Islam and Real Money

A couple of years ago when computer science was still in its infancy there was a term which was used for the more sophisticated word processing programmes which pretended to show on the screen what would appear in the final printout and that term was WYSIWYG – what you see is what you get. In many ways that is a term which is certainly applicable to Islam. What you see is what you get. In Islam there is no hidden agenda; there is no spookiness: no mysterious rites, no sacramental ceremonies, no magical observances. Everything is straightforward, up front. What you see is what you get. The form of the prayer, for example, in Islam is entirely self explicit. You can see by looking at it exactly what is going on. It is clearly and unambiguously an act of worship. What you see is what you get. That does not indicate any lack of profundity; on the contrary, it means that the actions of Islam gain their inner meaning and depth not through external obfuscation but by means of true sincerity of intention and inward awareness of the Divine Presence which lies behind, and gives life to, all outward phenomena.

For this reason one of the most important human qualities, the need for which is emphasised in many places in the Qur'an, is something known in Arabic as sidq. Sidq is a comprehensive word which means sincerity, integrity, truthfulness, trueness, that something or someone is the same inside and out, that there is consistency right the way through. As is the case with all human virtues this quality of sidq was most perfectly exemplified by the Prophet Muhammad, may Allah bless him and grant him peace. If he felt anger or pleasure, they were clearly visible in his face. People knew exactly where they stood with him. When he spoke to someone he would turn his whole body towards them. His absolute sincerity was tangible. He was always true to his word. And he hated the opposite qualities of deception and hypocrisy.

Once when he was walking through the market in Madina he passed a grain merchant who was sitting beside a heap of grain which he was selling. The Prophet put his hand into it and felt some dampness with his fingers. He asked the man about that and he replied, "The rain caught it, Messenger of Allah." The Prophet reprimanded the man saying, "Why did you not put it on top of the heap so that the people could see it! Anyone who cheats us is not one of us." So he was in effect saying that cheating and hypocrisy put a person outside the pale of Islam; that this quality of sidq is an essential component of a Muslim man or woman. In fact it is clear from the Qur'an and many other sayings of the Prophet that hypocrisy, which is to give the appearance of being something whereas in reality being something quite different, is one of the worst characteristics that it is possible to possess, worse even than outright unbelief.

Now what has all of this got to do with the subject of this talk: Islam and real money. The answer is: a great deal. Because the fact is that the pesetas in your pocket are very definitely not what they appear to be. What they claim to be is a simple medium of exchange; you hand over five hundred pesetas and get a big bag of potatoes in return. Their reality, however, is something very different to this. What they really are is not so much a medium of exchange as a means of control. In order to understand this it is necessary to go back in history a bit and see how the pieces of paper we now know as money came into existence.

Originally, and almost universally, money took the form of gold and silver coinage. People who had large quantities of gold and silver used frequently to hand it over for safekeeping to goldsmiths who, due to the nature of their trade in precious metals and bullion, usually had secure strong-rooms. In return the goldsmith would issue them with a receipt for what they had deposited. After a time some people started to use these receipts instead of the gold itself, transferring the receipt to someone else's name when paying a large debt. The goldsmith would make a charge for storage and for any services of this kind he performed. In this way, privately-issued notes did begin to make their appearance as a medium of exchange, but they were still exactly equivalent to the gold in the goldsmith's possession and their total volume was very small in comparison with the normal cash transactions that generally took place.

After a while, however, the goldsmiths realised that the deposits they held on behalf on other people tended to remain at a more or less constant level and so they started to issue extra receipts for given amounts of gold, over and above those they had already given out, which people could come and cash in with them if they wanted. These they used both to pay for things for themselves and increasingly, as circumstances permitted, as loans which people would repay with interest, thus enabling them to increase their stocks of gold without paying out anything at all. The people who took the notes would also use them in place of the gold and silver they claimed to represent. This, properly speaking, constituted the origin of the paper notes that are today all the money we know. The important thing to realise is that a large proportion of these notes issued by the goldsmiths were entirely fictitious and not backed-up by any gold at all. Money had been conjured out of thin air. This transaction, which was then, and still is, quite frankly fraudulent, mirrors exactly the way the pesetas in your pocket come into existence.

It soon became obvious that this activity of literally creating money out of nothing was extremely profitable and the goldsmiths involved soon gave up their honourable craft of turning gold into objects of beauty. They added to the issuing of paper money two other complementary transactions – the processing of bills of exchange and the negotiation of loans – and invented the new and enormously powerful business of banking. This process did not happen overnight and evolved gradually between the mid 16th and mid 17th centuries, when it suddenly emerged as the force to be reckoned with. In England the Earl of Clarendon, a senior figure in the government of the time, wrote in the 1660's: 'Bankers were a tribe that had risen and grown up in Cromwell's time and never even heard of before the late troubles, (referring to the English Civil War) till when the whole trade of money had passed through the hands of the scriveners (the people who wrote contracts and negotiated loans); they were for the most part goldsmiths.'

There was, however, one recently introduced element on which the whole edifice of banking depended and that element was usury in its most prevalent formof charging interest on money loaned. Without this, banking would not have been possible. Nowadays the interest rate and its fluctuations and the open and hidden effects of that on us is so much part of our lives that it is difficult to imagine the world without it. We entirely forget that up until the 16th C. it was totally forbidden and that this prohibition not only stemmed from categoric Divine decrees both in the Bible and the Qur'an but also from its universal condemnation and rejection by the whole Graeco-Roman philosophical corpus. On this matter religious and secular tradition spoke with one voice, knowing the potentially catastrophic effect of usury once it is introduced into human affairs.

However, putting themselves above this combined consensus of Divine injunction and inherited human wisdom, some leaders of the Reformation, notable among them Calvin in Geneva, – undoubtedly under pressure from powerful contemporary business interests – decided that they knew better and legitimised the charging of interest on loans. This opened the floodgates to a torrent which within a very short time had changed the whole political and economic landscape of Europe and which has now engulfed the entire globe.

This is not the time to trace the development of all the changes which took place but suffice it to say that the worst fears of our ancestors were realised and power became rapidly concentrated into the hands of fewer and fewer financiers who controlled political affairs from behind the scenes, holding no social responsibility whatsoever for the millions of human beings who in ever greater numbers fell under their control. One of the great studies of this process was written by the english historian R.H. Tawney. Its title is Religion and the Rise of Capitalism and it is indispensable reading for anyone interested in this subject. He says on p. 88, speaking of the new financial power brokers who had no political loyalties, funded protestants and catholics alike, and frequently financed both sides in a single conflict, that they:

Érepresented in the economic sphere the morality typified in that of politics by Machiavelli's Prince. Compared with these financial dynasties, the Habsburgs, Valois, and Tudors (in other words the great ruling houses of Europe) were puppets dancing on wires held by a money-power to which political struggles were irrelevant except as an opportunity for gain.

And that was just the beginning of the story.

It is important at this point to remember that I have not gone off into some kind of abstruse historical excursion. By referring to these things I am still talking specifically about the pesetas in your pocket: about what they represent and how they come to be there. It was precisely their ability to conjure money out of nothing by issuing paper which pretended to be gold but was in fact backed by nothing at all – just like your pesetas – that gave these people the power they held over others.

As long as there was at least a nominal connection with gold, the credit bubbles created by the financiers and their phoney money were at least tethered to the earth and eventually burst leaving many thousands impoverished at different times and in different places as it became clear that the paper was worth in reality no more than the ink it was printed with. But when, in 1972, President Nixon severed the link between the dollar and gold, a new situation came into existence. There was now no restraint whatsoever on the creation of credit or "banker's money". It was the financier's dream come true but has rapidly become a nightmare scenario for all but tiny percentage of the world's population, even if very few people are aware of it. Egged on by world-wide electronic communication and markets which have proliferated on an unprecedented scale the credit bubble has now expanded to what can only be described as insane dimensions.

The money which has now come into existence and which for the most part only exists as electronic signals winging their way through cyber space from one computer to another can no longer even be counted. To give you some idea of the crazy stage which things have now reached, it has been calculated that the amount of money which changes hands daily on just the international currency exchange market, which is merely one among hundreds of other markets, is in the trillions of dollars and equivalent to the total annual turnover of world trade in real goods. There would not be enough paper to make so much money even if all the timber on the planet was used to do it and if the notes to make such a sum were placed one on top of the other the pile would reach beyond the moon! It would seem like some kind of mad joke were the effects not so desperately serious for individual human beings and nations and indeed the planet as a whole.

There is no person on the earth who does not now live and die in debt whether they know it or not and an ever increasing number know it only too well as their personal debts to banks and credit agencies mount and mount, causing terrible anxiety and stress and not infrequently leading to crime and sometimes suicide. The situation of national debt is notorious. Even the lands wealthiest in terms of natural resources are hopelessly in debt to supranational finance and the total national income of many poorer countries does not even cover the interest payments on the money they owe, much of which has been borrowed to finance vast megaprojects whose incalculable environmental damage to the earth's increasingly fragile ecostructure is becoming more and more evident day by day. Fadlun Khalid, who is here today, has done a lot of work in this field and would I am sure be able to make this general allegation far more specific, if anyone is interested in finding in more detail how the financial system is destroying the very fabric of the earth we inhabit. And this is just the tip of the iceberg of the detrimental effects of the world financial system. And it is all so that an infinitesimal percentage of the world's population, who are virtually unknown but who know how to manipulate the situation, can skim billions off the top of the money mountain, and wield wealth and power to an extent never conceived of before in the whole of human history.

Our shaykh, Shaykh Abdalqadir As-Sufi, graphically sums up the present situation in his recent book, Technique of the Coup de Banque:

We are tyrannised, enslaved, and endebted to an entirely unelected elite whose names we do not even know. With hereditary titles abolished and with hereditary wealth made impossible for the masses through powerful taxation, the case of this elite remains an anomaly. Their wealth and their lands spiral up into almost incalculable statistics, beyond the dreams of Alexander.

They have no racial loyalty. They have no class loyalty. They certainly have no national loyalty. Upholding humanism, it could be said that they have no human loyalty. Insisting on their compassion they uphold the Rights of Man, sure in the certainty that the upholding of that empty rhetoric will distract you from ever attempting to refrain from their monetary system and live without banking. They are an oligarchy. This is not to say they are oligarchic in the platonic sense, for it is in the nature of the modern social nexus that there is a dysjunction between them and the human species rather than that they are at the summit of human society as in the primitive model. All the crimes of all the criminals in the world added together do not amount to the enormity of this crime that they daily commit through their continued application of the usury system. The pollution of the ocean is their achievement. The poisoning of the earth is the result of their programmes. The toxic air of the world's megacities is the direct result of their existence. The millions of dead caused by the sporadic uprising across the globe of the poor driven from their land, who in abject misery turn on their neighbours, the world's poor scavenging on rubbish tips are to them an unfortunate side-effect of their monetary policies.

We cannot sit here and act as if this appalling situation has nothing to do with us. The pesetas in our pockets are not the medium of exchange they pretend to be; they are precisely the financial instrument which has enabled the present situation to come about and which allow it to continue to proliferate. Our willing participation in the process is what keeps it going. We are nothing but usury fodder, actively conniving in the destruction of the planet on which we live.

"But there's nothing we can do about it," I hear people say, "we have no other alternative." That is no longer true. We do have a choice. There is something that we can do but that something can only be found within the parameters of a functioning Muslim community. Islam alone is now able to uphold the authority of divinely revealed law and provide the means for cutting through the magical deception of the usurers all-enveloping web. The divinely revealed legal framework for a commercial environment totally free of the machinations of the usurers is still entirely in place and is just waiting to be re implemented; but our chief weapon is our money itself. The gold dinar and the silver dirham are exactly what they say they are: nothing more nor less than 4.3 grammes of solid gold and 3 grammes of solid silver respectively; they truly are simply a legitimate, divinely sanctioned, medium of exchange. This and this alone can restore balance and justice to the day to day commercial transactions which are the life blood of any normally functioning human society and which play such an important and vital part in the life of every human being.

Just as the staff of Musa, peace be upon him, cut through the sophisticated sorcery of the magicians of Pharaoh and showed it to be the baseless illusion it was, so the dinar of Muhammad, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, will cut through the equally magical deception of the usurer's monetary system and show it up for what it really is: worthless scraps of paper and evanescent numbers in cyberspace with no real value whatsoever. The gold dinar will put economic power back into the hands of ordinary men and women where it belongs. This is Islam. This is Divine guidance in action. What you see is what you get.

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