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4 Differences between Conventional and Islamic Economic System

Monday, April 9, 2018



In general, the Islamic economic system is a system in which economic activities pertaining to production, distribution and consumption of resources are governed by Islamic principles. These principles are derived from Al-Quran, the divine speech of God, and Sunnah or traditions of the Prophet.

The conventional economic system, on the other hand, is not guided by any religious or divinely inspired principles. Instead, this system was derived from theories that were developed by Western scholars such as Joseph Schumpeter, Max Weber, and Adam Smith.

This represents an important foundational difference between the 2 systems that later on influences the modus operandi, objectives and economic goals, amongst others. Nevertheless, as an economic system, both are concerned with how economic agents allocate resources and apportion goods and services in order to fulfil the economic objectives of a society.

In this article, we attempt to provide a brief introduction on several other differences between conventional and Islamic economic system.

1. Underlying philosophy

Islam as a way of life provides guidance on how Muslims perform their daily activities, including transactions and other economic activities. Pertinent to this is the way society interprets and solve man’s economic needs and problems. Islam has established some standards on how the economic system should be organized, which are based on justice and equity.

Justice cannot be achieved without considering the effects of a particular action or actions towards society. Therefore Islam guides and encourages man to become non-self-centric wherein life’s goals is not only about personal gains. This is contrary to the conventional economic system that prioritises self-interest over the public interest. In Adam Smith’s theory of “invisible hand”, the assumption is that a free market economy works well when everyone works for his/her own interest.

In an Islamic economic system, social and economic development are like 2 branches of the same tree that needs to grow on par. Islamic economic system is oriented towards human Falah (victory) by applying Islamic values in practice. This will realize social welfare which leads to justice. Whereas in the conventional economic theory, social development is secondary or accidental. This is exemplified by Adam Smith’s description of the invisible hand which is the unintended social benefits of individual self-interested actions.

2. Financing principles

Islamic economics is based on the revelation of Allah. Like Islam in general, it has two absolute sources, namely the Quran and As Sunna whereas conventional economics does not have the references when solving economic problems.

This reference difference with conventional economics influences their different objectives. Al-Quran and As-Sunna are the main references in all joints of the life of Muslims, including in transacting or economic life. What may and may not be done refers to these two main sources, coupled with the ijtihad of the jurists and scholars.

Within the Islamic economic system exists the financial system that facilitates the allocation of resources such as physical goods and financial resources.

In allocating these resources, the Islamic system emphasises on the underlying activities that have to be real and productive. This is unlike the conventional financial system in which the price of financial resources or interest rates is the focus of any financing activities.

In an Islamic economic and financial system, the growth of wealth must be accompanied by increased economic and productive activities. It cannot be a growth of wealth per se, as how the conventional financial system is largely based on.

When we talk about financing within the Islamic economics, some rules must be implemented so that the economic turnover that occurs does not create tyranny and harm other parties. Such as the prohibition of MAGHRIB (maysir, gharar, and usury); there should be no aspects of speculation or gambling, obscurity, and usury transactions. Including not to consume things in vain, as in QS An Nisa [4]: 161 “And [for] their taking of usury while they had been forbidden from it, and their consuming of the people's wealth unjustly” and in Surah Al Baqarah [2]: 275 that “Allah justifies buying and selling and forbids usury.”

Read Also : KapitalQuiz - 5 Facts about Islamic Finance

3. Economic freedom

In a conventional economic system, one has the unrestricted economic freedom to initiate, organize and establish any type of enterprise, business or trade. A person has the right to earn income and spend it any way they like.

While Islam allows one to earn and spend at will, he/she is also limited on how that is done. This is because Islam distinguishes between what is permissible and non-permissible. Therefore to set up an enterprise or work in sectors dealing with alcohol, tobacco, and adult entertainment, for instance, is not permissible. In spending one’s wealth, Islam also discourages extravagant and decadent living as one should not be absorbed with material and wealth gains. Islam forbids the accumulation of assets, and one's wealth must be spun to move the wheels of the economy. Allah SWT said in QS Al Hasyr [59]: 7 that "wealth must not only revolve among rich people."

In one’s wealth, Islam has mandated that a portion of it belongs to the poor and needy which a person needs to give away in the form of tithe or donations. Islamic economics believes that economic imbalances are caused by uneven distribution, while conventional economics believes that scarcity is the cause of economic inequality. Financial instruments in Islam such as zakat, infaq, almsgiving, and endowments are income distribution tools that can overcome inequality in the community and improve social welfare.

4. Operational supervision

The conventional economic system is supervised in accordance with government regulations and national law. While the Islamic economic system is not only overseen by the government but also monitored by the board of Shariah scholars well versed in Islamic knowledge.

Read Also : 6 Common Misconceptions about Islamic Finance

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