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Book Review
Failure of Islamisation in Pakistan

By Yoginder Sikand

Name of the Book: Pakistan, Islam and Economics—Failure of Modernity
Author: Izzud-Din Pal
Publisher: Oxford University Press, Karachi
Pages: 195; Year: 1999

The 1970s onwards saw the emergence of a new trend in social science research and writings on Islam and Muslim societies. Numerous Muslim scholars in different parts of the world began attempting to explore the possibility of developing Islamic perspectives on a range of social issues, from law and politics to anthropology and the natural sciences. Numerous economists now turned to fashioning what is today the well-established discipline of Islamic Economics. What started of as simply a collection of quotations from the Qur’an and the Hadith literature on economic affairs has now blossomed into a specialized academic discipline, taught at several universities in various parts of the world.
Islamic Economics is not a mere academic affair, however. Numerous governments have sought to introduce legislation ostensibly seeking to bring sectors of their own economies in line with the injunctions of Islam. Pakistan has proved to be one of the major experimental grounds for this new venture. This book provides an excellent overview of the attempts at translating the vision of Islamic economists into practical reality in Pakistan.

The author’s basic contention is that efforts at ‘Islamising’ the economy in Pakistan cannot be seen apart from the wider attempt of regimes and political elites with low levels of legitimacy and popularity to win public support using religion as a convenient tool. He points out that rather than focussing on the Islamic imperatives of equality and social justice, which are so central to the Qur’anic text, successive regimes in Pakistan have sought to focus on particular economic injunctions of the Qur’an abstracted from wider issues of justice and equality. Thus, the debate on ‘Islamising’ Pakistan’s economy, he writes, has been sought to be reduced simply to issues related to interest-free banking, the abolition of riba (interest), the laws of inheritance and the levy of the zakat. These are sought to be presented as providing magical solutions to the problems of a complex modern economy.

Critically examining the actual working of the laws related to the ‘Islamising’ of the economy of Pakistan, Pal argues that these have hardly worked at all. Despite doses of radical Islamic rhetoric, Pakistan’s economy remains straddled with numerous seemingly insurmountable hurdles—glaring inequalities, widespread poverty and a feudal structure of landholding. The piecemeal efforts at ‘Islamising’ the country’s economy, he writes, have been deliberately crafted in such a way that the interests of the country’s dominant classes have remained untouched. The zakat has hardly helped ameliorate the conditions of the country’s poor millions. The Qur’anic laws laying down a proper share in family inheritance for women is still observed more in the breach. And as for the banking system, rather than doing away with interest, a parallel system of interest-free banks has emerged, while conventional banks still occupy center-stage. These banks tend to favour large borrowers and thus have been of little benefit to small investors.

Pal calls for a contextual understanding of the Islamic injunctions on economic affairs, appealing that an understanding of Islamic economics must be grounded in a framework of a mandate of social justice and equality. In other words, a pharisaical concern with the letter of the law must give way to a commitment to the basic spirit of the Qur'anic revelation. What is needed, he says, is a new ijtihad to develop new economic institutions and methods that, while grounded in a commitment to equality and justice, are relevant to the vastly different conditions of out times, which the classical Islamic jurisprudents or fuqaha could hardly envisage. Yet, he is skeptical of any elite- or government-sponsored efforts at ‘Islamising’ Pakistan’s economy. Going by past precedent, he argues, there is no evidence to suggest that the country’s dominant classes would let Islam’s concerns with issues of social justice interfere with their own vested interests.

This book is essential reading for all concerned with the subject of Islamic economics and the Islamisation of Knowledge. Its numerous typographical errors should not detract from its merit of being a pioneering study of a field that desperately calls for more critical research and analysis.

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