and religious aspects of life, which would be unacceptable. A nonbeliever is of course free to view economic problems in isolation. But a religious person would not judge an economic system from purely an economic perspective. He would demand an economic system that also respects his moral and religious requirements.” 
Even though none of the prevailing worldviews are totally materialistic, there are nevertheless, significant differences among them in terms of the emphasis they place on material or spiritual goals and the role of moral values in ordering human affairs. While material goals concentrate primarily on goods and services that contribute to physical comfort and well-being, spiritual goals include nearness to God, peace of mind, inner happiness, honesty, justice, mutual care and cooperation, etc. These may not be quantifiable but are unequivocally crucial for realizing human well-being.
What materialistic philosophies ultimately achieve is not just the death of one God, but they suddenly bring to life a myriad of gods: ego, self-interest, and the total commitment to serving one’s own ends grow stronger and more powerful.
Our economic woes are thus fundamentally moral, and we need a moral revolution. This would not possible without a belief in a beneficent God, who is the only binding and meeting point of all forms of creation. In addition to abolishing the conditions of capitalist loneliness, introducing the idea of a Supreme Being into the economic equation ushers an authentic accountability apparatus for one’s actions and motivates one to serve His creation out of love.
About the Author: Ahmed Danyal Arif is a French economist by education and is currently residing in London. He has a Masters degree in Economics and Politics from the University of Paris Nord. After working for the French tax administration system, he published two books in French: Islam & Capitalism: For an Economic Justice (2016) and Economic History of the Islamic World: From Pre-Islamic Arabia to the Umayyad Dynasty (2019). Arif is the Editor of the newly formed Economics Section of The Review of Religions.
 Hazrat Mirza Bashir-ud-Din Mahmood Ahmad (ra), The Economic System of Islam, 2013, p. 39-40, Lecture given on 26th February 1945 at Ahmadiyya Hostel, Lahore, Pakistan.
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