The Moral Economy of Islam

Institute of International Studies – University of California, Berkeley:

The Moral Economy of Islam –

Not unlike the non-Muslim Third World, developing countries with significant Muslim populations have experimented with a large variety of economic systems. In general, these experiments have followed patterns common to the developing world and reflect persistent tensions between equity and growth, import substitution and export-led industrialization, and agricultural and industrial investment. Due to the close ties between some Muslim countries and the global economic and financial system, however, these tensions have expressed themselves in particularly stark form in much of the Muslim world. For example, oil wealth and the resulting flow of labor remittances and bilateral aid has dramatically influenced the course of development in many Muslim countries, stretching from Tunisia to Malaysia.

(link: Japan and Islamic Financing.)

The extent to which religious doctrine has influenced economic policy and the normative choices that underpin such policies varies tremendously over time both within and among Muslim countries. Islam has no single, monolithic vision of economic justice; as a result, there is a void at the heart of Islamic doctrine which is filled by the complex interaction of political, social and economic forces. Thus the vexing question of why Islam is brought into debates on economic policy at some junctures and ignored at others becomes a task for historical and sociological inquiry.

The extent to which religious movements gather followings in periods of economic dislocation, and particularly in periods when the boundaries of the economic community are changing will be a central question to this research program.

Seminar meetings addressing these questions will be held bi-weekly, organized in four clusters. Each cluster of meetings will culminate in a two-day workshop, attended by invited scholars to discuss issues and cases on which the seminar group will already have acquired considerable background. We plan to invite a scholar of Islamic doctrine to Berkeley for the year who will guide seminar participants on the diverse sources of Muslim thought on social and economic justice. With this background, the seminar participants will focus on four distinct cases, each touching on a specific aspect of Islamic political movements. The four seminar modules are thematically organized around relevant cases. The topics are as follows:

1. Transnational Islam: The Hizballah in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq

2. National opposition Movements: Algeria and Egypt

3. Muslim Minorities in Multi-Ethnic Societies: Nigeria, Malaysia and India

4. Muslim Minorities in Europe: France and Germany

Time permitting, a fifth seminar and conference program will be organized on Economy and Society in Islamic States: Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan.

To gain a useful comparative focus, we hope to emphasize the ways in which Islamicist movements have changed in response to a trend that has affected each and every one of these countries: the economic liberalization and increasing interdependence of the 1980s and 1990s. This selection of cases and topics will provide explicit comparative material to test hypotheses about the social base, organization and economic ideologies of a diverse set of Islamic movements and examine the response of Muslim communities to fundamental economic change. It is my hope that we will be able to coordinate these meetings to draw in Berkeley scholars specializing in the broader study of social movements. The interdisciplinary participants in these seminars will also include graduate students from numerous departments.

Through a number of Berkeley faculty who have particularly robust contacts with leaders of Islamic movements, it is our aim to benefit from the views and perspective of people who are actually involved in crafting the political, economic and social programs of Islamicist movements. The inclusion of such thinkers–scholars actually involved in designing the programs of Islamic groups–will make this particular seminar and conference program unique: the American academy has had little interest in actually learning about the views of participants first-hand and, in the few cases where such participation was invited, even less success in attracting those directly involved in thinking about social and economic issues in collaborative projects. © Copyright 1998, Regents of the University of California. (See on UC Berkeley’s Institute of International Studies, 1998).

See also: ‘The Bibliographies of Islamic Issues‘.

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