Post-pandemic Shariah-based Norms
The coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on life in unprecedented ways. Never before has any issue wreaked havoc at such a grand scale not just globally, economically, socially, personally and even religiously. Indeed, COVID-19 has marked a tragic cost of human lives, and economic distress as the world has been put in a great lockdown to flatten the curve. Although there are countries that have gradually recovered, many are still struggling with surges. Until effective vaccines are found, preventive measures should be relentless. Besides adhering to movement control policies and actions, the Shariah mindset must be considered in exploring new norms.
The outbreak is ultimately a test from God despite various theories invoked about its origin. Outbreaks, disasters, and tests faced by humans are nothing new or impossible. It is mentioned in the Qur’an that the ancient peoples who had greater achievements and economic strength were also tested and destroyed for what they were proud of. The people of Sodom and Gomorrah were buried in the earth by showering brimstones and clay that destroyed their arrogance. The grand armies who were trying to destroy the Kaaba were attacked by small birds carrying only small stones (surah Al-Fīl).
In Surah Al-Rum verse 41 Allah says: “Corruption has appeared throughout the land and sea by (reason of) what the hands of people have earned so He may let them taste part of (the consequence of) what they have done that perhaps they will return (to righteousness).” COVID-19 is neither exclusive nor completely unexpected but not impossible. What is the wisdom behind the pandemic that God has for us to ponder?
Indeed, the main lesson from the test is to remind those who are astray and guide them back to the right path. The immediate solution prescribed by Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon Him) is to break the chain of infection by restricting movements of people within a certain area like what Malaysia has been implementing in the Movement Control Order from 18 March 2020. A standing hadith of the Prophet PBUH that emphasises every disease has its cure is indeed a motivation for the medical fraternity to not stop in their research efforts in finding the vaccine to curb the COVID-19 disease. Amazingly, the approach in dealing with pandemics is covered by the 14 centuries old hadith.
The time has come for us to think deeply on how we govern ourselves. Humans should not detach themselves from God nor disregard any of the tests brought down upon them except to learn the wisdom behind such trials. The ignorant and arrogant responses expressed by some leaders and people in the early stage of the pandemic, for example, have proved that the situation is worse than they are where rates of infection, and even death spike. Inevitably, what follows is recession as the effects of multiplying critical economic problem set in. Indeed, the adverse effects of the outbreak on economic activities, have been particularly severe or almost impossible to fully recover without changing the field.
The classical and neo-classical economics presume and uphold rationality, self-interest, and scarcity. These are the three fundamental axioms of the economic convention that are in contradiction with the Shariah. Self-interest shall not be absolute over and above public interest. One cannot pursue his/her interest if the interest affects the public or neighbourhood or community. The role of spiritual and social capital improves trust and reduces transaction cost, making the market more efficient and transparent. Trust is the social capital that is very much depleted. The ethical value and social capital in the sharing of public interest should be utmost in the people. The concept of scarcity in economics does not fit in our religious perspective because Allah has unlimited resources and put everything in its proper places and measure, hence, it is up to humans as vicegerents to manage it.
The universal economic discourse among various religious-based economics worships classical and neo-classical economics that put a high regard on the liberty of economic agents such as market freedom. The Government and regulation play a minimal role to facilitate that liberty (market interest prevails over government). Islam recognises market freedom but only if such freedom is within Islamic tenets, and regulation has an important role to play in removing market distortion (and makes corrections). Market distortion includes monopoly, discrimination, cheating, legal device, hoarding, boycott, and payment discrepancies within the business community and economic ecosystem.
Next, monetary policy should move away from debt financing and restructuring fiscal and income policy to make life decent. The debt situation in the global arena shows how badly the GDP will decline. We are expecting bankruptcy in many corporations, banking, and financial institutions. Trade and debt financing policy needs to be revisited with the insight on the Islamic stimulus package such as risk-sharing Sukuk offering by the monetary authorities or the government.
The world of tomorrow will depend on the policy choices we make today that can reform a new norm and at the same time enhance the digital economic ecosystem. The shariah-based norm should be observed with at least three new principles i.e. harmonisation of revelation-rationality, putting public interest above self-interest and, the establishment of hisbah economic ecosystem to safeguard people and the world at large for future sustainable growth.