The return of Religions
Today, we are living in a ‘global society’ of crisis. Everything indicates that a storm is arising. The term ‘crisis’ increasingly becomes an appropriate signature for our times, ideologically and politically. We are familiar with words like ‘crisis of employment’, ‘political crisis’ ‘ecological crisis’, and furthermore ‘economic crisis’. There is even the crisis of God. Everywhere a crisis is apparent, except with religion. There is no crisis of religion. Religion flourishes, sociologist are already talking about a religious surplus.After the Second World War the political ambition of the Enlightenment Movement seemed to be fulfilled, as politics itself finally had emancipated itself from religion. Religion was not banned, but considered first and foremost as a private or family affairs. Some analysts believed economical and social modernization led to degradation of religion as a main factor of human existence. Their belief was unwarranted. In the modern world, albeit in different ways from early times, religion and politics continue to combine in important ways from early times, religion and politics continue to combine in important ways to shape the public arena in which the many issues about the human predicament are debated and acted upon. The economical and social modernization was a global one and simultaneously led to a worldwide renaissance of religion. Yet, it is not the return of private forms of religion, but of public forms which irritates and threatens. It destroys all harmonic visions of an ‘end of history’ which were promulgated everywhere after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The numbers of voices which advocate a rethinking of a failed modernity are on the increase. They are criticizing modernity for they believe agnosticism in the cause of modernity’s shortcomings. These commentators demand a desecularization, which means to found society upon a religious basis. This proposal is common, particularly among those who belong to monotheistic faiths.
The question of the relation between religion and modernity, religion and the secular states religion and economy, and also religion and a pluralist society become more and more problematic. The increased return to of public religions today threatens the basis of a democratic society and democratic culture. At the same time, there is a danger of the emergence of new totalitarianism. Whoever is seriously interested in examining this phenomenon is well advised to avoid the contradictory dichotomy of religion and politics, modernity and fundamentalism and to perceive the dialectics of secularization. Those working with this dichotomies are in danger of forgetting their own ideological standpoint. This is the reason why we have to remember that these phenomena are not a reappearance of a pre-modern ‘medieval’ obscurantism. They have emerged from within the project of modernity itself. We have to be aware of being trapped by the dogmatic secularity or the dogmatic of confession. Thus the return of religion is a modern phenomenon. This becomes evident if we realize that the members of these religious movements are embedded in and the result of the process of modernity. From this point of departure, let us see and observe how the Muslim theologians respond the current hegemony of the modern and secular neo-liberalistic economy in all over the world. We need a deep, patient and continual observation and research in this specific area in order to accurately grasp what is being seriously thought and practically act in what is commonly known today as Islamic economics.
The impatience of Muslim theologians facing the modern neo – liberalistic economy.
Religion – less economic and political orders were the creation of the Enlightenment. Human reason is seen as the ultimate mentor in everything; every sector is autonomous; economic structures are driven by the pursuit of profit in the context of free trade; political order is balancing of the interests of various groups in society. Free trade resulted in a world polarized between rich and poor, internationally and locally. The easy movement of capital around the world has only made the gap wider. Balancing political interests is not a realistic goal in a world dominated by one superpower. All it can hope to achieve is balancing act between a few rich and powerful nations; it ignores and marginalizes the interests of all the other nations on the globe. The continuing arms race and the increasing product and sale of arms are example of political failure. There is no true participative democracy anywhere, either within or between nations, thanks to the power games of interest groups.
Can any of this lead to lasting peace? Everyone doubts it. For true peace we need a sense of human, moral and spiritual values. We need to recognize and respect the cultural and religious identities of individuals in every community. We need to appreciate the importance of a quest for the common good, both locally and universally, which will lead to justice and equality. People of religions do not believe a secular order is capable of delivering this. The failure of the recent efforts to impose an ecological discipline on the nations of the world is just one example of how things are going wrong. The manipulation of international agencies, mainly powerful countries, is another. Throughout history, religion has been the only prophetic force to challenge human imperfect efforts at building communities.
The relevance of religious belief to the material world is often overlooked, even by the devout, but any study of the major religions will show that there is a considerable body of teaching on how believers should conduct their working lives, undertake monetary transactions and manage their financial assets. Economic activity involves human behavior, and this introduces a moral dimension, as humans have choices and their actions can be a force for good or bad. Seeking divine guidance for economic decision making can be helpful in making the right choices, and can ease consciences where decisions affect the lives of others. Economic governance, whether at national or corporate level, can be a lonely and thankless task, but if those exercising responsibility feel they are carrying out their duties on behalf of the Almighty, this can inspire and motivate themselves and others.
Religion takes many different guises today, from traditional and institutionally organized religions to individual spiritualities and eclectic syncretism. There is, furthermore, an interest in religion again by those who make reference to classical sources ( in Muslim context, like Abu Yusuf (d. 798) or Al-Mawardi and Ibn Taimiyyah (d. l328) in order to point out the shortcomings of injustice, inequality, and dehumanized type of modern neo-liberalistic economy and make suggestions about how Muslim might address these burning issues. Basically, their interest in religion is rooted in serious concern about basic social principles, such as moral values, the decline of solidarity, corruption and the knowledge of what it means to be a member of (global) community. Their return towards religion is beyond confessionalism or sectarianism, for they recognize religion as a part of organizing , maintaining and enhancing social living. Religion is viewed by these people as providing values, world view and goals for such living. In short, the resources of religion facilitate both of a critique of the social and a therapy for the individual. Below is a quote from some of Umer Chapra’s critique, the most famous contemporary prolific writer on Islamic Economics ;
“Conventional economics, however, took a wrong turn after the Enlightenment Movement by stripping itself of the moral basis of society emphasized by Aristotelian and Judeo-Christian philosophies. This deprived it of the role that moral values and good governance can play in helping society raise both efficiency and equity in the allocation and distribution of scarce resource needed for promoting the well-being of all. However, this has been changing. The role of good governance has already been recognized and that of moral values is gradually penetrating the economics orthodoxy. Islamic economics is also reviving now after the independence of Muslim countries from foreign domination. It is likely that the two disciplines will coverage and become one after a period of time. This will be in keeping with the teaching of the Qur’an, which clearly states that mankind was created as one but became divided as a result of their differences and transgression against each other (10:19, 2:213 and 3 : 19), if reinforced by justice and mutual care, should help promote peaceful coexistence and enable mankind to realize the well-being of all, a goal the realization of which we are all anxiously looking forward to.” 
Responding to the question, ‘What is the main message of Islamic Economics to humanity?’, Umer Chapra, a former professor of economics at the University of Wisconsin, Kentucky and Lexington, remarked:
“The main message is that the humanitarian goal of achieving the well-being of all members of the human family cannot be attained by concentrating primarily on the material constituents of well-being and making maximization of wealth the main objective of Economics. It is also necessary to raise the spiritual content of well-being and reduce all the symptoms of anomie, like family disintegration, conflict and tensions, crime, alcoholism, drug addiction and mental illness, all indicating lack of inner happiness and contentment in the life of individuals. The market system as well as central planning have both failed to lead mankind to such as overall well-being. It is therefore, necessary to lay down the contours of a new system which could help optimize human well-being. This is exactly what Islamic Economics is trying to do.”
Facing the tremendous social, political and economical changes today, theology, understood as an investigation into the rational discourse of a specific religion, can be best characterized as being impatient. Theologians, not only those of the Islamic faith, share this impatience with intellectuals in political science and social theory more generally. The impatience arises from wishing to speak out once more, to be heard in the public arena. More recently, political, social and legal theorists have also experienced a silencing – by economics in its neo-liberal guise. For where economics governs and drives policy these social scientists are relegated to providing comments on what has passed rather than pioneering new ways of understanding and thinking about the social body and community at large. The impatience of both theologians and social scientists to speak out concerns what is at stake here. This impatience is widely spread in all monotheistic religions due to its eschatological nature – they conceive themselves as one further step towards or to an epoch within an absolute fulfillment of time. Islamic theology calls this eschatological dimension of religiosity as “the life of the Hereafter”.
The importance of the Hereafter lays where the concepts of the innate goodness of human beings and of the Hereafter come in – concepts which conventional economics ignores but on which Islam and other major religions place a great deal of emphasis. Because of their innate goodness, human beings do not necessarily always try to serve their self-interest. There are also altruistic and are willing to make sacrifices for the well-being of others. In addition, the concept of the Hereafter does not confine self interest to just this world. We may be able to serve our self-interest in this world by being selfish, dishonest, uncaring, and negligent of our obligations towards our families, other human beings, animal, and the environment. However, we cannot serve our self-interest in the hereafter except by fulfilling all these obligations.
Thus, the serving of self-interest receives a long-run perspectives in Islam and other religions by taking into account both this world and the next. This serves to provide a motivating mechanism for sacrifice for the well-being of others that conventional economics fails to provide. The innate goodness of human beings along with the long-run perspective given to self-interest has the potential of inducing a person to be not only efficient but also equitable and caring. Consequently, the three crucial concepts of conventional economics- rational economic man, positivism, and laissez-faire – were not able to gain intellectual blessing in their conventional economics sense from any of the outstanding scholars who represent the mainstream of Islamic thought. 
The contemporary development of Islamic economics
The basis of Islamic Economics is from the Shariah, so the concepts of Islamic Finance have been around the origination of Islam itself. The practices of what we see today have been used throughout the last 1500 0dd years across the modern Muslim world and beyond. The modern Islamic Finance really originated in the l960s, escalating with the petro dollar boom of the l970s when in l975, the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) was formed to promote acceptable financial practices according to Islam. While many banks originating in the Middle East strictly follow these principles, many also follow Western practices of finance, with a number following both practices to cater for both markets. Interestingly, many of the internationals larger banks (with HSBC, UBS and Citigroup as notable example) all have Islamic banking arms, both in the Middle East and the West. The IMF published an article in 2008 which estimated that there are now more than 300 Islamic financial institutions operating in more than 75 countries at the end of 2007.
There are many sceptics about Islamic finance, including in the Muslim community, and some Islamic economists concerned with redistribution are disappointed about how the industry has evolved commercially. Nevertheless there is substance to shariah compliant financial contracts which are about much more than mere substitution of Arabic word. Islamic finance is treated seriously by the Financial Services Authority in the United Kingdom which has issued regulatory guidelines and by the Treasury which has issued a consultative document on a proposed sovereign sukuk ( sertificate reflects participation rights in the underlying assets) which will be sterling denominated. There are already over one trillion dollars’ worth of assets which are designed as shariah compliant, illustrating the worldwide success of Islamic finance and its market appeal.
Many challenges remain and financial products are often works in progress. Undoubtedly the most valuable contribution of the Islamic finance industry is the issues it raises about morality in financial dealings, even if all the questions are not answered. It attempts to reconcile the spiritual with the worldly, and act as a filter to the excesses of capitalism which all too often are driven by individual material greed with no social accountability. There is much that those from other religions and those with no religion can learn from the Islamic economics and finance experience, and the challenge it poses to conventional assumptions.
This short introductory article is not intended to go in detail in discussing the technicalities of Islamic economy and finance. What I want to underline here is that an observation and a research on the undergoing process of religious resurgence during this last decade in the Southeast Asia countries will lack of its comprehensiveness without delving into religious activities in the economy and finance. The unique characteristic of Islamic economic and finance is its inclusivity. It can go hand by hand with conventional economics . An atmosphere of peaceful coexistence is there. The notion and the application of Shariah in economics and finance is strikingly different from the notion and application of Shariah in family law and court law. Religion has many dimensions. Taking a religion into public sphere , especially in the area of economy, seemingly more acceptable and might be promising for the next generation in the mid of fear of taking religion into political and public administration arena.
*)A Paper submitted for the international conference “The Resurqence of Religions in Southeast Asia: 1997-2011”, ICRS, Yogyakarta, January 7, 2011.
Jose Casanova, Public Religions in the Modern World, Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, l994, p. 64-66; George Moyser, “Religion and Politics” , John R. Hinnells (Ed.), The Routledge Companion to The Study of Religion, New York, Routledge, 2005, p. 423; Martin Riesebrodt and Mary Ellen Konieczny, “Sociology of Religion”, ibid. p. 136-140.
The IMF published an article in 2008 which estimated that there are now more than 300 Islamic financial institutions operating in more than 75 countries at the end of 2007. See Abid Shakeel, “What is Islamic Finance”, http://www.mcb.org.uk/upload/what is Islamic Finance. pdf. Accessed 31 December 2010. Many books and articles have been published since three decades ago. See, as an example, Misbah Oreibi (Ed.), Contribution of Islamic Thought to Modern Economics, Virginia, International Institute of Islamic Thought, l998; Zami Iqbal & Abbas Mirakhor, An Introduction to Islamic Finance; Theory and Practice, Singapore, John Wiley & Sons (Asia) Pre Ltd, 2007.
These voices, and there are still many others, can be heard from Kamran Mofid in his work Promoting the Common Good: Bringing Economics & Theology Together Again, London, Shepheard-Wawyn (publishers) Ltd, 2005.
M. Umer Chapra, “Islamic Economics: What it is and How it Developed”. http://eh.net/encyclopaedia/article/chapra.islamic, Accessed , Friday, 31 December 2010. Ibn Taimiyyah emphasized that “justice towards everything and everyone is an imperative for everyone, and injustice is prohibited to everything and everyone. Injustice is absolutely not permissible irrespective of whether it is to a Muslim or a non-Muslim or even to an unjust person” (l961-63, Vol. 18, p. 166).
Ibid . The italic is mine.
Quoted from Marcus Braybrooke & Kamran Mofid , Promoting The Common Good: Bringing Economics & Theology Together Again, A Theologian and an Economist in Dialogue, London, Shepheard-Walwyn (Publisher) Ltd, 2005, p. 83-4. The italic is mine.
Michael Hoelzl and Graham Ward (Ed.), Religion and Political Thought, London, The Continuum International Publishing Group. 2006, p. 220.
M. Umer Chapra, “Islamic Economics: What It Is and How It Developed”, Op. cit.
Rodney Wilson, “Islamic Economics and Finance”, World Economics, Vol. 9.No. 1, January-March 2008, p.192.