Striving Against Economic And Social Injuctice
In a recent article in this column, “A jihad to prosper all Malaysians”, I had urged young Muslims to strive for an alternative, peaceful “Business Jihad” to replace the senseless and destructive militant jihad propagated by the Islamic State (IS).
Business Jihad is directed at prospering Malaysia for the benefit of future generations irrespective of race and religion, uplifting those at the bottom of the national economic pyramid through enterprise, hard work and perseverance.
The ultimate goal is to promote inclusiveness, reduce divides and uphold economic justice. It also involves innovatively integrating the Islamic ideals of ‘adl (justice), amanah (trust), and khilafah (stewardship) into the corporate sphere.
Business Jihad success is attainable, facilitated by Islam’s strong pro business worldview. Muslims are always reminded of a hadith or saying of the Prophet (PBUH) that business is “nine-tenth of livelihood”. Indeed, business is also a sunnah or practice of the Prophet that deserves to be emulated.
Seeking wealth is strongly endorsed and legitimized by Islam, with wealth being regarded as one of the fundamental purposes for the rulings of the Syariah (Maqasid al-Syariah).
Poverty and deprivation, on the other hand, are frowned upon, as they can diminish faith and lead one towards unfaith.
True Muslims are called upon to be self-reliant and economically independent members of society. They must avoid living a life as mere “takers” and instead strive to become the “upper hands” of “givers”, ever generous in charity, always able and eager to compete in doing good.
Unfortunately, Muslims today have generally failed to measure up to the Qur’an’s regard for them as the “best of peoples” or khaira ummah (Ali Imran, 3:110). It is therefore incumbent upon Muslims in position of power and authority, in politics as well as business, to provide the jihadic leadership needed to overcome all challenges that had long weakened the ummah and diminished Islam as a contemporary civilizational force.
The call for a Business Jihad is indeed timely. For a business undertaking to qualify as a jihadic enterprise, however, the entrepreneur or corporate leader must reach beyond pecuniary objectives. Business must transcend economics. Other than ensuring full Syariah compliance, it must also contribute to spiritual fulfilment, enhance cultural advancements and enrich civilization for the long term benefit of all.
Thus, business must not only become a pursuit for personal riches and wealth accumulation, though this will indeed be among its immediate outcomes. It must finally be made to serve a higher cause, and in particular, to successfully manage one of modern society’s most elusive challenges, namely persistent economic inequality and injustice.
Inequality and economic injustice are indeed pervasive; the outcomes of a global economic order built over centuries of capitalistic ventures that also have links with the colonial past. Colonising companies were established with legendary efficiency to exploit and to dominate, empowering the rich, strong and powerful, at the expense of the weak and powerless.
Today, business success and economic growth have amounted to little more than a winner-takes-all windfall for the richest, worsening economic divides and becoming a real threat to global stability. Professor Joseph Stiglitz, a renowned Nobel-Prize economist, pointedly stated that “…an economic system that fails to deliver gains for most of its citizens, and in which a rising share of the population faces increasing insecurity is, in a fundamental sense, a failed economic system.”
Albeit strongly pro-business, Islam is very specific about striving for economic and social justice, with the Qur’an enjoining Muslims to uphold justice (‘adl), and emphasizing that wealth should not be “… something which circulates among the wealthy in your midst.” (Al-Hashr, 59:7).
Business Jihad is therefore a “declaration of war” against economic injustice, seeking to correct imbalances through business and market-friendly methods aimed at protecting the long term interests of especially the poor and marginalised.
Fortunately, a Malaysian Business Jihad venture does not have to start from zero base. Malaysia has a formidable track record of equitable reform and relatively successful economic restructuring undertaken through the New Economic Policy (NEP: 1970-1990). The NEP had established a stable of high-performing Government-linked corporations (GLCs) as “amanah” or trust agencies charged with the task of bridging economic divides.
What is required going forward is for Malaysia to leverage on past NEP successes, this time on a fully market-driven format. A new stakeholder-GLC agency relationship needs to be put in place, doing away with the interventionist, market disruptive ways of the past. Any remnants of opaque and arbitrary use of political supervisory techniques need also to be totally rid of.
Finally, Malaysia’s Privatisation Policy, long regarded as one source of political abuse, corruption, nepotism and cronyism, needs to be overhauled. Even if these accusations were untrue, the outcome of such a policy that favours the transfer of ownership of wealth held as ‘amanah’ in trust for the poor and marginalised to a privileged few, runs counter to the spirit and intent of every principle associated with ‘adl and justice.