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Beyond Sustainable Economy: Contribution of Islam Towards a World Beyond Sustainable Development

Dr. Muhammed Muzzammil Cader[1]

Islam is a religion of Peace. The word 'Salam' means peace. When on meets another they greet each other by saying Assalaamu Alaikum Warahmathullahi Wabarakathuhu. 'May Peace Be Upon You'. How is this peace promoted in the teaching and practice of Islam? If any teaching is not practical that teaching has no value. When one greets another and says "May Peace be upon you", there is a practical side to it. One should do this greeting with the intention of bringing in both internal and external peace in the other person's life. In order to bring peace into the life of the other person, the person who greets should be prepared to give up several things for the comfort and peace of the other. This may be of spiritual values or of material values.

The more one is in the habit of accumulation; there is less chance for him and the others to live in peace. This accumulation may be material things, values or spirituality. Islam promotes sharing and denounces accumulation and possession. Islam promotes giving to others as much as you can. According to Islam, Allah gives whatever to a person, may be wealth, knowledge, power, honor, etc., and they are not to be enjoyed by that person alone but to be shared with others. This creates kindness, develops humanity, and promotes understanding all that are essential ingredients of peace and nonviolence. These create the environment for sustainable development and go beyond it.  The simplest example of the purity of non-accumulation or non-possessiveness is the example of the water in the well.  The more the water is drawn out of a well, the more does it get purified.  Purified water is hygienic and brings in peace to the body and soul whereby building the path towards sustainable development. Well water is not drawn out of the well, it gets stagnated. The water becomes unsuitable for consumption, becomes smelly and makes people sick and the environment polluted, whereby life becomes difficult and the environment for development becomes unpractical.

The first pillar of Islam is surrendering oneself to the will of the creator - Allah (God). Thus the first act on accepting Islam is surrendering oneself to Allah whereby one gives his or her whole life to the creator. This act expresses that nothing belongs to him or her, but all belongs to the Almighty creator. He or She does not own anything. Nothing is there in this person's possession. This person cannot do anything without the will of the creator. He is the one who gives and he is the one who takes. He creates and he demolishes. The sky, the ocean, the earth, the wind, the rain, the whole planetary system, the sun, the moon and all that is visible and non-visible are Allah's creations and is under Allah's sole control. If everyone does accept this and live up to it, the horizon would be beyond sustainable development. The whole world and all living being would strive a life of easiness, comfort, peacefulness. There would be less greed and no accumulation.  

The second pillar in Islam is seeking refuge at Allah, as he is the sustainer, of all living being in the earth and the whole universe. When one prostrates before God five times a day and ask his help and guidance, after prostrating before him, he would bring in human, spiritual and material development that would be beyond sustainability. That would be everlasting, provided we lead a life as commanded by him, the creator.  His command are based on justice, good governance, non-violence, non-possessiveness and respect for human beings and the environment. The Islamic Salah (Prayer) is the second pillar and teaches equality. The king and the beggar, the educated and the illiterate, the rich and the poor stand shoulder to shoulder in line before the Almighty to offer prayers. This equality needs to be practiced in life. As a result non-possessiveness is promoted. This act of equality in prayers promotes the development of human mind to think that all are equal in life. Such thinking when transformed into action a lot of giving and taking takes place whereby the possibility would arise to think beyond sustainability. The Islamic prayers that are performed five times a day, collectively in Mosques, are so powerful that it makes the heart melt in pity for the needy. When this happens, wealth is shared between the haves and have not, and this is rewarded in abundance by Allah. If this is practice collectively and in large scale the inequality in the society will erode and pave the way towards sustainable development and perhaps beyond.

The third pillar in Islam is most important in this connection.  It is the pillar of charity.  Islam commands to those who have accumulated wealth that is not spent on the essentials of a persons or his family over a period of one year to give in charity to the poor. The amount has been specified in the Quran and needs to be followed strictly. It is 2.5 percentage of that accumulated, unspent wealth that needs to be distributed. This is a charitable giving that is obligatory and is called Zakath. There is also non-obligatory or voluntary giving in charity. There is no limit and one is free to give as much he or she wants. This is called Sadaqā. Throughout the Quran, Muslims are asked to perform their regular prayers and to practice regular charity. This constant coupling of charity (which is a social obligation) with prayers (that is a spiritual obligation) demonstrates the sacred and essential nature of charitable giving as an act of worship, one that is central to the role of a Muslim's sense of self and their relationship with Allah. Whilst all charitable giving is encouraged and rewarded within Islam, there are particular forms of giving which are promoted, emphasized and even mandated upon Muslim, such as the annual Zakath payment, the annual donation of meat to the poor on Eid day, and the sponsoring of orphans.  In many countries where the Muslims are in majority, there are formal and informal social financing mechanisms to enable their Muslim citizens to fulfill these charitable obligations.

Zakāth - As mentioned earlier, zakāt is one of the fundamental pillars in Islam. As a compulsory method of redistributing wealth from the richest to the poorest and most vulnerable members of society, zakāt is both an obligation for the donor, and right of the recipients.

Qurbani - This is an annual donation of meat by all Muslims who can afford it to those in poverty to enable the poor to commemorate Eid ul Alha, the celebration that marks the completion of the annual Hajj Pilgrimage.

Sadaqā - This is a voluntary charity as opposed to zakāth that is compulsory. A person who gives charity by means of Sadaqā confirms their true devotion and service to God. This is an act of giving motivated by compassion, love or generosity.  Such charity could be in the form of acting in times of disasters by way of providing money, time, service or sponsoring an orphan who is in need, helping in medical needs, helping a widow or the poor towards livelihood, providing drinking water by constructing a well or pipe-born water schemes, building a road to a village etc. The list can go on and on.

All these acts contributes to the well-being of those living beings that contributes towards the development process of humanity. The continuity of these actions would lead the world to a world that could be dreamt beyond sustainability. All faiths practice charity because it is a social safety-net for the needy.  The power of faith-based giving great and effective. In Islam great volumes of reward are promised by God in the life hereafter and Muslims believe in the eternity of life and consciousness.  In order to make the life hereafter pleasant and peaceful they do give charity in abundance and this makes the present world beautiful. In the heart of Islam lies alleviation of poverty and suffering. Charitable giving is strongly encouraged in Islam for this very reason, as a means of purifying one's wealth and to alleviate poverty and suffering. In Islam, to make this possible various forms of charity as described above has been put into shape so that it could contribute very powerfully towards the sustainable development of any society. This means that charity in Islam is not only about alleviating material poverty through individual acts but the teachings of Islam focus on broader concepts of social and economic development as part of a holistic approach to human development.  This acknowledges that charity alone will not solve or address issued related with poverty, underdevelopment etc.  An exploration of Islamic teaching on finance and justice suggests that Islam encourages an alternate set of trade rules and a different kind of financial system that discourages the exploitation of the poor and ensure a more equitable distribution of wealth. In the Holy Quran 2: 177 it says: "To spend of your substance, out of love for Him (Allah), for your kind, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves." Further Prophet Muhammed (Peace Be Upon Him - PBUH) have said "There is no person who does not have the obligations of (doing) charity every day that the sun rises" On saying this he was asked: "Oh! Messenger of God, wherefrom would we get something to give in charity?" The Holy Prophet replied: "Indeed the gates to goodness are many: glorifying God, praising Him, magnifying Him, saying: 'There is no God but Allah,' enjoining the good and forbidding the wrong, removing any source of harm from the road, listening to the aggrieved, guiding the blind, showing the seeker his need, striving as far as your two legs could carry you and with deep concern to give succor to him who asks, carrying with the strength of your arms (the burden of) the week.  All these are acts of charity which are an obligation on you." He also added: "Smiling in the face of your brother is charity, you removing of stones and thorns from people's path is charity, and your guiding a man gone astray in the world is charity. (Reported in Bukhari and Muslim[2]). 

The Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) extended charity so that it could be given by people of all walks of life. If it were limited to material goods, many people, especially the poor, would be excluded. Sustainable development cannot be attained leaving aside one section of the people of a society. Islam therefore advocates a broader approach to charity, which moves beyond the material dimension, is more inclusive and helps avoid the creation of divisions based on wealth and status is society. The Prophet (PBUH) preached selflessness and generosity both in terms of material as well as spiritual assets by saying: "No one of you believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself." (Reported in Bukhari and Muslim). According to Islamic thought and behavior, the standard on which life is judged is not the materialistic or the economic standard alone but is based on faith, sensitivity and compassion.

According to the Holy Quran (2: 271): " If you disclose (acts of) charity, even so it is well, but if you conceal them, and make them reach those (really) in need, that is best for you: It will remove from you some of your evils, And God is well acquainted with what you do.  As such this is intended to discourage the development of pride amongst those who give charity as well as feelings of embarrassment or shame amongst those who are on the receiving end, which again, is intended to prevent the creation of division amongst people. Therefore, this emphasizes that giving charity secretly is the best. The more there is division amongst the people, there cannot be any sort of development or its horizon seen.

Development does not consider only human being as associated with development. It gives the highest respect to the environment in the cause of development. As such Islam emphasizes the importance of caring for the environment. The Holy Prophet Muhammed (PBUH): "For charity shown to each creature with a pumping heart, there is reward". He also has said: "There is none amongst the believers who plants a tree, or sows a seed - and then a bird, or a person, or an animal eats thereof, who are not regarded as having given a charitable gift." Hence charity in Islam applied to all creatures and includes nurturing and caring for one's environment as well as for other beings.

In Islam, there is something called the Waqf the meaning of it is similar to 'endowment' or maybe also called as 'trust'. Donations of various natures composts of this Waqf and there are four factors that needs to be qualified for this to operate. They are (i) the declaration or intention (ii) the donor (iii) the property or any tangible asset given as waqf (iv) the beneficiary (this could be a person but most common is something in general such as 'the less fortunate, people suffering from a particular decease, elders community, etc.). Good examples of what is donated as waqf are hospitals, schools or land and money to build them. All these are contributory deeds towards development that stands as sustainable because there is no giving back, that would normally happen when you get loans for such projects.  Waqf also can be done by buying 'waqf shares' where the funds are invested prudently and profits of the shares are used to alleviate poverty through development activities or where commercial or residential properties are donated and the returns are used to the beneficiaries. Over the period of time creative endowments or waqf have been created ranging from job creating guilds to funding a way of living for the destitute.  In this, once the property is dedicated, the ownership is transferred to God, and is managed in trust allowing the properties to be perpetually used for charity. The Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) has said: "When a man dies, his acts come to an end but for three things, (i) recurring charity, (ii) knowledge - by which people benefit, (iii) a pious son - who prays for him (when deceased)".  This shows that ongoing charity is highly valued in Islam. This ongoing is beyond sustainability and the charity is for development.

The concept of charitable giving in Islam is a very broad one, including the monetary and in kind generosity. A key aim of charitable giving according to Islamic teachings is to support a just and cohesive society.


Development processes have much to do with finance.  If the development is to be sustainable, there should be no restriction on the finance that is utilized for development.  In reality, the finance or the other forms of investments utilized for development as bounded by strings of various nature that not only promote healthy development but draw back the process, leave along its sustainability.

Islamic finance is finance based on trade transaction in order to remove the basis of making money from money, often interpreted as interest. The trade transaction will typically involve an underlying asset. As such Islamic banks do not lend money, they enter into trade transactions based on leasing, partnership and trading.

At is heart, Islamic finance is a moral system of finance. It emphasizes the balance between for profit activities, or the market, and not for profit activities including social and philanthropic activities. No economy can enjoy prosperity without the two domains in healthy equilibrium. Just as a bird cannot fly smoothly without the two wings properly functioning in tandem, an economy cannot "fly" without two domains properly operating and serving the common good of the society. It is a universal fact that no economy today nor in history has been able to rely solely on either of the two domains, to satisfy all its economic needs. What Islamic finance offers is a clear depiction of the boundaries between the two: market and non-market activities. The vagueness and instability of the limits to each sector lies behind the swinging movements in the past decades from over- regulations and big governments, to de-regulations and limited government, and back again to re-regulation and over-indebted government. Unfortunately, the cost of these swings are so huge to citizens and countries, as have been realized in the global financial crisis, that we simply cannot afford this kind of experimentations. A stable and clear account of the boundaries between market and non-market domains can save humanity and world economy substantial cost.

As a sequel to this article, see: The Role of Islamic Finance in Achieving Sustainable Development by Jamel E. Zarrouk in Section 9: 'Economy' in this book.


Ten Veen, Rianne C.: Charitable Giving in Islam. Islamic Relief Magazine, September 2009.

Kidwai, Sadia - Identity Based Giving. Case study for State of Society Report of 2015.


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Title: Beyond Sustainable Economy
Author: Dr. Rudi Jansma, Dr. Sushma Singhvi
Publisher: Prakrit Bharati Academy

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