Economics and Business

The Islamic Vision of Development in the Light of Maqasid al-Shariah

The ultimate goal of all Islamic teachings is to be a blessing for mankind. This is the primary purpose for which the Prophet (SAAS) was sent to this world (Qur’an, 21:107). One of the indispensable ways to realize this goal is to promote the falah  or real well-being of all the people living on earth, irrespective of their race, color, age, sex or nationality. The word falah and its derivatives have been used 40 times in the Qur’an. Another word, fawz, which is a synonym of falah, has also been used 29 times along with its derivatives. This is also the goal towards which the muezzin calls the faithful five times a day, showing thereby the importance of falah in the Islamic worldview.

It may be argued here that this is the goal of all societies and not just of Islam. This is certainly true. There seems to be hardly any difference of opinion among all societies around the world that the primary purpose of development is to promote human well-being. There is, however, considerable difference of opinion in the vision of what constitutes real well-being and the strategy to be employed for realizing and sustaining it. The difference may not have been there if the pristine vision of all religions had continued to dominate the worldviews of their respective societies. However, this vision has been distorted over the ages. Moreover, the Enlightenment Movement of the 17th and 18th centuries has influenced almost all societies around the world in different degrees by its secular and materialist worldview. Consequently the primary measure of development has become a rise in income and wealth. This raises the question of whether real human well-being can be realized and sustained by merely a rise in income and wealth and the satisfaction of just the material needs of the human personality. Religious scholars as well as moral philosophers and a number of modern academics have questioned the identification of wellbeing with a rise in income and wealth. They have also emphasized the spiritual and non-material contents of well-being.

Empirical research has also provided a negative answer to the undue emphasis on material ingredients of well-being at the cost of the spiritual and non-material. This is because, even though real income has dramatically risen in several countries since World War II, the self-reported subjective well-being of their populations has not only failed to increase, it has in fact declined. The reason is that happiness is positively associated with higher income only up to the level where all basic biological needs get fulfilled. Beyond that, it remains more or less unchanged unless some other needs, which are considered indispensable for increasing well-being, are also satisfied.

What are these other needs? Most of them are spiritual and nonmaterial in character and need not necessarily become satisfied as a result of increase in income. Single-minded preoccupation with wealth may in fact hurt the satisfaction of these needs. Economists have, however, generally tended to abstain from a discussion of these. The primary reason given for this is that spiritual and nonmaterial needs involve value judgements and are not quantifiable. They are, nevertheless, important and cannot be ignored...

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