Contribution of Muslim Scholars to Development of Economics as a Science

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Contribution of Muslim Scholars to the Development
Of Economics as a Science

By Talha Waqar

Generally, Western historians of ideas trace the beginnings of intellectual history from the Greco-Roman period, which ended around 300 BC, and then focus on the Renaissance (13th-16th century AD). The history of scientific, social and cultural thought during the period 300 BC to 12th century AD is either glossed over or ignored altogether. This presumed gap in the history of ideas is called "History's Black Hole", also sometimes referred to as the Great Gap". It is argued that the "the Arabic, Turkish and Persian-speaking East has no continuity of economic ideas such as those which come from the Judeo-Christian West". It is further postulated that the Renaissance somehow arose like "a phoenix" from the "ashes" which had been smoldering for a millennium since the end of the classical Greco-Roman period.

A cursory look at the seminal contributions made by early Muslim thinkers and scholars makes it abundantly clear that no such gap ever existed. In fact one notices a remarkable continuity in the history of ideas between the classical period, the Islamic era and the Renaissance. During the Middle Ages, when Islamic civilization was at the zenith of its intellectual and cultural development, Muslim scholars not only carried forward the legacy of the ancients but also made highly original contributions to various areas of learning and scholarship, including philosophy, medicine, astronomy, history, mathematics, chemistry, logic, and the social sciences. Bernard Lewis, a virulent critic of Islam, recognizes that Islamic civilization during the medieval period had attained the highest level of excellence and accomplishment in the sciences and arts while medieval Europe was surrounded by ignorance, superstition and cultural backwardness. The basic sources of Islamic economics are the Quran and Sunnah which contain a number of economic teachings and rules. The Qur’an gave clear economic teachings regarding trade, riba (usury/interest), zakah, inheritance, lending and borrowing, moderate spending, financial penalties, etc. The Sunnah or the tradition of the Prophet provided detailed code of conduct about these teachings and added some others. In matters where the Qur'an and the Sunnah are silent, use of reasoning power (ijtihad) has been appreciated by the Prophet. Thus, ijtihad or creative thinking and analogical reasoning based on principles derived from the primary sources of Islam has also been an important source in Islamic economics. In post revelation period, Muslim scholars offered economic solutions in new situations through ijtihad. Muslim scholars benefited from the Greek translations, at the least the groups of mutakallimun and hukama. But before they got these translations during third century Hijrah and subsequent period, they had already developed a host of economic ideas and policy concerns. The union of these two elements provided impetus to this branch of knowledge. They not only improved and developed Hellenic thought, they introduced new concepts as well.

An attempt will be made to trace the evolution of economic concepts in Islamic tradition. This means that concepts will be given greater importance than any particular contributor or scholar. This IS necessary to show the continuity in economic thought, though it may involve, to some extent, repetition of personalities, as few writers developed only one specific doctrine while the majority presented their views on many issues within the sphere of political economy.

Elements of Value Theory and Muslim Scholars

There had been understanding, throughout the period, of value determination by demand and supply. Although the writers on the subject did not clearly mention whether a value, such determined, would be representing the natural value of the commodity or simply a temporary market price, one can easily infer the objective from their respective...
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