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Islamic Economics: A Survey of the Literature


  • Zaman, Asad


A central thesis of this paper is that social science is the study of human experience, and hence strongly conditioned by history. Modern Western political, economic and social structures have emerged as a consequence of the repudiation of religion, and are based on secular principles. Many of these are inimical to Islamic principles, and cannot be adapted to an Islamic society. Muslim societies achieved freedom from colonial rule in the first half of the twentieth century and sought to construct institutions in conformity with Islam. The development of Islamic economics is part of this process of transition away from Western colonial institutions. This paper focuses on the contrasts between Western economic theories and Islamic approaches to organization of economic affairs. Neoclassical theory is centered around the acquisitive instinct of humans, and makes competition the driving force of economic analysis. Islamic approaches foster cooperation and encourage generosity as the fundamental principle for handling economic affairs. Human beings have potential for good and evil, and are free to choose between the two; their behavior is not subject to mathematical laws postulated by neoclassical economic theory. The main message of Islam is that we must strive to achieve the potential for good both at the individual and at the social level. Behavior in the economic realm is also governed by this goal. Islamic law (Shari’ah) provides the framework for all activity within an Islamic society. In the economic domain, Islamic law regulates both methods by which money may be earned and also the ways it may be spent. Acquisition of wealth is permissible only in ways which are just to all parties concerned; exploitation, arbitrary taxation, and individual profit resulting in social harm is not permissible in Islamic law. This puts numerous restrictions on business practices utilized to make profits. For example, polluting the environment, or selling products which lead to moral corruption would not be permissible in Islamic law. Wealth which has been acquired becomes private property, which is both a trust and a test according to Islamic concepts. The “trust” aspect means that property must be used in ways beneficial to the individual and society. The “test” aspect means that those who have more than they need should take care of those who are in need. Ways in which acquired wealth can be spent is also subject to Islamic law. People are expected to strive to be self-sufficient and not ask from others. Thus striving to acquire wealth and spending it on personal and family needs is encouraged by Islamic law. Islam does not preach austerity and encourages a comfortable standard of living. At the same time, it strongly discourages spending on idle desires, luxuries, and ostentation. There is also a strong encouragement to spend what is beyond ones needs on social welfare. These fundamental principles for acquiring wealth, using property (acquired wealth), and spending it impact on all realms of economic activity. Since these are substantially different from Western ideas in all three areas, there are substantial contrasts between Western economic institutions and Islamic ones. The paper traces out these differences in many realms of economic activity. The primary objective of an Islamic state is to provide justice, and Islamic public finance is concerned with tracing the concrete implications of this abstraction in the economic realm. Western financial institutions have the acquisition and multiplication of wealth as their prime objective. Since acquisition of wealth can only be a means to an end, these institutions require modification in an Islamic society. Similarly, Islamic imperatives for social welfare require construction of certain uniquely Islamic types of institutions which do not have counterparts in the West. The paper discusses these issues in some detail.

Suggested Citation

  • Zaman, Asad, 2008. "Islamic Economics: A Survey of the Literature," MPRA Paper 11024, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  • Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:11024

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Kirchgassner, Gebhard, 2005. "(Why) are economists different?," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 21(3), pages 543-562, September.
    2. Ariff, Mohamed, 1998. "The Malaysian Economic Experience And Its Relevance For The Oic Member Countries," Islamic Economic Studies, The Islamic Research and Training Institute (IRTI), vol. 6, pages 1-41.
    3. B. Elhiraika, Adam, 2004. "On the Design and Effects of Monetary Policy in an Islamic Framework: The Experience of Sudan (Research Paper)," Occasional Papers 203, The Islamic Research and Teaching Institute (IRTI).
    4. Ahmed, Habib, 2004. "Role of Zakah and Awqaf in poverty Alleviation (Occasional Paper)," Occasional Papers 8, The Islamic Research and Teaching Institute (IRTI).
    5. Zarqa, Muhammad Anas, 1994. "Financing And Investment In Awqaf Projects: A Non-Technical Introduction," Islamic Economic Studies, The Islamic Research and Training Institute (IRTI), vol. 1, pages 55-62.
    6. Timur Kuran, 2004. "Why the Middle East is Economically Underdeveloped: Historical Mechanisms of Institutional Stagnation," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 18(3), pages 71-90, Summer.
    7. Faruk Gul & Wolfgang Pesendorfer, 2007. "Welfare without Happiness," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 97(2), pages 471-476, May.
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    Cited by:

    1. Nazim Zaman & Mehmet Asutay, 2009. "Divergence Between Aspirations And Realities Of Islamic Economics: A Political Economy Approach To Bridging The Divide," IIUM Journal of Economics and Management, IIUM Journal of Economis and Management, vol. 17(1), pages 73-96, June.
    2. Noha Farrag & Hebatallah Ghoneim, 2016. "Challenges to the Development of an Islamic Economic System," Working Papers 42, The German University in Cairo, Faculty of Management Technology.
    3. Asad Zaman, 2014. "Islam versus economics," Chapters,in: Handbook on Islam and Economic Life, chapter 3, pages iii-iii Edward Elgar Publishing.
    4. Faical Boutayeba, Mohammed Benhamida, Souad Guesmi, 2014. "Ethics in Islamic Economics," Annales. Ethics in Economic Life, University of Lodz, Faculty of Economics and Sociology, vol. 17(4), pages 111-121, December.
    5. Soldatos, Gerasimos T., 2015. "A Critical Overview of Islamic Economics from a Welfare-State Perspective," MPRA Paper 70066, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised 2016.
    6. Mehmet Asutay, 2013. "Islamic moral economy as the foundation of Islamic finance," Chapters,in: Islamic Finance in Europe, chapter 4, pages 55-68 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    7. Volker Nienhaus, 2014. "Religion and development," Chapters,in: Handbook on Islam and Economic Life, chapter 28, pages iii-iii Edward Elgar Publishing.
    8. Małgorzata Czerny, 2016. "Wpływ zasad religijnych na ukształtowanie systemu rachunkowości / The Influence of Religious Principles on the Formation of the Accounting System," Annales. Ethics in Economic Life, University of Lodz, Faculty of Economics and Sociology, vol. 19(2), pages 111-128, May.

    More about this item


    Islamic Economics; Neoclassical Economics;

    JEL classification:

    • Z12 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Religion
    • B59 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - Current Heterodox Approaches - - - Other

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