Rafed English

Chanelling Human Nature


The first task of the Islamic political system is to eliminate all forms of oppression within economic relationships and to lay the ground for the establishment of a just system of distribution of eco­nomic resources. However, the source of the injustice, according to Sadr, is neither social settings nor the means of production, but rather human nature itself, the inner instincts of self-love that drive man to secure survival for himself only. Such an instinct is essential for the survival of human life on earth. Profit, which is the economic manifes­tation of self-love and is generated from private investment, is the great engine of human economic accomplishment. It gives the individ­ual the personal incentive to work hard and to overcome difficulties and challenges. However, when left without moral control it will manifest itself in different forms of oppression. Man will be concerned only with securing his own interests to the point of abusing the interests of others. Unless a solution to the problem of human nature is found, man will find escape routes to abuse even in a just system of distribu­tion. In fact, the social contradiction stems from the individual instinct of self-love. In the capitalist system, it manifests itself in the form of economic exploitation of others. In the communist system, where private property is eliminated, man's self-love manifests itself in politi­cal oppression, such as the struggle for power and the securing of special social privileges. 22

Religion, according to Sadr, gives humanity the only solution to this basic and deep-rooted problem of human nature. Religion over­comes the problem of human nature by specifying many channels of self-control that properly regulate or direct- man's instincts into appro­priate social behaviour. In other words, it will end the contradiction between social and private interests.

The first of these mechanisms for self-control is a spiritual one, the psychological power that makes man control his behaviour. Man is the vicar of God, which means that he is the representative of the Almighty on earth. In an economic sense, he is the trustee of God for the wealth created for mankind. This sense of vicarage implies that man is respon­sible for his economic deeds before God. Vicarage also means controlling personal behaviour and directing the use of natural resources according to God's will. 23 Improper behaviour and the waste of God-given wealth will make man accountable for his deeds and bring severe punishment. In the same manner, abiding by God's will guarantees a good reward and Divine approval

It is He Who has appointed you viceroys in the earth, and has raised some of you in rank above others, that He may try you in what He has given you. Surely thy Lord is swift in retribution; and surely He is All-forgiving, All­compassionate. (6:165)

Accordingly, man is expected to receive guidance as to how God­given wealth should be distributed and treated. It is this link between the here and now and the hereafter that brings accommodation be­tween social and private interests. Anyone who sacrifices for the sake of others is rewarded. The religious solution, then, is not materialistic, but spiritual and trains man to serve others and to sacrifice private interest for the sake of social benefit. In doing so, he serves and benefits himself as well. In Islam, it is the fear of God and the desire to seek His good pleasure that replaces the competitive, greed of human nature. Once religion succeeds in bringing up men who have control over their inner instincts and passions, the social order can be saved from con­tradictions and individual abuses and manipulations.

Since this goal is utopian in its outlook, Islam has derived a social mechanism to secure peace and harmony in human society. God has assigned the vicarage role not to the individual per se, but rather to mankind It is the community that is the trustee of God over eco­nomical wealth. It, as a group, holds the responsibilities of managing natural resources and human wealth to the benefit and welfare of the group. The following Qur'anic verse refers to such social responsibility.

But do not give to fools their property that God has assigned to you to manage. (4:5)

According to Sadr's interpretation of the above verse, God considers the financial wealth of the mentally incapable as the wealth of the community. The whole society is then responsible for not allowing any misappropriation of the fool's wealth. Such social control over eco­nomic wealth makes the individual accountable not only before God, but before his own people.

Islam also disavows any values that a society attaches to the possession of economic wealth. Affluence and economic prosperity of the individual are not signs of social prestige. Islam wants the individual to consider wear as burdensome and places a responsibility on the shoulders of the wealthy individual to serve both himself and others. It is a means to achieve the goals of humanity. 24 Affluence should not be the goal for the individual to achieve in his life, as in a capitalist society which makes man use all possible means to increase his posses­sion of wealth even if it brings harm avid oppresses others' interests. However, if one thinks of wealth as the means to realize the good pleasure of God, then helping others, not oppressing them, becomes the social norm of the rich and wealthy. In other words, Islam is deter­mined to change the social values related to the possession of wealth and private property. There is no need to abolish ownership of private property as suggested by Marxism. The social policy of elimination of private property, according to Sadr, will not be successful because it goes against human nature. The only solution is to reform the social ethos in such a way that wealth is changed from an individual goal to a social means to achieve a higher moral goal.

Notes:

22. "Al-Nizam al-Islami muqaranan," 170.

23. Iqtisaduna, 536-537.

24. Iqtisaduna, 568.

Adapted from: "An Islamic Perspective of Political Economy according to Ayatullah Sadr" by: "T. M. Aziz"

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