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In the Name of God بسم الله

Zainuu

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The first month of Islamic calendar (the most 'violent religion' in the eyes of some people) starts with love. Love for the master of martyrs. Love for mothers and motherhood of Karbala. Love for brothers and brotherhood in Karbala. Love for Namaz. Love for the greatest sacrifice for the sake of humanity ever done in the history of mankind. 


It doesn't start with fancy wishes, roses and hearts. It doesn't start with celebrations, singing songs, dancing in happiness. It doesn't start with tours and trips. Neither it starts with any form of celebration in Islamic context nor does it start with anything remotely related to celebration. It starts with the moon sighting and tears. It starts with the slaps on faces and beating of chests. It starts with thirst and imagination of thirst. It starts with unity and imagination of unity. It starts with a sign of muslims reaffirming to their faith and when one reaffirms to something, at that moment he or she follows that with true heart. So, this is the time when faith is at it's peak. It starts with sacrifice and eagerness for sacrifice. It starts with a new season of Islam where the spirits are going to change their levels. If they ignore this time, their faith will degrade. If they utilize these moments their faith will upgrade. The new year of muslims starts with a welcome note to the most crucial and magnificent reality which is truth/Haq. This welcome note is emotional but it's essence is a call to faith. It starts with the Adhaan of Ali Akber (رضي الله عنه) to the call of help (Halmin Nasirin Yan Suruna) by Imam Husayn (عليه السلام). This is the peak of the beauty of Islam.


Muharram starts with the arrival of Imam Husayn (عليه السلام) in the desert of Karbala, a hot place near the banks of Euphrates river or one of it's canals. Imam is met by the first group from the Army of Yazeed led by Hur. I would only emphasize on necessary history as each and every point of history is just out of scope. Hur and his men are badly thirsty. Not only they but even their horses. But as I said, Muharram starts with a welcome note. Here is the first welcome note of mercy, love and humanity. Imam Husayn (عليه السلام)  provides them with water (as much as they want to drink). This was a message, a welcome note towards mercy and guidance of Allah to the bewildered. 


Hur kept on noticing this. But as he was an employee of Yazid along with others, He did what he was asked by Ibn Ziyad. He stopped Imam Husayn (عليه السلام) from going to Kufa and removed their camps from the banks of Euphrates and didn't allow them any further access to water. He asked Imam Husayn (عليه السلام) about the objective of going to Kufa. Imam Husayn (عليه السلام) replied that they don't want war and have come for the guidance of the Kufans who have called him. Again, this was the Jihad of Imam Husayn (عليه السلام) — Love, mercy and guidance of people towards Allah and Islam — and resisting the tyrants and evil in this way. 


Hur — who caused all the initial trouble and because of whom the children of Husayn (عليه السلام) stayed away from water — found himself guilty. This was the real sword of Imam Husayn (عليه السلام) that was struck on Hur and started to show it's impact since he met Imam and kept on growing until it became unbearable on the night before 10th of Muharram (Ashura). Here is a message. As, the Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) has said that the greatest jihad is jihad-un-Nafs (Jihad with the self). The real battle that Hur fought in Karbala was against his own self. He fought against his desires on the night of Ashura. His weapon was the voices of thirsty children in the camp of Husayn (عليه السلام). His weapon was the mercy Imam showed to him. But what was he confronting. Hur was confronting an employee of Yazid in his self. An employee that said that 'somehow Yazid is your Emir and you have to follow his order.' The cancer of neutrality penetrated in his self which said 'What do you have to do with politics. You have a family and friends. Think about them. Stay out of this hassle. You are a soldier of an Army and a commander. Do your duty. Yazid is a drunkard, who cares? Husayn is the son of Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) , but who cares?' All these fearful, short-visioned, selfish and self-centered arguments were surrounding Hur and making him stay on the side of Yazid.


This is a big lesson. Every soldier in the Army of Yazid was facing an enemy like this within their soul. Every human being on earth, more or less, faces this enemy. We might say a thousand words of truth, we might agree with everything right but our ill-self always confronts us with these arguments and stops us from understanding Haq. Hur had enough weapons. He successfully broke this siege and killed his enemy and with purity, humility, recognizing the truth with the eyes of heart went this time towards the rightful leader of the Ummah. He didn't go to Husayn to sympathise the children. He didn't go their to advice Husayn (عليه السلام). He didn't actually go to Husayn (عليه السلام). He travelled towards freedom. From a fake tyrant to the rightful leader. From a payed employee of Yazid to a self-seeking slave of Imam Husayn (عليه السلام). From ignorance and arrogance to awareness and humbleness. Imam Husayn (عليه السلام) accepted him and all people along with him. He himself became the 'leader of mujahids' in my eyes. It's better to call Hur (رضي الله عنه) Imam ul Mujahid (lesder of the Jihadis) because jihad was done by everyone in Karbala, but he provoked others too (atleast thirty people came to the camp of Imam Husayn from the other side). And he had a very less amount of time to decide on his fate. He certainly fought the most fierce battle against his nafs (self). 


Imam Husayn (عليه السلام) was calling and testing. He was testing his companions and calling his enemies. These calls happened in many ways. With speeches and with actions. One of the ways among all these (for me) was even the Adhaan recited by Hazrat Ali Akber (رضي الله عنه) in the morning and everytime when it was the prayer time. Who matched the face of the Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم)? Their were many good voices in Karbala. Many great scholarly people were their.  Each one of them was capable of reciting Adhan. Glittering beautiful faces as well as wonderful voices. So, why only Hazrat Ali Akber (رضي الله عنه)? Because the face of Ali Akber (رضي الله عنه) was like Prophet Muhammed (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم). They were so similar that Imam Husayn used to say, "When I want to see my grand father. I see Ali Akber." Imam Husayn (عليه السلام) made Ali Akber's presence a reminder for the enemies that they are not fighting Husayn (عليه السلام) but rather they are fighting the Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) himself. Adhan of Ali Akber (رضي الله عنه) was a signal to remind the calls of Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) towards faith. This holds a lesson for us that faith should be above everything. Call of every wali/guide/Imam towards Islam is a call of the Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم)  himself. Imamat is not an inch separate from Prophethood. As said by Dr. Ali Shariati, "Islam without Justice and Imamat is an Islam without Islam". Each and every call to prayer had two indicators. One was the visual indicator. Other was the vocal indicator. Call by the Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) towards Salaat. Call towards peace, justice and Islam: 'Hayya Ala Khairil Amal - Come towards the Good'. This was the mission of Husayn (عليه السلام) and the objective of Karbala.


As I acclaimed, the master of martyrs was testing his companions again and again. Checking their faith and strengthening it minute by minute. At more than one moment, Imam Husayn (عليه السلام) asked his companions to leave him. More than once he told them about their fate if they stay with him. More than once, he told the purpose of his journey. Such that each and everyone of them became clear about it. Answers to these statements from the companions were mind blowing. This is what Imam said :
"It is a fact that I am not aware of any companions more faithful and honest than my companions and any relatives more righteous and kind than my relatives. May Allah grant all of you a good reward. I think that the day of our fighting with this army has arrived. I permit all of you to go away. You are free to depart without any restriction and should take advantage of the darkness of night."
I won't go in detail. But he gave them the certificate of Jannah. He even endorsed their piety. He declared them as the best companions. He even told them how to escape. But except a very few, none of them moved. How can they even leave? How can they love life or death or even Jannah with a thought that they left their Imam to get slaughtered in the hands of beasts? Imam Husayn (عليه السلام) was testing them. He was trying to debug even a single confusion in their heart. He was trying to eliminate even the thought of Jannah from their mind so that they only think of sacrifice for Allah. What a spirit! What can we say! Ask yourself what Imam Husayn(عليه السلام) asked to his companions in Karbala each and every time.


Will you leave your Imam while difficulties have surrounded him? Will you leave him if he grants you Jannah? Will you leave him if he himself asks you to leave? What does wisdom say? Ask yourself. Are you so firm in faith that whatever might happen, you are standing behind your Imam (عليه السلام) and doing your duty? Ask yourself. Are you an employee of Allah, who is paid with happiness, security, health and wealth and promise of Jannah so that he can forget his divine duty if all his payments are delivered irrespective of his stances?  Or are you a slave of only Allah and follower of only his leaders and commanders appointed on you such that even if they themselves ask you to leave for your lives, you will not. What if, Allah is asking blood from you? Are you ready? Who can be more free in this world then the companions of Imam Husayn (عليه السلام)? Take a lesson here. Follow Islam irrespective of anything. We get into doubt: Our prayers are not accepted, our desires are not fulfilled, calamities keep on falling on us etc. Is this our vision of life? No. Our only mission and purpose of life is to obey Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى). Stay where he wants us to stay and refrain from something which Allah has asked us to refrain from. Allah will test you to see how much firm you are in following his commandments. 


We see warriors, with all capabilities to break the largest armies in a battle alone, shying and controlling themselves in Karbala. Sayyed ush Shuhada (Imam al Husayn (AS)) stopped Abbas at every step from battling with the enemy. He even brought Hazrat Zaynab (SA) at one point for the same purpose. I won't mention the reason why Imam Husayn (عليه السلام) stopped Hazrat Abbas (رضي الله عنه). But how difficult it would be for a warrior like Abbas (رضي الله عنه) to control himself from attacking the enemy. How difficult it would be to obey the master of Martyrs (عليه السلام) and understand the fate at this moment. More difficult then understanding was accepting. Acceptance and understanding that made Abbas a Saqqa (water carrier) from an Alamdaar (flag-bearer). This was the time when Al Abbas (رضي الله عنه) became the symbol of patience. He changed his being and kept down his sword to obey his mawla and his brother. This proves how critical and crucial weapon is patience and endurance. How important it is to remain patient in order to sustain yourself on the path of Allah. The will of Allah can be for us or against us. We should put our heads down in front of Allah's will.  Ghazi Abbas (رضي الله عنه) teaches us how to contemplate on what Allah wants from us and then not only refraining from our own will but submitting to Allah's will in the best of ways. How he managed to take a broken spear on the battle ground while he had a sword with him? How he managed to only try to bring water to the camps and not breaking the other enemy fronts? How he managed to protect the water and gave his hands in doing so? What patience a person needs to refrain from drinking a drop of water even after his lips are dry and throat dying from thirst. This patience led Al Abbas (رضي الله عنه) to become the symbol of loyalty (Sarkaar-e-Wafa) in the history of mankind. Hazrat Abbas (رضي الله عنه) was not even an infallible but still he made himself so strong that whatever his brother and leader demanded from him he delivered. Only one thing that remained was water. Which led Abbas to such a level of regret and emotion that he denied his body to be taken to the camps. If we can't learn patience, perseverence, submission and loyalty from Hazrat Abbas (رضي الله عنه). This history is useless and just as important as a novel.


Karbala startles us at every step. Their was even a child as young as 6 months. When Imam Husayn (عليه السلام) called for help, no one was their to answer except a 6 months old Ali al Asghar (رضي الله عنه). He fell on ground after this call. He was taken to ask for water by Imam Husayn (عليه السلام). Imam knew that he will be martyred. But another reality of Karbala is a father taking his own son to sacrifice for Allah and become an example in history. Imam Husayn (عليه السلام) never needed help so what was the reason of this call? It was nothing but a reminder to everyone. Imam (عليه السلام) warned humanity that 'don't let a time come upon your leader when no one will accompany or support him'. Imam was calling people to Islam, to guidance. But only a 6 months old could understand. It is a call that echoes in our ears every year to move towards Karbala and to move towards religion and guidance. Not only Ali al Asgher answered but his mother answered it. All the woman answered it. Bibi Umm Rabab (SA) became a symbol of motherhood in Karbala. This is how a mother should be. Woman should teach their children to become the pure and free servant of Allah because this is the greatest honor and they should be so strong and firm that if Allah asks them their dearest sons for sacrifice, they should deliver and content themselves with patience and thankfulness towards Allah. If mothers become like mothers of Karbala, every child will become a servant of Allah and fighter of Islam which would pave the way towards an ideal Islamic society. 


At the end, before his sorrowful martyrdom, Imam Husayn (عليه السلام) addressed the faithless and inhumane army of Yazid. He introduced himself not as a warrior but as a divinely appointed Imam, who has got the highest honors in the eyes of Allah. He was introducing himself like this in order to guide them so that they refrain from what they are about to do and understand the path of Allah. So that they understand that what all rewards they will recieve after this act will be nothing in comparison to what they will loose. Their was a lot of wisdom and beauty in each word but cursed were those who were blinded by the pleasures of this world. 


Imam said: "Even if you don't believe in religion, atleast be free in this world." Imam Husayn (عليه السلام) wanted people to become free from everything, even their soul and then choose according to reason because truth cannot be imposed. It is not necessary to deceive someone to follow the truth. If we remove all the veils of falsehood, evil and deception, the only thing left will be truth. Freedom is not to remove your hijab or even wear it to make people admire you. Freedom is not to pray because your parents will kick you or Allah will send you to hell. Choose religion not because you are born in such a family but because you are a human being and Allah has given you the right to think, contemplate and ask the best for yourself independent of anything. Choose anything in life on the basis of free will that only submits to Allah (the absolute). This is the perception Imam Husayn (عليه السلام) wanted us to work upon. Karbala if followed and read in a right way should change a person.  If it doesn't then the message is not delivered. It was a battle between free will and imposed will. Battle between freedom seeking revolutionaries and employees of evil. A battle between 'I stand with Husayn and condemn Yazid and I know what I'm doing' vs 'Husayn is good and Yazid is bad but we are employees of Yazid so do the duty.' It shows that evil is everything except truth and not even the companions of the Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) are immune from it. Even taking neutral grounds is a sign of ignorance and part of evil. 


This takes us to the Zaynabi revolution. The start of the new year. The pledge and commitment to change our 'self'. The pledge to fight the evil within us to a level that only Allah's manifestation remains. Azadaari (mourning for Imam Husayn (AS)) is resistance. It is not a mere custom in which some people come, cry, beat their chests and go away as if nothing happened. It is not a majlis that starts with lamentation and comes to end with gheebah (backbiting). It is not a show-off place where you show the standards of food you serve in the form of tabarruk. It is not a place to compete that who will gather the maximum audience and who will provide the best in tabarruk. Neither it is about how many slogans of 'Yaa Ali' will be raised or how many people will faint during Masaaib (sorrowful happenings in Karbala). Tears are natural and not man-made. Only that person can cry on Imam Husayn (عليه السلام) who has the maarefat (wisdom) of Imam Husayn (عليه السلام). The people who do all that I said above except azadaari are making fun of Hazrat Zainab (عليه السلام) and her revolution. They are equivalent to those Kufans and Syrians who mocked and taunted the Ahl Haram when they were taken captive and dragged in the streets of Kufa and Damascus. Shame on such people and shame on the show-off they do in the name of Mourning. Shame on those who do politics in the name of azadari. Shame on those reciters and orators who do business in the name of Azadaari. This is the worst of insults that AhlulBayt (عليه السلام) have to bear. We sell our souls so cheap that we fight on some bits of food that we recieve after majlis. We are making a joke of ourselves and also a joke of our religion and our Imam. Azadaari is a custom of purity started by the Great Sister of Al Husayn (عليه السلام) and Imam Sajjad (عليه السلام) as a form of resistance to tyranny and cruelity. A person who is a true azadaar of Imam Husayn (عليه السلام) and has percieved his revolutionary message will not sit down until he purifies himself and brings society towards Islam. He will not settle unless he becomes a pain in the gut for the tyrannic rulers. Who is the real mourner of Imam Husayn (عليه السلام)? The one who brought down the forts of oppressors and stood for the oppressed. As an example, Sayyid Hasan Nasrallah is the true mourner. His army are the true mourners of Imam Husayn (عليه السلام). It is not possible that a mourner beats his chest, cries on Imam of the oppressed but remains quiet in supporting 'The Husayn' of this time. It is impossible for a mourner of Imam Husayn (عليه السلام) to curse Yazid while stay quiet on the crimes committed by 'The Yazid' of the time or be supportive of it. Azadaari is not a dead custom and Imam Husayn (عليه السلام) is not a dead hero. It is indeed a living revolution that flows in our body and pumps through our hearts in the form of martyrs of Karbala and becomes manifest when we stand for justice and haq in the present time. 
Our duty is to take the message of Husayn (عليه السلام) and implement it on our own lives. Our duty is to be kind, humble, firm, down-to-earth, tough in front of the world, soft in front of Allah. Our duty is to put up sacrifices in the path of Allah whenever needed. Our duty is to unite and set aside our differences. We should unite under the banner of Allah the great. This is what Azadaari teaches us. This is what Karbala teaches us. When only a few people who stood as one in front of the most powerful enemy of the time and defeated him, why can't we? When people celebrate new year, they take pledges. We have the most appealing history remembered just on the start of the year. We should also take a pledge.

Commit yourself: you will practice taqwa, pray on time, practice patience and base your life on knowledge and faith.

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      I heard Aba Abdillah عليه السلام saying: may Allah curse Zurara!
       
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      Abdallah b. Zurara said: Abu Abdillah عليه السلام said to me: convey my salutations of peace to your father and say to him …
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      The Imam acknowledges a second problem which Zurara seems to have raised which is the Ikhtilaf [differences] of instructions which are attributed to them. The Imam accepts that these may indeed go back to them but notes that they have a reason for every instruction they give even if the companions cannot fully comprehend the reasons behind them. However, the Imam is very clear that despite the seeming diverse answers there is a way to reconcile them and all agree with the truth. 
       
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      The significance of these words of the Imam cannot be overstated. It reveals that the `Aimma would purposely teach different things to different Ashab aiming to purposely divide them. Elsewhere it is explained that they saw Madhhabic uniformity among their followers especially in rituals as being a distinctive marker that would make them a target. What the companions have to understand is that answering differently to different people is the prerogative of the Imam. No one can question this practice. What the companions have to do is submit fully to whatever they receive from the `Aimma and know that it has an explanation behind it for which the time is not ripe. All will be finally revealed when the time comes.
       
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      If the companions cannot submit now, when they have lived through a chain of living Imams, then it augurs badly for the reaction of the self-appointed ‘people of insight’ who will be the first to line up against the One al-Sadiq calls ‘our Riser’ and alternatively ‘our Speaker’. When he comes back after a long period of occultation and recommences teaching them the religion as it is supposed to be the opposition to him from the Shia themselves be deafening! Those scholars who have cherished their dusty books will still cling to them even though the Imam who is the living embodiment of the Sharia is himself telling them otherwise.
       
      The people after the prophet of Allah were left to embark by Allah the same example as those who came before you, so they changed, altered, distorted, and added to the religion of Allah and reduced from it, consequently there is not a thing which the people are upon today [following] except that it is distorted when compared to that which was revealed from Allah. Respond then my Allah have mercy on you away from what you are calling for to what you are being called to, until comes the one who will renew the religion anew.
      Why did it have to come to this? This is the unfortunate consequence of the Umma betraying the will of the prophet. It has become utterly divided. Not having the correct leaders has meant that the authentic message of Muhammad has been irredeemably altered. There is not a single act of worship or belief that has been left un-corrupted because every middling scholar can peddle his interpretation. The temporal rulers are also more than happy to take advantage of the confusion and extend patronage to scholars whose interpretations were power friendly. The Imams themselves cannot openly propagate the actual version without repercussions.
       
      To be continued ...
         0 comments
      In the shadowy conference room of the Athena Institute, a right-wing think tank in the heart of Washington, D.C., key policymakers and intellectuals gathered around a gleaming mahogany table. Dr. Helen Mercer, the chairwoman, wasted no time addressing the stark issue at hand.
      “The crisis is clear,” she announced. “Birth rates in the West are in freefall, primarily because many are choosing AI companions over human partners. Our data shows a troubling trend: these robots are not just partners, but replacements, diminishing the human connection essential for family growth.”
      Behind her, the projector screen displayed distressing graphs, but one statistic stood out: Muslim communities in Europe were not following this trend, their birth rates were stable and even rising.
      John Reynolds, a sociologist at the table, nodded in agreement. “Muslim communities are largely insulated from this trend, not out of disdain for technology, but due to religious and cultural frameworks that do not condone intimate relationships with robots. This prohibition supports human-only unions, which naturally supports their higher birth rates.”
      Dr. Susan Choi, the institute’s technology expert, proposed a potential solution. “What if our AI could promote values that reinforce human bonds over robotic relationships?” she suggested tentatively.
      Helen considered this, then highlighted the inherent contradiction. “That's a creative approach, Susan, but we face a fundamental disconnect. Expecting AI to promote human-human relationships contradicts their design as companions. It’s like asking a candle to promote darkness.”
      The room fell silent, digesting the irony. Michael Hart, a political strategist, was the first to break the silence. “And there's another layer—legally and ethically, can we justify manipulating AI in such a way? What are the implications of using technology to direct personal choices so intimately?”
      Dr. Liu, an ethicist, weighed in, her tone cautious. “We’re on precarious ground. It's one thing to guide, quite another to coerce. We need to ensure that our solutions respect individual autonomy and ethical standards.”
      Helen steered the discussion towards a broader horizon. “Let’s draw from these observations about Muslim communities. Their cultural and religious practices naturally sustain human relationships and birth rates. Instead of relying solely on AI, we should explore how to cultivate these values more widely in our societies.”
      She proposed an initiative to study and integrate these communal and family-oriented values into Western societies through education and public policy, without overstepping ethical boundaries.
      As the meeting concluded, there was a consensus to revisit the AI strategy, with a new focus on enhancing community bonds and human connections. The group agreed to meet again, armed with more research and a clearer ethical framework, aiming to weave technology with tradition in a way that supports, rather than supplants, the human experience.
         1 comment
      Summary
      Buying and selling in the market place may provide advantages to minority groups at the expense of the majority. A State that represents the majority may need to act in order to address the imbalance in a manner that may seem on the face of it to be discriminatory.
      The impact of buying and selling in the market place
      The problem with money and markets is that they strip exchanges between people of all social and cultural content. In market-based exchanges, you can buy/sell with complete strangers. This has its benefits and particularly for social/cultural/ethnic/ religious minorities within a society, the market provides an almost anonymous means of interacting with the majority.
      The impact of social networks
      In fact, the story can even become worse for the majority because the denser social links/networks between members of a minority may mean that they can exploit higher levels of trust between each other and thereby compete more effectively in the market-place.
      Over time, of course, this economic disadvantage may lead to significant differences between the wealth of the majority and minority communities.

      In the diagram below is your multiculti, fully assimilated, and integrated, fully equal nirvana. Everyone interacts with all others regardless of their colour or other distinguishing characteristics. There is one group (pink) who are the majority, and the others are minorities.

       
      The reality

      One group of people (coloured brown) realise that they come from the same village back home, they have a shared culture, heritage and so on, they start to spend more time together.
      Trust within minority groups
      These commonalities enable this specific minority to establish bonds of trust between themselves that are stronger than the ones that exist between people of different groups. So they decide to interact with each other more than they do with other groups.
      Role of religion
      The issue is even more acute when they share the same religion because then they are more likely to share the same values - which are even more important when it comes to building trust.
      Boundary spanners
      Accidentally, I drew the first picture in a way that helps illustrate another point. The minority group accrues another advantage, where it can become a 'boundary spanner' e.g. between two different societies (the red line). That advantage is less likely to be open to the majority groups in the two countries in which this minority lives.

      The economic impact
      There is an obvious economic angle to these social relations, since the bonds of trust help reduce the friction of doing business, in fact, trust is more valuable in some industries (the ones with more risk and potentially more rewards).
      Minorities outperforming majorities
      A social aspect to their interaction therefore has economic repercussions. Left unchecked a minority group will gain an advantage over others. Societies can persist with the multi-culti fantasy for years.
      Payback
      But at some point there will be a reckoning, there always is. Obvious trigger points are when the majority face economic dislocation and see how much better minority groups are doing. You can 'hope' that this time there won't be -  but that has not been the case over the previous millennia.
      Longer term implications
      Historically there are lots of examples of this all around the world and the end is never a happy one - with the majority usually seeking to address the problem via physical force. The challenge for societies is for them to offer minorities certain rights but at the same time put in place restrictions on the extent of their participation in the economic life of society so that they cannot dominate the majority.
      Islamic solutions
      In an Islamic society where distinctions between groups are not based on race, but rather of belief, this means that there has to be what seems like discrimination against non-Muslims, but which, is in fact, a sensible means of avoiding longer-term conflct between the majority and minority.
      An illustration of the problem in terms of resources
      The picture below illustrates the above idea. 
      The blue circles represent the majority in a society, each person gives an item of resource to the person immediately to their south and also one to their south-west. And they do so without regard to the 'colour' of the other person. Let's assume this is a very egalitarian society where the affiliations of individuals are completely ignored. The pink circles represent a minority and they behave in the same manner. However the yellow circles behave slightly differently, they give one item of resource without any discrimination to whoever is to their south, but instead of giving one item to the person to their southwest, they give instead to someone of their own tribe/religion/ethnicity/language group/cult or whatever other basis of commonality that they have established. Such an arrangement can be informal and communicated only to the group members - something which is helped by their being a minority in a society. Members of the yellow circle are able to identify each other due to their going to the same places of worship or gentlemen's clubs or 'lodge'. Such interaction may legitimately lead to higher levels of trust between members of the yellow group and their discriminatory behaviour could be argued to be inherently rational i.e. it makes sense from a business perspective.
      Economic performance of members of the yellow group may, as a result of this behaviour be better than that of other groups. It may seem to them that their accumulation is due to their greater intelligence, business acumen or another positive trait. There may well be elements of those present, but their discrimination in favour of their own group could certainly be an important factor.
      Such discrimination on their part can mean greater rewards for members of their own group and it may not be visible to outsiders, other than the realisation that this group of people are relatively better off than others.
      Is discrimination by the State a valid response?
      Any response by the majority to address this imbalance, e.g. by imposing restrictions on the economic or other activities of the yellow minority group is likely to attract charges of discrimination.
      Because such communications cannot be done discreetly, communicating with the whole of society requires broadcasting to everyone rather than taking the narrowcasting approach the minority group pursued when they decided to discriminate in favour of their own group. Such narrowcasting is possible because the minority group are able to communicate with each other discreetly and in a manner that excludes everyone else.
       

       
         2 comments
      Summary
      For Muslims, the questions around Riba are focused at the level of the individual because we want to know what we can and cannot do. This post looks at the broader societal issue. The conclusion is that riba and the business of lending can increase economic inequality between different segments in society.
      Assuming an Islamic state has an overriding need to address economic inequality - it cannot accede to the provision of credit in a manner that we are used to in the West.
      What is interest?
      This may seem obvious. but it's worth exploring since the result can generate new insights.
      Interest is a price charged by a lender to compensate them for not having the use of the money that they are lending. Interest can also be compensation for the fact that the money they have lent will be worth less in the future than today because of inflation Interest can also reflect a premium charged by the lender in order to account for the fact that some borrowers will not pay them back. The interest charged to the individual borrowers can vary because they vary in terms of their risk to the lender. Less risky borrowers are charged less and riskier ones are charged more. The last point is not immediately obvious to everyone it is important however and we shall come back to it.
      Access to credit
      In a free market, there are all sorts of lenders (e.g. seeking different levels of return and willing to take different levels of risk) and all sorts of borrowers (e.g. those with good 'credit scores vs. those with poor ones). Those with a good credit record can borrow more and more cheaply than those with a poor record. This may be because those with a good record have a history of making repayments on time and so on. And this is where we have our first macroeconomic effect.
      People who are poor and find it difficult to buy food and pay rent will invariably find it hard to keep up with their debt payments and if they don't pay their creditors on time, they will have a bad credit record. As a result, either they will not have access to credit at all or if they do, they will have to pay a higher price for it (a higher level of interest). This sounds crazy, but it is true. Credit is one product where the poor will generally pay more than the rich and it is certainly a product where those who need it to survive (rather than buying luxury goods) may not have access to it at all.
      Therefore in a society where there is credit, there are two mechanisms by which social inequality is increased, lack of credit to the poor and expensive credit where it is available. There is a third mechanism by which inequality is increased. If rich people have access to credit and the poor do not, the rich may bid up the prices of assets so that they become even more unaffordable to the poor. A real-life example of this is the UK property market, at the time of writing this post. Many young people are 'priced out' of the UK housing market because people with access to credit (e.g. investors) have bid up the prices of property.
      Materialism and credit
      A further reason why inequality is increased is that people are encouraged (as consumers) to buy things today and pay for them tomorrow. Over the period they borrow money, they pay interest. The assumption here is that the 'joy' they get for the chance to consume something earlier than they otherwise would have done compensates for the reduced consumption that they will have in the future. They will have reduced consumption because in the future their income will be paying interest for their previous consumption. 
      There is an important principle here. Such an approach to materialism has the following implications. This is a single-period gain. Because the only way you can keep doing it is to keep building up your debts! And at some point in the future, either you go bankrupt or the lender loses their capital or taxpayers' money is used to bail out both you and the lender. A materialist culture, therefore, combined with a system that makes credit easily available, rewards those people who have capital for pandering to the materialistic needs of the consumers but not much else.
      No easy solutions
      It would, however be naive to believe that the solution should be that lenders make credit available to all and at e.g. similar rates of interest. As we saw above interest performs a number of functions and one of these is to compensate lenders for risk. If lenders are forced to lend to the poor and at interest rates lower than they would normally offer, this may lead to losses for them.
      There is another reason why there are no easy solutions. If someone has poor financial circumstances, then offering them more credit and associated interest payments could add to their problems rather than improve them. Credit unions, which do not seek to make a profit and are run for the benefit of their members offer a partial but not a complete solution.
      Involvement of the State
      If the market is unable to lend without increasing inequality then we must consider the role of the State, the criteria it uses to make loans and how it manages demand if interest is not a pricing mechanism that it wishes to use. This may seem radical and an intervention that is far too statist and dirigiste some might even describe it as socialist or even communist.
      To put the above into context it's worth considering the role of the State when it comes to regulation of finance. It is notable that Martin Wolff a columnist writing in the Financial Times (the UK financial industry's newspaper) says:
      https://www.ft.com/content/09bfbb8d-22f5-4c70-9d85-2df7ed5c516e
      He arrives at this conclusion via an analysis of financial crises and not via the lens of inequality that I have used.
      It's worth examining some of the points that Wolff makes, they are widely considered to be true:
      This is a perennial issue, high levels of regulation stymie the returns that the financial sector can make and there is subsequently a call from economic liberals to remove the 'shackles', a new problem then arises, bailouts are needed and accompanied by new regulation.
      the latter being justification for a bailout.
      So state intervention in the financial markets is not an anomaly in a wholly capitalistic system. At the moment such intervention is justified given the damage that a bank run would cause for the whole economy.
      It's not outrageous therefore that if the welfare of the poor is considered to be important, the availability of credit for them and the terms of such finance should be of concern to policy-makers. 
      Practicalities of intervention
      One way of arriving at a solution is to consider why people need loans in the first place.
      It is clear that sometimes people need to borrow money to increase their earning power. Loans for such purposes are obviously a 'good thing'. This is one end of a spectrum and the State should intervene to provide such loans at 0% interest, thus making them completely halal. However, an effect of such intervention could be to encourage training providers to raise prices, so where government is effectively subsidising a sector it may also need to intervene in terms of the prices it is willing to pay. The same applies to goods such as medical services. Buying a car. Now we are moving along the spectrum, is the car for enjoyment or for work? And if it is for work, how blingy or spartan is it? The latter could attract state funding, but the former is less likely to do so. For enjoyment, people should be educated to understand that there is no alternative to saving up. And what about those who have capital?
      My understanding is that having capital is not a problem in Islam. Lending it for interest is a problem. But that is not the only productive use that capitalists have for their capital. They can own shares in enterprises and receive dividends for their risk capital i.e. the profit or dividends they make depends on the risk that they take. Such risk-taking can be inherently more productive than lending capital for interest. It can be applied to the development of new technologies and industries - rather than pandering to the materialist interests of consumers or indeed increasing such materialistic interests.
         7 comments
      [amended 19 August 2023 to include references to the Irish potato famine and two Bengal famines]
      Surah Yusuf
      Prophet Yusuf (عليه السلام) advised Pharoah to hoard grains during the years of plenty. I think this episode is a noteworthy one because it shows how a State can intervene in the marketplace in order to improve the welfare of the wider population.
      But as we shall see below, the government intervention that Prophet Yusuf (عليه السلام) instigated favoured some sections of the population over others - it was not neutral in terms of how it spread gains and losses across the population.
      https://www.al-islam.org/sites/default/files/singles/633-yusuf.pdf
      While there is other material in the Qur'an that deals with transactions within the marketplace between individual participants - this story stands out in terms of its focus on state intervention. 
      I'll be coming back to this issue later - but I think it informs the discussions we have about Islam and contemporary socio-economic theories. In particular, I think it illustrates that Islam does see the State as an active market participant and that in an Islamic state, the role of government is not one that is hands-off or laissez-faire.
       
      What policy options did Prophet Yusuf (عليه السلام) have?
      We should not take the story as presented 'for granted'. In reality, the Prophet (عليه السلام). had a range of choices open to him, and thinking those through helps us better understand the reasons for the policy he undertook and the reason why. 
      No government interference
      Let's start with the simplest and easiest option that Pharoah's government could have pursued once they knew that there would be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine (as predicted by the Pharoah's dream which was interpreted by Prophet Yusuf (عليه السلام).) .
      Pharoah could have left the entire issue to the 'market'. During the years of plenty, the price of food would have fallen and people would have enjoyed a higher standard of living. For example, the lower grain prices could have led to people rearing more cattle and their diets would have improved with more meat.
      However, during the years of famine, grain prices would have risen and those people who had accumulated assets in the years of plenty would be able to pay the higher prices in the famine years. Those who had not had such assets would have starved.
      This assumes a fairly high level of self-discipline on the part of the population, but as Milton Friedman would say, the people would have been 'free to choose'. This is not a hypothetical option. The British lack of action to the Irish potato famine has been attributed to the British government's ideological adherence to a laissez-faire approach to macro-economics:
      https://kenanfellows.org/kfp-cp-sites/cp01/cp01/sites/kfp-cp-sites.localhost.com.cp01/files/LP3_BBC Irish Famine Article for Lab.pdf
       
      The Bengal famine is another one where government policy was different to the one Prophet Yusuf ((عليه السلام).) prescribed to Pharoah. In this instance, it was lack of government restriction over the action of privateers:
      https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/mar/29/winston-churchill-policies-contributed-to-1943-bengal-famine-study
       
      Going back still further, the Great Bengal Famine of 1770 has been directly attributed to British government laissez-faire economic policy.
      https://worldfinancialreview.com/the-political-economy-of-famines-during-the-british-rule-in-india-a-critical-analysis/
       
      Light interference - provision of information
      A common policy option nowadays, where people do not want direct government intervention is to recommend improving the provision of information to the population who will then be better able to make the correct decisions for themselves. The government could have mounted an information campaign during the years of plenty and told people to hoard food themselves, hoarding when there is no shortage is allowed in Islam.
      However such attempts to influence awareness about the famine to come and changing peoples' attitudes so that they saved more than they were used to, would likely have run against increased social pressures on people to do the opposite. For example typically in societies as wealth increases there is social pressure to spend more, in this case, for example, have more lavish weddings.
      Also providing information would have been a practical benefit for the better off e.g. those with storage capacity, but not so good for the poor (who would not have room to store grain, for example).
      The government (using a bit more intervention) could have given tax breaks to people who owned granaries, to help the poor who needed such facilities. Again this solution would be to focus on market-based interventions and simply alter the working of the market using incentives. Current economic theory holds that people discount future risks very heavily i.e. they don't perceive them as much of a threat as they should. So, for example, just telling people they should save for a pension does not work. 
      So we can likely predict that the solutions described above would not have worked had they tried them.
      Heavy interference
      This is what they actually did.
      In times of plenty, Pharoah's government did not let prices fall as would have happened under free market conditions. They kept prices higher than they otherwise would have been because the government intervened and took excess stocks of grain out of circulation.
      All people (rich and poor alike) had no option but to pay the usual higher prices - effectively, the government was taxing everyone, but this was not seen as a loss by anyone because the prices were no higher than usual.
      The government stored the grain centrally and then they decided to release the grain according to their own policies.
      Assumptions made by Prophet Yusuf's government
      If you leave people to their own devices they may not make the best decisions (whether they are rich or poor), this could be due to: People do not have the resources to cater for future shocks (mainly the poor) People do not have the discipline to address future shocks (applies to both the rich and the poor) The government can make better decisions than individuals acting in their own self-interest because: The government can have access to more and better information than individuals do The government may not be as susceptible to a lack of self-discipline  
      Conclusion
      Of all the policy options open to Prophet Yusuf (عليه السلام) he advised Pharoah to pursue the most interventionist one. Some people may be tempted to call this socialist or communist, but I think those terms carry a lot of excess baggage, so I won't bring them into the discussion.
      What I think can be safely inferred from his choice of policy is a fundamental principle that could inform economic policy in any Islamic state.
      Facing an external shock to the Egyptian economy, he went for the option that would cause the least pain to the worst off in society. Other policy options would have caused more pain for the poorest but somewhat less for the better off.
       
       
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