|Here's an interesting excerpt from an article titled "Is Islam Compatible
With Capitalism" that appears on a website dedicated to refuting the idea
that Muslims are on a collision path with Western Civilization. They
obviously are trying to promote the idea that there is nothing to link
Islam with socialism or leftwing radicalism.
Business, Zakat and the Koran
This interesting compatibility between Islam and capitalism has been
studied extensively. A classic work on this theme is Maxime Rodinson's
famed book, Islam and Capitalism (1966). Rodinson, a French Marxist, by
appealing to the textual analysis of Islamic sources and the economic
history of the Islamic world, demonstrated that Muslims had never had any
trouble with making money. "There are religions whose sacred texts
discourage economic activity in general," said Rodinson, "[but] this is
certainly not the case with the Koran, which looks with favor upon
commercial activity, confining itself to condemning fraudulent practices
and requiring abstention from trade during certain religious festivals."
It is true that the Koran has a strong emphasis on social justice and this
has led some modern Muslim intellectuals to sympathize with socialism and
its promise of a "classless society." A careful reading of the Koran would
work against such "Islamo-socialism." The Muslim Scripture takes it as a
given that there will be rich and poor people in society and, in a sense,
assures that disparity by actively supporting the rights to private
property and inheritance. However it persistently warns the well-off to
care for the deprived. Zakat is the institutionalized form of this
compassion: Every rich Muslim is obliged to give a certain amount of his
wealth to his poor brethren.
Zakat is a voluntary act of charity, not a collectivization of wealth by a
central authority. According to scholars John Thomas Cummings, Hossein
Askari and Ahmad Mustafa -- who co-authored the academic paper, "Islam and
Modern Economic Change" -- "zakat is primarily a voluntary act of piety and
a far cry from what most modern-day taxpayers experience when confronted
with increased income levies or complicated regulations." Moreover, they
add, "there is no particular Islamic preference for [a] Marxist emphasis on
economic planning over market forces."
Indeed, when Prophet Muhammad was asked to fix the prices in the market
because some merchants were selling goods too dearly, he refused and said,
"only Allah governs the market." It wouldn't be far-fetched to see a
parallel here with Adam Smith's "invisible hand." The Prophet also has many
sayings cherishing trade, profit-making, and beauties of life. "Muhammad,"
as Maxime Rodinson put it simply, "was not a socialist."
The conceptual openness of Islam towards business was one of the important
reasons for the splendor of medieval Muslim civilization. The Islamic world
was at the heart of global trade routes and Muslim traders took advantage
of this quite successfully. They even laid the foundations of some aspects
of modern banking: Instead of carrying heavy and easily-stolen gold,
medieval Muslim traders used paper checks. This innovation in credit
transfer would be emulated and transferred to Europe by the Crusaders,
particularly the Knights Templar.
So central was trade to Muslim civilization that its very decline may be
attributed to changes in the pattern of global trade. When Vasco de Gama
rounded the Cape of Good Hope in November 1497 -- thanks in part to the
astrolabe, invented by Muslims -- he opened a new chapter in world history,
one in which global trade would shift from the Middle East and the
Mediterranean to the oceans. Consequently the Arabic Middle East, which had
been scorched by the Mongols two centuries before and could have never
recovered anyway, entered deadly stagnation. The Ottoman Empire would excel
for a few more centuries, but decline was inevitable. The loss of trade
also meant the end of cosmopolitanism; this was followed by the rise of
religious bigotry. While the early commentators of the Koran cherished
trade and wealth as God's bounties, late Medieval Islamic literature began
to emphasize extreme asceticism.