IS ISLAM RESPONSIBLE FOR AN UNDERDEVELOPED MUSLIM WORLD – RESPONDING TO THE WEBER’S CONTENTION

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Islam hinders Economic Development — the discriminately pervasive & inconsistently articulated, nevertheless frequently tested contention of Max Weber, a leading thinker in the western religious anthropology. A nonchalant review warrants contextualization of Weber’s work, his claim in the backdrop of his articulation of Islamic and growth – before labelling it as essentialist or orientalist or Eurocentric or wrapping him under Weberism. It was his famous work ‘The Protestant Ethics (PE) and Spirit of Capitalism’ in 1905, where he asserted on the movement of protestants, their puritanism, ascetic morals setting the foundation of the rational capitalism. As J.S Komo puts it, that the central question that Weber pursued his whole life was, as to why anywhere outside the occident, no path of rationalization was followed in art, science or economic development. So, perhaps he was more of Eurocentric essentialist – wherein his verdicts on Islam is just one of the many societies under his lens, lying outside the occident, and the ‘Growth’ as he see it, is essentially an yield of rational capitalism. His bent toward the rational capitalism, was due to its inherent moral spirit of money making act and an ethical duty resting on self-discipline, hard work and self-accountability.

An interesting glitch here is that, out of the two parts of equation i.e. ‘Islam’ and ‘growth’ (presumably rationally capitalistic), the former has been amassing scrutiny, despite of having revealed ontology, in contrast to the ‘growth’ which is taken as immutable (Tripp, 2006). Sociologist in the second half of the twentieth century like that of French Marxist Rodinson, Bryan Turner and Kuran tested Weber’s thesis and attempted to respond to it.

Rodinson (1966)

Turner took a systematic approach to dismiss three out of four thesis of Weber except for patrimonialism. However, notwithstanding the fact that his refutation for Weber thesis on Islam’s hedonism, lack of freedom of markets and labor, rational law, bourgeois and fragmented economic character are all born and nourished in the womb of patrimonialism to which he had to surrender. Even Weber’s criticism on Islam turning in to an ‘accommodating’ religion from a ‘transformational’ one, owes its origin to patrimonialism.

Timur Kuran

Though principally discontented with Islamic legal constructs being inimical of modernity and rationalism (Kuran 2012), however in his work ‘Islam and Mammon’ refuted the idea of Islam being deleterious to growth, by witnessing the golden era of Islamic society in the pre-medieval time (8th to 12th century). However under the same grain of thought, he related the static worldview of Islam, that contributed to Islam loosing grounds to the west in trade and commerce – which eventually led to colonialism.

The Rush for the Ceteris Paribus

A critical synthesis of the thesis produced by Weber and its rebuttal from Rodinson, Turner, Kuran or Said’s Orientalism (1978) reveals that, they substantiated their arguments citing evidences around two axis — either on the instances from Islam as practiced by a certain muslim society in an specific time space (Weber, Turner, Rodinson) – or on the dimension driven from the Islamic doctrine, its ontological sources, its epistemological schism (Rodinson) or a combination of both. This methodological approach in all its interactionism tends to yield internally inconsistent and isomorphic generalization. Citing quran and Sunnah as Rodinson did, or the pro-commerce Macca in the prophets era, or its transformation from tribalism to a state can be a valid response but cannot be a comprehensive rejoinder. This leaves gaps for the thinkers – for a consistent consolidation across both the axis referred earlier i.e.

i) The Islamic doctrine and its encapsulation of rationality, growth and development and
1. ii) A systemic contemplation of the Muslim society (in all its heterodoxy)to rationalize the reality which is often quoted by the critiques to criticize Islam itself. A holistic account on the above, would consummate the response, as there is no ceteris paribus clause to this complex social reality.

Been there Done that!

Weber was more insistent on the ability of PE to form a set of function that defined economic rationality. But the debate of Reason Versus Revelation, which enlightened the west in post medieval era, remained pervasive in the Muslim world as early as six centuries prior to the western enlightenment– as evident in the significant work of muslim scholars like Ghazali, Ibn-e Rushd, Ibn-e Tayimiyah, Ibn-e- Khaldun (Chapra 1999). It was this awareness that was yielding Muslim’s scientific contribution to philosophy, astrology, chemistry, medicine and so forth – which was curbed to conservatism again by none other than the patrimonial and intrusive nature of the polity.

What went wrong?

In the wake of above synthesis, it would not an arm’s chair speculation, if patrimonialism is blamed for its moral degeneration, departure from rationality and thus an economic downturn. The basic factors of the much ostentatious ethics of capitalism are addressed by subset of axioms i.e. ikhtiyar (free will), fard (responsibility), haqq (right), amanah (trust) islah (reform), equilibrated by Adal wa’l-ihsan, optimized by Rububiyah and Tazkiyah and governed by Khilafah, Akhirah under the tawhidi frame (Asutay 2007) – wherein IE with its spiritual and moral dimensions – have the ability to address Weber’s own discomfort on PE ethic’s orientation towards jungle capitalism (Weber 1978: 614).

Even muslim scholar like Ibn-e-Khaldun back in the fifteenth century, have candid theories to incorporate polity, justice in this world (Adl), Gods appraisal of it (Al-mizan) and the role of wealth to sustain people, whose well-being derives the legitimacy of the sovereign (Chapra, 2000: 147-148). The Khaldunian doctrine was even cogent enough to portend the fall of a civilization being dependent on the social well-being of the society – perhaps partly rationalizes the Muslim loosing grounds in commerce in the medieval age, falling prey to colonialism.

But is this superstructure independently formed by religion, or due to its reciprocal interplay with social formation and modes of production (ayubi)?. The modes of production, to shape in a capitalistic superstructure has to be industrialized with large scale output – which was not been the case in the pre-colonial or medieval Muslim society. Hence, neither the base, nor the religion (political influenced) were able to shape in a social formation to eradicate patrimonialism vis-à-vis enter the western contour of rational capitalism.

Economic Development – Is it a ‘One-Size-Fit-All’?

A keen analysis of diversified economies, governments and societies provide us valuable insights and evidences, though fragmented, but are enough for the thinkers to think otherwise:

We cannot expect that all nations will adopt like systems- for conformity is the jailor of freedom and enemy of growth.

John F. Kennedy

  • Weber’s essentialism has already failed in his pessimism for China and Japan.
  • We find that development states can be authoritarian with the examples of China, Singapore, South Korea, UAE and even Vietnam and Combodia.
  • Whereas for the muslim world, numerous exceptions can be witnessed. For example indigenous formation of capitalistic markets in Egypt by the local merchants without any influence of the west (Gran et. al 1982).
  • Muslims are stereotyped to cause fatalism in to societies, but at the same time J.S Komo’s account on advent of Muslim traders in the peasant society of Malayas offers an altogether contrasting shade of Islam.
  • Even in the present day postcolonial Muslim world, countries from the far-east, (Malaysia and Indonesia) subcontinent (Pakistan and Bangladesh) and the European Union candidate i.e. Turkey which have taken the democratic development route.
  • The undemocratic Middleastern thawra and thawri states, still based on tribalism, kinship and rentierism, though Industrialized through the advent of oil, are still in their reconciliatory phase, wherein the modes of production along with social formats and religion are redefining the superstructure as well as the governance as witnessed in the ongoing arab spring, and the revolution inTunisia and Cairo.
  • Essentialist approaches, neither in the days of imperialism, nor in the present world carved a positive impact. We see the examples of Afghanistan and Iraq which despite of being a military success, ended in to political failure. The self-interestedSykes- Picot Treaty to divide the Ottoman Asia back in early 20th century forms the flashpoint of the extremists ISIS resentment (CNBC, July 2014).

To conclude, I would quote Rodinson ‘Islam has served as a means and justification of both liberation as well as opression’ thus to say, Islam isn’t identifiable with any economic system or political tendency, and can allow for varying forms’ (Rodinson,1966). Thus to assert that, it should be left to the organic reconciliatory process of internal factors, mean of coercion, worldview and the aspiration of the society to tailor their superstructure. Totally accepting or denying the sceptics or doing it partly is not the purpose. It is about recognizing and corroborating the socially constructed reality to achieve the socio-economic well-being of the mankind.

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