The age of globalization is an age of upheaval, or more accurately of reversal, that condones the domination of economics and financial markets over all other areas of human activity. Globalization is first and foremost economic, rather than political, cultural, or technological. It has become impossible to formulate a serious critique of the world order, the policies of the industrialized nations, or the decisions of the G8 without referring to a minute study of the neoliberal economic system, the institutions that sustain it (the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank), the formidable power of a handful of multinationals, and the functioning of the banks and financial markets.
Strictly political approaches and discourses concerning states that observe the rule of law, effective citizenship, the end of colonialism, national independence, aid toward development, and autonomy have become meaningless: in a time of world markets, speculation on every front, and virtual financial transactions, the old realities of domination, the subjugation of the Southern nations, and colonialism have changed in nature and in name but have not disappeared. It is now no longer necessary to be present in Caracas, Bamako, or Jakarta in order to make decisions; the dominant powers operate from offices in Washington, London, and Paris and from stock exchanges in New York and Tokyo following the new division of labor, which condones a “new look” colonialism and a veritable “long-distance” slavery. These dominating powers have no heart and oppress and kill children, women, and men every day under a reign of terror and with unheard-of violence, with the cynical advantage of attracting no media attention but acting slowly, silently, and unadvertised. Two years ago, well before the events of 11 September 2001, in Burkina Faso, a scholar friend, disheartened by so much hypocrisy, confided: “If terrorism consists in seizing innocent people and killing them, this world order is sanctioning a cynical, silent, global terrorism.” Rising from the heart of one of the poorest countries on the planet, this voice has some legitimacy.
The world has changed, and all these transformation have serious consequences. But it all happens as if the thinking of Muslim ulama and intellectuals had stalled, particularly in the field of economics. We observe, like everyone else, the phenomenon of globalization, we study its basic precepts and its logic, we perceive its serious ethical shortcomings, but we hardly offer an alternative, or at least a critical perspective on the basis of the scriptural sources and an understanding of the context. In the meantime, the opposite phenomenon is emerging: the Islamic world has produced economic and financial institutions that, by trying to arrange, within but on the fringes of the system on a small scale, so-called Islamic transactions, without riba (usury), condone and affirm the logic of the global system because they do not resist it. We propose structural adaptations to protect ourselves, but in fact the system is accepted for what it is and we “deal with it.” Observing the world economic order and its injustices objectively and realistically is one thing, but coming to terms with it by adapting to it is another.
The whole of the Islamic world is in subjection to the market economy. The most overtly Islamic states on the level of law (which are overwhelmingly repressive) and government, such as those of Saudi Arabia and other petromonarchies, are the most economically integrated into the neoliberal system, which is based on speculation and tied into interestbearing transactions. It is impossible to draw a dividing line between the world that keeps Islamic rules and that in which they are broken: the connections and interactions between them are such that it is the globality of the economic order that must be questioned. It is now in the area of economics more than in any other that the old categories of dar al-harb (the abode of war) and dar al-islam (the abode of Islam), of which we have spoken in part I, have fundamentally collapsed and become totally inoperative. When economic practices were restricted to the local or national level and when they gave priority to respect for the legal codes of nation states, distinction on the basis of geographical areas was legitimate. None of this now holds true, but we continue to hear ulama making distinctions between the “two worlds” and consequently legislating on the basis of obsolete criteria. The world has changed, but their eyes are fixed on realities and on systems of reference that have today been completely overtaken, with the very serious consequence that their legal opinions (fatawa) advising adaptation in fact prevent the emergence of an alternative way of thinking.
Geography is not and can no longer be the criterion for distinguishing between Islamic and non-Islamic areas. We have to change completely the way we look at the world order and its logic. Here again, as we have said in part I, we need to live out a true intellectual revolution. At this time of globalization, it is no longer geographical areas but areas of activity that we can evaluate as being more or less close to our principles and ethics of life. Because Western countries, at the level of constitutions and law, protect freedom of conscience and religion and the rights and integrity of their citizens, we have been able to refer to them as an “abode of testimony” (dar al-shahada). Wherever in the world we are guaranteed these rights, this abode of testimony comes into being as far as Muslim consciousness is concerned. But if we look at the neoliberal system as a whole and the logic that underpins it, we see that we are very clearly in the alam alharb (world of war), or dar al-harb, if we use the old terminology. Whether it is Washington, London, Tokyo, Riyadh, Cairo, Casablanca, Kuala Lumpur, or Singapore, the whole world, as far as economic activity is concerned, lives by speculation and interest-bearing transactions, surrounded by the most complex and sophisticated financial and banking logics. We know that these practices are in total material contradiction to Islamic principles on which the Qur’anic revelation is explicit: whoever engages in speculation or the practice of usury is at war with the Transcendant. But is there the potential for an alternative?
Western Muslims live at the heart of the system. For decades, their communities have suffered from deeply disturbed consciences because it is so difficult, and often impossible, to live in industrialized societies and avoid interest-bearing financial transactions. How should we grasp the situation, and what adaptations can be proposed? Many ulama based in Muslimmajority countries have contributed to the debate, and their legal advice ranges from forbidding all involvement in the system to taking into account, as they arise, situations of necessity (darurat) and needs (hajat). A small minority of scholars have freed Muslims from these concerns by stating, for example, that bank interest is not the same as the usury (riba) referred to in the Qur’an. This technique of changing what things are called in order to avoid a prohibition is well known: in the same way, beer is not regarded as included in the alcohol (khamr) referred to in the Qur’an, and so on! Traditions of the Prophet have warned us against this way of dealing with things, and the great majority of Muslims do not follow this advice. It remains for them, in practice, to make new rulings on a daily basis, and the solutions—from prohibitions to adaptations—considered objectively, are neither evident nor clear. Either we depend permanently on the mitigation of necessity (darura), need (haja), and exception (istithna); or we simply fall back (without real contextualization) on the view of Abu Hanifa and his school, which long ago allowed the practice of usury within dar al-harb; or we turn for credit to Islamic financial institutions based in the West; or, to avoid all difficulties, we ask for the charitable support of a wealthy organization or individual in the Gulf. In these circumstances, it is difficult to live an open, independent, and, above all, harmonious life; a heart torn between principles and the economic environment endlessly finds and cobbles together solutions that, while they may pacify the conscience a little, are not capable of changing either the situation or the world.
The global perspective we need invites us to return to our universal principles and to understand their basic objectives. It will then be possible, in light of our specific context, to assess the areas of conflict and the scope for adaptation. It will be necessary above all to propose guidelines (at the local level) that, even if they do not provide solutions that are immediately completely satisfactory (because the problems are so complex), may nevertheless make it possible to begin to think differently about our involvement in the economic sphere, with an awareness of the need and the imperative to search for an alternative that is as much local as global. Islamic teachings are intrinsically opposed to the basic premises and the logic of the neoliberal capitalist system, and Muslims who live in “the system’s head” have a greater responsibility, with others who are working toward the same goal, to propose solutions that could create a way out and lead to a more just economy and more equitable trade.