Trading with Allah: An Examination of Islamic Scripture in Relation to Markets

By Reda, Ayman | Journal of Markets & Morality, Fall 2013 | Go to article overview

Trading with Allah: An Examination of Islamic Scripture in Relation to Markets


Reda, Ayman, Journal of Markets & Morality


Introduction

The relationship between Islam on one hand and markets on the other has been extensively debated for over a century with views ranging from a favorable Islamic view of markets to others that argue in favor of an inescapable incompatibility. This debate was largely initiated with Weber's incomplete, yet influential study of Islam. (1) His brief study of Islam offered an adverse view of its relationship with markets; a view later to be challenged by several scholars and historians. (2) They rejected Weber's conclusions with respect to the relationship between Islam and capitalism, citing in their analyses detailed historical accounts of market activities in Islamic societies. More importantly, they were categorically opposed to any argument on the basis of an inherent incompatibility between Islam and markets. Other historical studies that lend support to this view have also documented the role that trade and markets have played in Islamic societies since the early days of Islam, and especially in the promulgation of the faith and its steady expansion into vast geographical regions. (3) Historical accounts of Muhammad's early occupation as a successful merchant have also been presented as evidence supporting a positive Islamic view of markets. (4) In addition, several studies have engaged in a detailed examination of Islamic scripture and doctrine with direct religious reference to various aspects of markets such as property, contracts, charity, prices, usury, hoarding, transparency, and competition. (5) A substantial literature thus exists that has sought to delineate a favorable Islamic view of markets, and as a consequence, address many of the misconceptions surrounding this relationship. (6)

The purpose of this study is to introduce a further dimension to this debate that we hope will provide us with important insight into the Islamic position on markets. This dimension concerns the special use of economic or market language and logic by the Qur'an to convey religious meaning. A careful textual analysis of several verses in the Qur'an reveals an active and positive Islamic view of markets. This analysis will offer unambiguous support to the favorable Islamic view of markets. We must emphasize here that we are not exploring Islamic or religious discourse on economic matters, a subject that is extensively explored in the literature. Instead, we are examining the Islamic use of market rhetoric and metaphors to discuss religious matters. Significant, and for the most part overlooked, insight can be derived from this analysis.

This creative use of market rhetoric reveals an Islamic emphasis on the inseparability of religion and economics. The explicit and unapologetic use of economic language and logic to convey sacred religious concepts and ideas speaks to the unity of the religious and the economic, the sacred and the profane. The comfortable exchange of concepts and terminologies across different domains attests to their unified relationship within scripture and that any theoretical divisions are essentially for the sake of intellectual expediency and not necessarily the intention of religious doctrine.

Interestingly, such usage of market language and logic is not confined to Islamic scripture. In the course of our inquiry, we will also encounter interesting parallels within biblical literature (and nonreligious discourse as well) in the use of economic language to convey religious meaning. This allows us to engage in a much-needed comparative analysis of Christian and Islamic perspectives on markets. Such a comparison, one would hope, will reinforce our collective appreciation of the economic wisdom contained within both traditions, as well as highlight the innumerable similarities that clearly surpass the often-exaggerated differences. One purpose of this article is to argue that a careful examination of the use of economic terminology and logic in Christian Scripture and in Islamic scripture will provide us with an appreciative view of such "forms of language use," without sacrificing the essence or nature of religion. …

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