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Rethinking Islamic Economics and Social Governance for the Modern Age

When I look at the questions that reach me on various occasions, I see two things standing out. The first is problems related to Islamic economics. The second is questions about the provisions regulating social life, not about faith, worship, and morality.

As far as I can see, these questions belong to two age groups. The first group consists of individuals who have aged, plunged into economic life, maintained their sensitivity regarding what is halal (lawful) and haram (forbidden), but are unable to overcome the problems they face in practical life with the existing provisions. So much so that sometimes they find themselves in a dilemma. They have to choose either to continue by complying with the impositions of the capitalist order and the rules of economic life or to say “as much as possible” by adhering to the provisions they have, which inevitably leads them to find themselves outside of economic life after a certain period, metaphorically “loading the capital on a cat.”

The owners of the second group of questions are generally young people. These are individuals who want to elevate their faith to a level of verification, take it a step further, and be able to give clear answers to the people they encounter in the intertwined life they live.

In this article, without touching upon any specific issue related to the first topic, I want to underline a general matter. The fundamental problem of Islamic economics is the effort to solve economic issues not based on empirical reality but rather by interpreting narrations in a superficial manner. Jurisprudence created a vibrant connection between religion and life during the eras of the founding imams when social life was exceedingly stagnant, but unfortunately, in later periods, instead of centering on changing and evolving conditions to develop new thoughts, it followed a path that turned past practices into the norm and transported today into yesterday. At this point, you may recall the distinction between the opinion (ra’y) and hadith schools in our literature and the debates and methodological approaches to issues between these two groups.

I can explain the analysis I’m trying to convey like this: Life is like a river that flows continuously forward. The stagnation I mentioned has been replaced by change, transformation, development, and metamorphosis in the advancing times, entering human life with a dizzying speed. In the periods when we faced this reality, while the predecessors were in search of new endeavors, they attempted to come out of the fortress they had confined themselves to with exceptional fatwas. The searches for permissibility under the names of bey’ül i’ne (sale with immediate repurchase), bey bi’l istiğlal (independent sale), and bey bi’l vefa (sale with a promise to repurchase), or the Ottoman Sheikh al-Islam Ebu Suud Efendi’s initial fatwa allowing money to be endowed, followed by the establishment of cash waqfs (endowments) which approved interest-bearing loans at a rate of 12.5% under the name of “muamele-i şer’iyye” (sharia-compliant transaction), are concrete evidence of the reality I’m trying to express.

Let me reiterate, the biggest problem of Islamic economics is its effort to petrify the historical knowledge that once regulated our socio-economic life, even claiming that it cannot be renewed, and beyond that, its attempt to systematize this. The problems of today’s world cannot be overcome by treating our petrified knowledge as the norm. Constructing a dynamic system based on empirical realities is essential, without question.

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Dr. Ahmet Kurucan is a an author and scholar focusing on Islamic Studies and Law.


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