Structural-Functionalism, Stratification and Historical Background of Islamic Economic Thought: Transitions and Ruptures

Structural-Functionalism, Stratification and Historical Background of Islamic Economic Thought: Transitions and Ruptures

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9731-7.ch006
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Abstract

A thorough analysis of the Islamic economy requires a multi-disciplinary analysis of the political, religious, and ethical aspects, and how they influence the workings of the economy. Islam is both a religious and a political community. The differences between religion and politics in Islam are not clear-cut. Islam does not admit separation between church and state. This factor makes Islam an appropriate area of study, not only to theologians, but also to sociologists, political scientists, economists, lawyers, historians, and philosophers. Some basic economic conceptual foundations of Islamic systems in connection with the Shari'a, or the legal basis, are discussed. As a multifaceted religion, Islam, at times, has been formulated not only by the reformers and intellectuals, but also by social classes whose interests are no longer nourished by a romanticized, glorious past history. Rather, these social actors wish to locate themselves within a global world with access to work, social mobility, and status opportunities. This framework will allow readers to identify the reasons and the procedures by which different Islamic economic systems, or modes of economy, have been derived from a single source which is acceptable to all Muslims.
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Introduction

In recent years, the Islamic revival in various forms has received considerable attention from both Western, Muslim scholars and observers. The development of this awareness was first kindled by the 1977 to 1979 Iranian revolution, which was then followed by the events of September 11, 2001 and Arab Spring. Throughout the last decade or so, the world has come to notice active movements in the Islamic world, which Muslims call the Islamic resurgence. These movements have appeared in diverse aspects of Muslims’ lives – politically, socially, and economically. The complexity of meaning of emergence revitalized deeper understanding of Islamic precepts. The active Islamic movements of late have increased the significance of the study of Islam in the present time.

Among the forerunners of those attempting symbiosis or rejecting the European Enlightenment ideas were the revivalists Muhammad Abduh (Egyptian, 1849-1905), and his Iranian mentor, Jamal al-Din Asadabadi Afghani (1838/39-1897), who collaborated with each other. As diversity in Western social sciences grew, Spencer’s sociological outlook and his Darwinian societal evolution caught the attention of our Egyptian author. Spencer (1820-1903), the British sociologist, was highly concerned about the evolution of societies. The generally optimistic climate of opinion that prevailed in the mid-Victorian age proved receptive to Spencer’s teachings and his Darwinian-like doctrine of the survival of the fittest. His theory of evolution revealed that the operation of generally beneficent social laws gratified the hunger for an explanation of recent as well as or more distant social change. It gave assurance that the future course of mankind was bound to be forever upward or downward. However, with the onset of economic crisis and labor unrest in the 1870s, the optimism of the mid-Victorian period came to an end, and Spencer’s doctrine went to an eclipse (Coser, 1977).

Spencer’s notion of stratification where the future of mankind was doomed to go upward and downward raised critical issues. He was unclear whether the British colonialism, for example, legitimized the colonists to move upward on the ladder of world mobility, or that the upward mobility of the British could be challenged, halted, or resisted by the subjugated indigenous populace’s movements or push back resistance. Indeed, it was not only England but also France and Germany who were involved in a race with each other for advancing a new imperial form of socio-political and economic inequality through colonialization. The race for the colonies began between France and Britain in the 1880s, with Germany joining in somewhat later. In the last quarter of the century, most of Africa was partitioned between the major powers. In 1898, Britain added control of the Sudan to her previous control over Egypt. In the same period, Kenya and Uganda became British protectorates. Cecil Rhodes’ grandiose plan to establish a united British dominion stretching from South Africa to Egypt finally led to the outbreak of the disastrous Boer War in 1899. Britain expanded in Asia as well, and Victoria, who had accepted the title of Empress of India in 1876, added British New Guinea, North Borneo, and upper Burma to the British empire in the 1880s.

By the turn of the century, the comparatively small island of England of the mid-Victorian age had become a global colonial power. Although she had lost her preeminence as the workshop of the world, she still dominated the seas. The British Empire extended over major parts of all five continents. Herbert Spencer, in his long lifespan, witnessed the whole change, and his works bore witness to these changes. Having come to maturity in the mid-Victorian age, he never altered the political opinions he formed then. Hence, he reacted with horror and dismay to the changes that later took place. The buoyant, optimistic prophet of progress gradually changed into the dyspeptic old man for whom the whole drift of modern English history represented a descent into a new barbarism of imperialist expansion without, and militant controlled society within (Coser, 1977).

It is sensible that the reasons for which Afghani’s anti-British imperialism, and especially that of Abduh, who the British exiled from 1882-1888 for his support of the Al-Urabi nationalist revolt against them in 1879, developed sympathy for the Spencerian outlook that combined functionalism, evolutionary perspective, and a doctrine of social Darwinism all of which had become fashionable in the 1880s. Abduh’s proclivity for Spencerian sociology led him to translate Spencer’s Education: Intellectual, Moral and Physical (1861) from French, although he never published it (Al-Azmeh, 2009).

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