Rafed English

Conscience and social responsibility in Islam

Mr. Kamaluddin's case underscores one of the fundamental value differences in business practice between Muslims and their counterparts in the West, namely, the ethical status of interest related transactions. Religious rulings related to the charging, paying and taking of interest in Islamic legal tradition have been at the center of ethical deliberations among Muslims for many centuries. Around the world, mainstream Islamic opinion continues to regard interest as an impediment to social justice. As a result, the question of whether interest is a legitimate financial instrument or not remains an important issue of conscience. In the Islamic tradition, human acts have a direct impact upon the development of conscience, the source of determining the rightness or wrongness of human undertakings. The conscience must be constantly guarded against being corrupted. For when the conscience of individuals becomes corrupted as a result of neglecting ethical matters related to the production of daily sustenance, there remains no moral safeguard to prevent these individuals from engaging into more serious acts that would lead to the destruction of the very fabric of social relations founded upon divinely ingrained sense of justice and fairness.

Islam, as it developed in the regions inhabited by other monotheistic faiths like Judaism, Christianity and Zoroastrianism, shared an ethos of public order founded upon justice. It required the practice of a minimum of moral virtues intended to be a kind of "rule of life," to foster a sense of social responsibility. In the Islamic view, both reflection and intention must precede all human acts which infringe upon the spiritual and temporal well being of others. To guide such reflection and inform such intention, Islam has developed a cohesive body of ethical reflection. Islam, the third and last of the Abrahamic religions to emerge, literally means "submission to God's will". It was proclaimed by Muhammad (born 570 C.E.), the Prophet of Islam and the founder of Islamic public order during the 600s inMecca,Arabia.

Along with certain rules, which were practical and material, temporary and external, Muslim jurists explicitly decreed various permanent restrictions designed to discipline both the body (rules about lawful foods and earning, about dress and public behavior) and the mind (prohibited subjects of thought and conversation that led to the corruption of conscience). In addition, Islam required certain expiatory works of charity to compensate for the sins of omission and commission. These works were intended primarily to inculcate a sense of social responsibility. Whereas the ritual acts, whether performed publicly in a group or privately, were the homage humankind paid to God and were intended to affect the conscience of the practicing believer, commercial engagements were closely tied to the notions of interpersonal justice and were intended to affect public behavior. In this latter sense, the rites are instruments provided by God for developing the conscience in the direction of greater social responsibility.

Adapted from the book: "The Issue of Riba in Islamic Faith and Law" by: "Dr. Abdulaziz Sachedina"

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