No Qur'anic verse better sums up the world's current condition than this one. Today's world, ruled by unchecked global capitalism, is in grave trouble. Never before has the world seen such a gulf between the haves and the have nots. The gap between rich and poor continues to grow at an alarming rate, and no one in any leadership position seems to notice or care much about it. The planet is dying, due to pollution and massive ecological damage resulting from decades of development. Wars are being waged, and treachery and oppression flourish “ all as a result of endless, insatiable greed.
Enron in only the poster boy for the type of greed running rampant in today's multinational corporate world. Despite the rhetoric spilling over the airwaves of the world media, the truth cannot stay hidden for very long in this age of information. The world's current level of violence is tied directly to the greed of such corporations and so-called leaders who care nothing for the people's general welfare. They have sold their souls, as the clichÃ© goes, joined hands with Satan, and are ready to ride off into the sunset.
I am not referring to any particular country, people or hemisphere. The greed that we see today exists among all races, religions, and nations. Granted, some may be guiltier than others, especially in light of current world events, but the evil force of greed does not discriminate. Satan has used greed to dupe many people, even Muslims. As Abdullah Yusuf Ali comments in his Qur'anic translation: What an evil choice he makes in committing treason against his own Benefactor (Allah) by going after the petty baubles of this world's wealth of fleeting gains. How eloquent and true. Greed is nothing but selling our fate in the akhirah (the Hereafter) for this world's temporary cheap thrills “ often at a tremendous expense to others.
Some facts you should know
So just how bad has it gotten? To what degree has greed enveloped the entire world? The following provides a shocking glimpse:
- In a statement by the Institute for Policy Studies, the group said that 497 billionaires registered a whopping collective wealth of 1.54 trillion dollars. This is way above the combined gross national products of all the nations of sub-Saharan Africa, which stands at only 929.3 billion dollars, or those of the oil-rich regions of the Middle East and North Africa 1.34 trillion dollars.1
- This collective wealth of the 497 is also greater than the combined incomes of the poorest half of humanity, says IPS.2
- Last week, the U.S. government announced that it was building the biggest-ever war machine. Military spending will rise to $379 billion, of which $50 billion will pay for its ˜war on terrorism.'3
- The wealth of the Forbes 400 richest Americans grew an average $1.44 billion each from 1997-2000, for an average daily increase in wealth of $1,920,000 per person ($240,000 per hour, or 46,602 times the U.S. minimum wage).4
- Funds in the hands of U.S. money managers grew from $1.9 trillion in 1980 to $17 trillion in 2000. While those funds were under the control of fiduciaries (half the funds are due to tax incentives), the pay gap between top executives and production workers in the 362 largest U.S. companies soared from 42:1 in 1980 to 475:1 in 1999.5
- The financial wealth of the top one percent of U.S. households now exceeds the combined household financial wealth of the bottom 95 percent.6
- The top fifth of U.S. households claims 49.2 percent of national income while the bottom fifth gets by on 3.6 percent.7
Of course, these all refer to the U.S. However, the U.S. and the western world are not alone in being the culprits of such distorted wealth distribution and inequality. For example,
- In Indonesia, 61.7 percent of the stock market's value is held by that nation's fifteen richest families. The comparable figure for the Philippines is 55.1 percent and 55.3 percent for Thailand.8
The impact of such greed is devastating for the rest of the world. Consider these facts:9
- Eighty countries have per capita incomes lower than a decade ago. Sixty countries have grown steadily poorer since 1980.
- In 1960, the income gap between the fifth of the world's people living in the richest countries and the fifth in the poorest countries was 30:1. By 1990, the gap had widened to 60:1. By 1998, it had surged to 74:1.
- From 1995 to 1999, the world's 200 wealthiest people doubled their net worth to $1,000 billion.
- Three billion people presently live on $2 or less per day, while 1.3 billion of those get by on $1 or less per day. With the global population expanding by 80 million each year, World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn cautions that unless we address the challenge of inclusion, 30 years hence we may have 5 billion people living on $2 or less per day.
- Two billion people suffer from malnutrition, including 55 million in industrial countries. Thus, in 3 decades, neoliberal-style globalization could create a world where 3.7 billion people suffer from malnutrition.
- The UNDP's assessment: Development that perpetuates today's inequalities is neither sustainable nor worth sustaining.
Although the above facts offer just a glimpse of the big picture, it is quite clear that the current policies of nations and their corporate entities are destructive, oppressive, and barriers to peace and justice. Such policies are making a select few rich beyond comprehension while the vast majority either barely survives or literally starves. This is our world's hard and cold reality “ a reality that goes largely unchecked even among the educated masses of the developed world. Unfortunately, those same educated masses seem content to be brainwashed by a corporate-controlled media that tells them next to nothing about the world's true condition. According to those who control information, people are on a need-to-know basis, and most of what is truly important the people simply do not need to know!
A worldwide epidemic
This is truly a worldwide epidemic, for it can be found in the third world as much as (if not more than) the developed world. It is a problem, however, that can be addressed only at its roots. While living in both the U.S. and Southeast Asia, I have learned that these problems all stem from the same place. The appearances (e.g., people, cultures, and religions) may be different, but ultimately everything that ails us has the same root causes, as mentioned in the Qur'an. Greed is greed, whether it is that of Enron or some other corrupt entity somewhere else. It may look different and the people may speak a different language, but the ailment is the same, because underlying it all are the same diseases of the heart. This is precisely why the Qur'an is for humanity “ because we have so many fundamentals in common with our fellow human beings.
All of us are capable of harboring some of these booby traps of the soul (e.g., greed, injustice, envy, and hatred). This is why we cannot point fingers at one nation, person, or corporation. The diseases of the heart are killers, and they are killing, starving, and oppressing millions of innocent people. Thus we have to deal with the sickness' cause, not just its symptoms. More war and destruction may eliminate some of the culprits, but it certainly will not rid the world of the problem, which is, ultimately, sickened human hearts feeding on ignorance.
We must be wise at such times and seek out wisdom, not just information as to how the world works. Globalization, which is actually just a fancy innocuous-sounding term for the westernization and materialization of the entire planet, is not in most people's best interests. In fact, some less well-known world leaders have been brave enough to acknowledge this. Malaysian prime minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamed has consistently spoken out against the dangers of globalization in its current guise. He considers it to be nothing more than the developed nations leveraging its huge capital advantages in order to exploit developing and underdeveloped nations.
By lining the pockets of weak, corrupt government leaders, multinational corporations are free to wreak havoc on the people, economies, and lands of weaker nations. Dr. Mahathir has said that capital must be equalized first if the current form of globalization is to have a truly equalizing effect on all nations' economies. Developing countries must be protected and their own economies nurtured until they can compete on an even playing field. However, this is far from the case today. Thus, globalization in its current form allows developed nations to strip developing nations of their resources while spreading a culture of consumerism and materialism through their huge multinational corporate media and advertising machines.
A Qur'anic perspective
To further understand greed from a Qur'anic perspective, we should understand why God banned usury: Those who devour usury will not stand, except as stands one whom the Evil One has driven to madness by his touch (2:275). When referring to this verse in his Tafsir al-Qur'an, Daryabi says: According to the socialist writers of today, money is lent by them who have abundance and returns to them to increase that abundance, the increase being the unpaid dues of labor, which is the only source of wealth “ the rich are thus made richer and the poor poorer, by every fresh act of taking interest, and the stability of social organism is disturbed. This analysis is perfectly consistent with the world economy today. Look around “ interest is everywhere, wealth is in the hands of a few, and the gap between rich and poor is growing ever wider. The result? The social organism is grossly disturbed.
This is why the Book is called Al-Qur'an al-Hakim (the wise Qur'an). It is a book full of wisdom. The evils of usury, greed, and their ugly companions are forces that have destroyed entire peoples throughout history. They are problems that humanity cannot shake, especially when we turn away from the Creator's wisdom and guidance.
Our world's current course, with the haves and the have nots growing apart at an exponential rate, cannot be sustained. Somewhere, somehow, and at some point there will be a monumental adjustment. A world economic system that is so unequal, so unjust, and so divisive cannot last for long. The powers-that-be currently controlling the world economy are deluded if they think that they can continue their corrupt policies while 95 percent of the world sits back and does nothing. Sooner or later, it will come to a crashing halt.
Islam provides a straightforward solution to this problem. Yet history has proven that until humanity can tackle the evil that lies within each person, we will never address the evils around us effectively. The solution is called fairness (justice) and cooperation. In our present capitalist-dominated world, such terms seem utopian. Unbridled competition is the name of the game and, moreover, there is no indication that this will change any time soon. Such over-competitiveness seeps into every aspect of life until entire societies distrust one another, become antisocial, and are completely dysfunctional from a social perspective. This is already the case in much of the western world.
Islam encourages people to come together, rely on one another, and commune. It already has the built-in, well-formulated systems to do it in an inclusive way one that is neither elitist nor harsh. Islam says that when people unite to build and do good works out of a desire to achieve goodness for all and His approval, they will earn His pleasure. When humanity is granted God's succor, the sky is the limit in terms of what can be accomplished. The glorious history of Islamic civilization proves this.
This is how the Prophet erected the perfect society in seventh-century Madinah. In that society, people worked, lived, and worshipped together. Muslims, non-Muslims, and different peoples and tribes co-existed peacefully, all agreeing to live under one leader in a perfectly just system. That leader was a man who desired nothing for himself and only the best for his fellow believers and neighbors. Until those with envy and hatred in their hearts spoiled the peace, Madinah showed the world how belief in God, cooperation, and living for the common good are the keys to peaceful coexistence. This can never happen again until humanity is willing and able to fight the sicknesses lying deep within each person's heart.
- Steve Smith, World Billionaires Still Richer than Half of Humanity. Online at Islamonline.net, 2002.
- Ibid., 2002
- John Pilger, The Colder War, The Mirror 20 (30 January 2002).
- Online at www.forbes.com.
- Business Week (7 April 2000), 100.
- Edward N. Wolff, Recent Trends in Wealth Ownership (paper for the Benefits and Mechanisms for Spreading Asset Ownership in the United States conference, New York University, December 10-12, 1998.)
- Online at www.census.gov [Table H-2].
- Stijn Claessens, Simeon Djankov, and Larry H. P. Lang, Who Controls East Asian Corporations? (Washington, DC: The World Bank, 1999).
- Jeff Gates, Modern Fashion or Global Fascism, Tikkun: A Bi-Monthly Jewish Critique of Politics, Culture, and Society (Jan.-Feb. 2002).