Our theological demonstration rests on three premises:
1. The concept of prosperity in Islam
Capitalism rests on hedonism as a philosophical basis. Accordingly, the goal of capitalistic economic system is to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. The ultimate ideal of capitalism is to provide maximum pleasure possible for maximum number of people with the least possible pain and effort.
Human beings pursue pleasure and avoid pain instinctively. Happiness is indeed no more than more pleasure and less pain. Nonetheless, there are two rational principles which must be taken into account in this regard: one ought to prefer more sustainable pleasures to transient ones and one ought to opt for a pleasure that is higher qualitatively when one has to choose.
Hedonism is wrong in confining pleasure and pain in mundane transient ones. Islamic teachings, in contrast, introduce two sets of pleasure and pain; the transient mundane and the everlasting in the hereafter. The latter supersedes the former both qualitatively and quantitatively. Islam recognizes the instinctive tendency to pleasure but tries to attract human attention to higher pleasures by broadening his view and understanding. Happiness is, according to Islam, the sum of maximal mundane as well as next-worldly pleasures. Since the everlasting pleasure of the hereafter is higher than the mundane transient one, when they clash, the former is preferable. Consequently, the mundane pleasures are permissible so long as they do not hinder those of the hereafter.
The mundane pleasures conflicting with eternal ones can be categorized in three divisions:
1. Mundane pleasures hindering eternal ones and causing eternal pain in the afterlife are rationally prohibited.
2. Mundane pleasures that hinder higher eternal pleasures without bringing about eternal pain are inferior rationally.
3. Mundane pleasures that conflict only with the higher eternal pleasures experienced by the very few chosen friends of God are permissible but worthwhile rejecting by the elect.
Keeping this classification in mind, we can now pose this question: can human beings discern the path to prosperity, happiness, and salvation on their own without divine assistance through revelation and prophets? Can human reason and scientific experience show the path? The answer is negative for sure. How can we understand the effect of our behavior in various respects affects our salvation? We cannot understand on our own how we must behave- say economically- in order to attain at the eternal peace and pleasure. We do not know how to maximize the sum of our worldly and next-worldly gains without divine help. For this reason, revelation comes to help us. Some economic behaviors are declared banned in the Koran and some are advised. The Koran tells us that usury, extravagance, and usurps, to name a few, are prohibited and will be punishable in the hereafter. Paying alms, lending money with no interest, zakat, khoms, and waqf are among good deeds you will be rewarded for in the hereafter.
2. Islam’s view of man
From the Islamic point of view, the purpose of creation of human beings and the objective in appointing divine apostles and messengersis to enable man, through education and training, to attain prosperity and salvation. Islam entertains a dualistic view of human nature; physical and spiritual. The spiritual is the foundational aspect of human nature. Body accompanies the soul in this earthly life because the soul needs it as a tool to perform the actions it chooses to do. But, it is beyond doubt that human physical behaviors such as eating, clothing, working etc. leave their impacts on the soul. Some economic behaviors help human soul achieve further proximity to God and some act in reverse. It is beyond the capacity of our intellect to discern which action leaves which impact. For example, people are unable to fathom by their reason and empirical investigation, how and why a particular behavior such as eating a kind of food, or involving in usury or extravagance damage our spiritual life. We need divine revelation to help us make this distinction. This is why messengers are needed.
Islam understands the world from behind the spectacles of causation. A firm system of causation rules the universe. This notion is shared by Deism as well with some subtle but important differences. The latter holds that God has created the world and the order governing it. But He does not interfere in sustaining it. The former thinks that God is both the creator and the sustainer. It is God that gives the causes their characteristic feature of being a cause thereby sustaining the universe through the causal system. Accordingly, God may interfere in the normal procedures to neutralize a particular cause whenever He deems it appropriate to do so. For instance, when Abraham (be peace upon Him) was thrown into the inferno, God decided to take back the capability of burning from that fire. Deism cannot accommodate for this phenomenon.
Another difference between the two aforementioned views can be spelled out thus: the philosophical foundations of capitalism see the natural order confined in the realm of physics while the Koran expands it to include the non-corporeal realm too. There are, from the Islamic perspective, two distinct general causal orders ruling over the world; the physical causal order and the nonphysical causal order. It goes without saying that the two systems can never clash in spite of the fact that they are interconnected. A single phenomenon in natural world may be caused by two sets of effective elements; the physical factors and the abstract causes. Poverty, to give but one example, is an unfortunate fact brought about by the two sets of causes. Therefore, immaculate Imams (be peace upon Them) are seen to have prescribed methods for overcoming poverty such as imploring God to help, initiating good deeds, paying alms, saying midnight prayers and perpetual reciting of the incantation “la hawla wa la quwata illa billah”.The Koran endorses this approach saying:
“Had the inhabitants of cities, towns, and villages converted to the Faith and lived piously, we would have opened for them the gates of treasures from the heaven and the earth.”
“Whosoever fears God shall see God providing him with some [miraculous] escape and livelihood from a source he cannot anticipate”.
Imam Ali (AS) says:
“God puts His sinful servants to test via withholding His bounties from them and reduction in their agricultural product lest they may sober up and repent, leave sinning, and take lesson, get the shock, and withdraw. God the Almighty has ordained that repentance bring about affluence and cause blessing to shower saying: “ask God to forgive thee for He forgives sinners, He sends the clouds to rain for you repeatedly and assists you with wealth and offspring”so, may God bless those who repent, and implore for forgiveness of their wrongdoings and do that before their time is up.”
We may conclude that human reason and scientific knowledge fall short of understanding the abstract causes pertinent to economic phenomena. Hence, divine revelation is indispensable as God is the only omniscient who can let us understand them.
From these premises, we can draw conclusions. First, human prosperity and salvation are attained through maximization of pleasures in the two worlds with the next-worldly pleasures being superior. Second, man possesses two worlds; the physical and the spiritual. Third, two universal orders rule the universe and the human life; the corporeal causation system and the non-corporeal one that influence natural phenomena like drought and social phenomena like poverty. Under these circumstances, human reason and knowledge fall short of showing him how he can administer his life in a manner to cope with these causal systems and attain prosperity and salvation. Man needs divine guidance to achieve this end. Consequently, if suitable social and economic systems are not introduced by revelation, man remains ignorant of how to behave rightly. However, the Almighty God says:
“Verily, we have given man guidance to the path; he may be thankful or thankless.“