Teaching Islamic Economics

The first leading university in the area of teaching Islamic economics as an academic subject is Al-Azhar University. This teaching is administered in two faculties : The Faculty of Commerce (Within the curriculum of the fourth level of the Bachelor’s program), and the faculty of Sharia (within the curriculum of the Legal Politics degree in the graduate program).

This subject matter has been introduced only recently by virtue of law no.102 issued in 1961 on the restructuring of Al Azhar and its constituent institutions. This development occurred quite late, in spite of the long-established existence of Islamic economics which is as old as Islam itself and whose emergence took place fourteen centuries ago. It also occurred quite late in spite of the opinion expressed by Moslem and non-Moslem theologians, and pertaining to the fact that Islamic economics, on the one hand, is unique and enjoys a separate identity and on the other hand, that the foundations and principles that underlie it meet the needs of modern times and guarantee man’s happiness on earth and in the Hereafter. Furthermore, the introduction of Islamic economics into school curricula was started quite late in spite of the enthusiasm shown by the Moslem peoples and their leaders towards the application of the precepts that contain the principles of Islamic economics.

It seems that the issue involves a missing link. We shall try to clarify this in the following three sections :

  1. The novelty of Islamic economics as a subject matter.
  2. Neglecting the teaching of Islamic economics as a school subject.
  3. Neglecting the application of Islamic economics.

3.1. The Novelty of Islamic Economics

3.1.1.Islamic Economics is as Old as Islam Itself

As it has been indicated earlier, Islam is not simply a religious faith; it is also a political, social and economic system for the Islamic society. That is what is intended by the phrases that describe Islam as “a religion and a code of life”, and as ‘a faith and Sharia”.

Islam was not revealed to man for spiritual guidance, as was Christianity which advocates the principle of "Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God”. Instead, Islam came in order to organize man’s life in all its aspects, whether they are political, social or economic. The Messenger Mohammad, may Allah’s prayer and peace be upon Him, was not only a Prophet but also an executive judge.

Thus, Islamic economics is as old as Islam itself.


3.1.2.The Novelty of Islamic Economics as a Subject Matter

Although Islamic economics dates back to, the emergence of Islam fourteen centuries ago, its introduction into teaching curricula as a separate subject is a flew development. Besides, the research and the areas of study pertaining to this subject are still limited.

Our objective is not to explore the reasons for this failure or that contradiction. Suffice it to point out that Islam has brought new principles and unique foundations in the area of economics. The study of Islamic economics knew its heyday in the early Islamic era, to the extent that several old books are full of original ideas that compare favorably with the modern concepts and theories of economics. More than that, the first world scientifically-oriented books of economics did not appear until the Seventh century (Gregorian), in the light of Islam and through the creativity of Arab writers (See Salah, 1932, Nachaat, 1944 and Mourad, 1952). Subsequently, the study of Islamic economics declined following the cessation of the Ijtihad in the fourth century (Islamic calendar). Since that time, there has been almost no research on Islamic law and, consequently, the studies on Islamic economics have ceased to face the changing needs of society.

This state of affairs has caused the study of Islamic economics to lag behind to such an extent that the content of this subject matter has. been forgotten even by the Moslems themselves and faded out of the minds of their own theologists. Several intellectuals still do not imagine the existence of an Islamic economic system which can meet the needs of modern society and compare favorably with the two dominant economic systems of capitalism and socialism.

3.1.3.Type of Effort Required in the Subject Matter of Islamic Economics

There may now be strong calls for going back to Islam, with the view of applying its economic principles and involving it in the solution of the world problems. However, before doing so, we need to clearly show these economic foundations and the manner in which they can be applied for the benefit of each society and in accordance with the conditions of time and space.

The true enthusiasm and the sincere calls in favor of Islamic economics will be wasted if no efforts are made to highlight the political social and economic precepts of Islam in the Language of modern times, and if no explanations are given as to how these precepts can be applied in such a way as to further the changing interests of society. If such conditions are met, instead of seeking the adoption of the Islamic precepts through mere talk and dogmatism, these godly precepts will impose themselves not only to the Islamic countries but to the whole world, for it is in all times and places the road to salvation. peace and happiness for all humanity.

From the above we can realize the necessity of economics as a scientific and separate subject which lends itself to wide ranging research studies on the economic problems of our times and which finds the Islamic solutions for them.

3.2.Neglecting the Teaching of Islamic Economics

3.2.1.World’s Aspiration Towards Islamic Economics

As it has been indicated earlier, Islamic economics is an independent system which enjoys a separate identity. It is a self-contained system with its own economic policy which encompasses all the different interests - (whether private or public material or spiritual)-, takes into consideration the variations in time and space and, in the final analysis, achieves all the advantageous results and avoids all the inconveniences.

Several foreign and international voices cry out in order to stress the fact that Islamic economics is the hope for the salvation of humanity from the extremist positions adopted by each of the two dominant economic systems capitalism and socialism.

3.2.2.Islamic Universities’ Neglect of Teaching Islamic Economics

In spite of all that, the majority of the universities in the Islamic world itself provide courses on the capitalist and socialist economic systems but not on the Islamic one.

In Egypt, we have created specialized faculties of economics, such as the Faculty of Economics and Political Science, without any mention of the study of Islamic economics. Worse than that, we have set up specialized institutes for Arabic and Islamic studies such as the Institute for Advanced Arab Studies. in which we do not provide any teaching on Islamic economics as a separate subject and yet it is the area of Arabic and Islamic studies that is most worthy of our attention and care.

As was indicated earlier, Al-Azhar University, especially its Commerce and Sharia faculties, is the first leading university in the teaching of Islamic economics as an independent and scientific subject following a law related to the restructuring of Al-Azhar and issued under number 102 in the year 1961. Then there was King Abdulaziz University (Faculty of Economics) in Jeddah Which became the second leading university in the teaching of Islamic economics by virtue of its statutes issued in 1374H/1964 Later. the Seventh Conference of Moslem Ulema held in Cairo in September 1972. issued a resolution on the necessity to teach Islamic economics in the different institutes and universities of the Islamic world. Unfortunately this resolution has not found its way to application until after the First World Conference on Islamic economics which was held in Holy Mecca in February 1976.

Today, Islamic economics has almost become one of the prescribed subjects in several institutes and universities of the Islamic World. especially in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, although it has been harmed by some faculties by including it within the subject of Islamic culture.

Some Islamic universities and their specialized institutions may excuse themselves for not teaching Islamic economics as an independent subject by arguing that it is a new study area whose components have not been clearly delineated and about which there are limited basic references. However, is this not one more reason why Islamic universities and institutions should have set up departments and professorship chairs that are specialized in this subject matter ? Such an action will attract interested students and will consequently generate the relevant research, activate the study of the subject and foster its existence, thus imposing it on human thought. It will also play an effective role in the service of Islam and in the guidance of Moslems’ life.

3.2.3.The Mission to be Accomplished by the Leaders of Islamic Economics

When departments and chairs are created for Islamic economics, occupants will have numerous difficult responsibilities, especially the following :

  1. Preparing studies on Koran and Sunna texts that relate to Islamic economics, showing how these texts can be implemented in ways that are consistent with the conditions of time and space, and suggesting Islamic solutions for the different economic problems of the time.
  2. Conducting comparative studies between the Islamic and other economic systems showing the extent to which the differences in their respective applications are a result of differences in the systems themselves, and providing an evaluation of each system.
  3. Consulting the volumes written by the experts on Islamic Sharia, extracting their detailed opinions on questions of economics and expressing them in terms used in the current economic literature along with the presentation of relevant commentaries.
  4. Keeping abreast of the developments in the economic thought among the Islamic thinkers through out the different Islamic eras and countries, identifying the differences among them, and determining the bases of each opinion and presenting an evaluation of it.
  5. Supervising the setting up of a scientific library which contains the volumes research studies, dissertations and specialized journals that deal with economics in Islam.
  6. Encouraging the writing of master’s and doctoral dissertations in Islamic economics and providing for the training of young researchers who combine the two cultures the first being one of Islam and Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) and the second being one of technical economics.
  7. Studying the economic situations in the Islamic world investigating the underdevelopment that it suffers from, and drawing plans for the setting up of Islamic economic structures which will ensure cooperation among Islamic countries and their complementarily, and will benefit humanity.

We are not being unrealistic in our recommendations. We look forward to the setting up within the Islamic world of centers or institutes that are specialized in Islamic economics. [Note: The First World Conference on Islamic Economics which was convened by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and organized by Kint Abdelaziz University in Holy Mecca in Safar 139 February 1976 led to he creation of the World Center for Research on Islamic Economics (as a part of King Abdelaziz University). Similarly. the First World Conference on Fiqh which was convened by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and organized by Imam Mohamed Ibn Saoud University in Ryad in Do Lqiada. 1396/November 1976 led to the creation of a department of Islamic Economics in the Sharia faculties. The department is intended for the study of Islamic economics in four complete years and started operating in the academic year 1399-1400 AH. Later this department became a separate Faculty of Islamic Economics.  In addition to the above. the Commerce Faculty of the AI-Azhar University took the initiative of setting up the "Sheikh Abdellah Kamil Center for Research and Studies on Islamic Commerce” which delivers, in the name of AI-Azhar University master’s and doctoral degrees in Islamic economics.]

Economy is the vital context which reveals the material and spiritual strength of Islam and through which the Islamic Ummah can achieve its cohesion, strength and universal mission.

3.3. Neglecting the Application of Islamic Economics

3.3.1.Gap between Belief and Reality

Nobody doubts the Moslems’ faith in Islam and nobody questions their belief in the soundness of the principles that constitute the basis of this religion, especially in the context of the organization of society in its political. social and economic activities.

Several voices cry out at different official and non-official levels some die out in insistence while others burst out in anger calling for the application of the foundations and the principles of Islamic economics. Sometimes, these voices find attentive ears and a strong echo among the people in charge as well as a sincere response and a confirmed interest on the part of the peoples and their leaders. However, the response stops there.

3.3.2. The Reasons for not Applying the Principles of Islamic Economics

Although the Moslem peoples and their leaders adhere to Islam and experience the application of the Sharia, they, nonetheless, seek the solutions to their different economic problems outside Islam and thus, we see their societies swinging awkwardly between the capitalist and socialist systems, neglecting their Islamic economic system.

This state of affairs does not mean the forsaking of Islam or doubt about its economic principles. Neither does it mean negligence on the part of Moslems or atavism (reversion) on the part of the leaders. The reason for not applying the principles of Islamic economics is that the solutions which are presented in the name of Islam for the problems of our modern times (and they are complex economic problems) are simplistic and unpractical. In fact these solutions are suggested by some men of religion who are not specialized in economic matters, relying in doing so on some old time religious leaders or theologists. In doing so, they ignore some important matters which are as follows :

  1. Islam does not have a place for men of religion as such for all Moslems are men of religion. However, it does have a status for men of knowledge. Nowadays, it is not enough for a person to be educated in the large domain of Fiqh in order to be able to formulate legal opinions about modern complex economic matters. Rather. it is necessary for him, in addition to that, to have a specialized knowledge that comprises the foundations and the details of the economics science.
  2. The judgments by Ijtihad made by the old time Islamic leaders and theologists, in spite of their great importance, cannot be taken in their absolute meanings. since they are essentially opinions. Added to this is the fact that most of these judgments were formulated in a period and in conditions which are not ours and on problems which are not ours. Today. We are called upon to make serious attempts as the old time theologists did in order to reveal Islam's judgments on the new financial transactions and economic problems.
  3. Several writers on Islamic economics limit their studies to subjects that relate essentially to the questions of riba and the prohibiting of interest insurance companies, banking transactions ,as if Islamic economics were limited to these questions. Even in their dealing wit h these topics and in the conclusions of prohibition and unlawfulness that they usually reach (without making any distinction between different banking or insurance operations). most of these writers do not present to us a detailed study on the practical alternative to what they prohibit. This ends up in cutting short the investigation for the required solution.

Some people make the confusion between Islamic economics and Islamic financing science. They entitle their works Islamic economics and inside they deal with the topics of the ‘fifth” (khumus). the “tenth” part (a’ouchour), land-or poll-tax (kharaj) body and face partnerships (sharikat al’abdan and sharikat lwujuh). Although the majority of these topics have acquired historical importance. they nevertheless present no serious studies that can be reliably related to the reality of our modern world.


3.3.3.The Cause of the Problem and it Solution

In the final analysis, the cause of the problem is that we do not have enough specialists in Islamic economics.

There lies, in my opinion. the ill that we are suffering from and there lies too the missing link.

Modern economists lack the thorough knowledge of Islam. and therefore they spontaneously get weary of studying the economic foundations for the economic problems of our time. On the other hand our theologists lack training in modern economics, a fact that makes them unable to do well in revealing the economic foundations of Islam and using them in ways that are consistent with the requirements of our time and with the reality of our current complex economic world.

This state of affairs has led the Moslems of today, common people and leaders alike. to turn in a vicious circle, aspiring to Islamic economics and calling for Islamic solutions to their problems while, at the same time, dividing themselves between the capitalist and the socialist Systems and applying the solutions of this or that system about which they do not feel comfortable or secure.

The only choice for the solution of this problem or the escape from this vicious circle is to train specialists in Islamic economics, who combine “the rich Islamic culture” and “the contemporary modern economic culture".

This will be achieved not through call for determination and appeals to theologists for seeking specialization, but through the creation of departments and chairs for this subject matter in the Islamic universities, administration institutes, faculties of commerce and law, etc. This will lead to the constitution of a specialized student body for this subject matter.

Through this systematic approach, we will highlight the economic foundations of Islam with the spirit of contemporary life, and show the possibility of applying them in a way that is consistent with the changing needs of society. It is only with this approach that we will be able to put an end to all kinds of blind fanaticism and empty appeals, and that we will enable Islamic economics to develop and flourish. and thus contribute to the solution of world problems and the fostering of world peace.

This is a cry from the depth of my heart, which I am addressing to all Moslems, especially the economists and theologists for the sake of knowledge and truth, and for Islam and Moslems, The rationale is that Islamic economics is the material and spiritual strength of Islam, and that it provides the means for the achievement of the Islamic Umma’s cohesion, strength and world mission.

I have conveyed the message
May God be the witness.