Knowledge in Islamic Economy

As with any social or corporate system in this world, the development of the economy is a scientific journey and exploration that is augmented along the way with real-life experiences and proof points. Only through making this journey can we determine the pros and cons, the benefits and challenges that the economic system offers to target audiences.

Knowledge and science are inextricably intertwined in shaping an economy. Perhaps this was the reason for the emergence of the 'knowledge economy' that by its very nature mandated leveraging knowledge to create enhanced products and services. In today's information age, the correlation between the advancement of the human race and its ability to increase its knowledge capital to help the economy to grow and thrive is well established.

Unfortunately, the conventional economic system today remains more focused on profit than in ensuring the greater good of humankind in general. Consequently, we still see vast disparities in income levels, and the exclusion of large segments of the population from the development process. This in turn sets in motion an endless circle of poverty and deprivation - just some of the compelling contemporary challenges that the United Nations has been seeking to address with its Millennium Development Goals.

Even though humanity has succeeded in attaining remarkable achievements on all levels, some of these achievements have triggered difficult challenges in their wake. How many biological weapons have human beings created or discovered that have caused the death of millions of people? Similarly, several economic innovations - again created with a profit motive - have had catastrophic results. Can we deny the role of traditional credit systems and debt and investment derivatives in triggering recent economic crises?

Science, discoveries, knowledge and innovation alone will not solve our social and economic problems unless they are based on an ethical doctrine that puts humanity first - ahead of the interest of companies or corporates. Knowledge and science are a source of power: they can either be leveraged as a means to dominate or more ethically to advance human beings everywhere, without exclusion.

The world today needs an alternative to the conventional economic system. This need accelerated the resurgence of the centuries-old Islamic economy in the period following the global financial crisis of 2008. The Islamic economy is a comprehensive system based on integrated and ethical foundations. Ethics or moral philosophy is the branch of philosophy that involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct.

Ethics essentially refers to established knowledge based on human experiences that determine and regulate social behavior. In order to be a truly viable alternative to the conventional economic system, Islamic economy should offer answers to some of the core challenges such as income disparities, and unequal distribution of wealth and resources, that the conventional system has failed to address.

With the Islamic economy, there is no contradiction between business ethics and innovation, or between religious teachings and daily needs. Islamic economy's ethics do not limit innovations or put an end to knowledge creation - rather, they help streamline and regulate innovation and customize it to best serve humanity. These ethics also offer the necessary base for generating knowledge and understanding the sciences to better serve human beings and resolve contemporary challenges.

Islamic economy contributes to creating new branches of knowledge and defining the rules and regulations of economic activities. In addition, it also humanizes existing knowledge and makes it an integral part of civilization. Knowledge can be made more ethical and humane by connecting it to the Islamic doctrine that considers such knowledge and science as critical elements to achieve justice and equality.

This brings us to a definition of the halal concept - a set of ethics, values and behavioral regulations within the economy. For the material outcomes of Islamic economy's knowledge to be truly halal, they must be halal in their intentions, principles, wisdom, and future vision for a world that will be defined by this economy's purposes.

The halal concept in Islamic economy is not merely a tool for matching a commodity with sharia principles. This concept with its multiple dimensions represents a comprehensive knowledge system that spans the origin of wealth, the means of producing it fairly, and deploying this wealth justly. It also encompasses the social relationships under the umbrella of the economic system and ensures that economic activities are carried out to preserve the environment with equitable and efficient use of natural resources - limiting waste and overconsumption.

The concept of halal is binding across all segments of the Islamic economy. Every function or mission, no matter how small in size or result, is accepted if it is in line with this concept or abandoned if it does not conform. The comprehensive nature of the halal concept is derived from Islamic sharia's inclusiveness that leaves out no detail - no matter how small or big - in evaluating its halal compliance.

In all types of economies, knowledge must play a key role in cascading comprehensive development across all segments of humanity - transcending geographical or social boundaries. A development that articulates the culture and standards of Sharia that places halal as its core component. This development must include everyone and contribute to alleviating poverty and finding solutions to unemployment. It must protect human beings from economic crises resulting from irresponsible practices.

By doing so alone can knowledge emerge as a natural by-product of intellectual reasoning - bringing with it power and insight that only human beings have been blessed with in our world.