Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Our greed for this world

There is no doubt that all human beings have the potential to be greedy. When someone follows his/her desires without any other consideration, there is a big chance that they develop their “greed” potential to blossom. Unfortunately, the “coca cola civilization” we currently live in is based on the fulfillment of satisfying desires. Among the products of the civilization, seeking for riches and financial security has become a way of life.

Of course we were MADE to think that riches and financial security can bring us joy, happiness and comfort. This view is only partially true, as it only gives temporary happiness. To maintain this false happiness, one will want to gain more and more, even when he/she doesn’t need it, in order to fulfill lust and desire.

Many will disagree that these so called “rich” people are greedy and they have worked hard for their success. But the facts suggest otherwise. Look at the newest list of the “Top 10 Richest People of the World” from Forbes magazine. In that list, we will find that four people in that list are Indians, the rest are a mix of countries from four different continents.

What’s shocking is that despite contributing up to four people to the list, in India, 45% are living in poverty (according to World Bank’s definition of poverty=people living with less than 2 USD per day). This is a sad fact, because each of these “rich” people have a net fortune of more than 20 billion USD, which is almost enough to feed all the poor people in the world (3 billion people), for one day at least. And with their running businesses, it wouldn’t be hard for them to regain the fortune they have in no time. However, their greed has forbid them from spending most of what they have in charity.

Islam emphasizes that this current life of ours is only temporary, and everything that we own (including our wealth) is only trusted to us from God for the benefit of others. What we truly own is what we give for the benefit of others. Nevertheless, there have and always will be people who are greedy for life. Ones whose hearts are so attached to this world, that it makes them ignorant towards all the suffering around them. The Qur'an describes this situation in Al Baqarah verse 96:

The approximate meaning is:
“And thou wilt find them greediest of mankind for life and (greedier) than the idolaters. (Each) one of them would like to be allowed to live for a thousand years. And to live (a thousand years) would by no means remove him from the doom. Allah is Seer of what they do.”

The verse talks about a group of Jews at the time of the Prophet (saw). They enjoyed life so much that they became greedy and wanted to live for 1000 years to be able to enjoy the wealth, power, and everything that can fulfill their desires. However, as stated before, this life is but temporary, and everyone is destined to die and be taken account for what he/she did in life, good or bad. And at that time, whosoever did bad will taste the payment (doom) for what he did.

Greed is one of the major obstacles to eradicate poverty. If everyone had the consciousness to give in the sake of caring for other people rather than buying something that he/she doesn’t really need, poverty wouldn’t even exist. Islam offers the path towards this. Too bad not even the best Muslims (which are quite a few nowadays) can totally get rid of their desire/greed for this world. May we all be given the power to detach our extensive love towards our wealth and desires.

Keywords: Al Baqarah, 96, wealth, poverty, fortune, richness, world

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Banking interests = rejecting blessing

Bank interest is one of the major features of conventional banking. Be it an investor, a loaner, or a depositor, everyone will receive or pay interest. In the case of deposits, one will receive an added amount of money without any effort. And in the case of borrowing, one must pay a certain amount, surplus to what he/she has borrowed.

People borrow money from modern banks for many purposes, from starting a business to buying a house. Even third world countries borrow from banks/or institutions such as the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In many cases, the borrowers spend most of their lifetime and efforts to pay off the interest rather than paying the real loan.

Islam clearly prohibits interests in any form. Interest or riba or usury is said to bring more corruption than goodness, Islam prefers charity and fair trade, as mentioned in the Quran, surah Al Baqarah verse 276:

Which has approximate meaning:
“Allah will deprive usury of all blessing, but will give increase for deeds of charity: For He loveth not creatures ungrateful and wicked.”

Interests in Islam are viewed to be wicked and cruel. It also erases the blessings that our riches bring to us. Everything we buy which includes the usage of that interest is also deprived of His blessings. Charity and lending money out of good intention is valued as a much better option in Islam.

Unfortunately, even in majorly populated Muslim countries, the so called modern banking system that promotes interest (riba/usury) is still very much dominant. The top banks in Arab are dominated by semi conventional banks such as the National Commercial Bank and Al Rajhi. In Indonesia, the top banks are conventional banks such as Mandiri and Central Bank of Asia (BCA). Nowadays, there are even some banks who claim to take no interest (following the Islamic way), yet only change “interest” into something less intimidating for Muslims such as “benefit”. There is a glimpse of hope though, as there are several Shariah banks (Banks based on Islamic law) which are steadily growing, such as Shariah Mandiri in Indonesia.

I am no economy expert and am unable to dive deeper into the technical differences of conventional and Islamic banking. But the use of no interest is beginning to be partially implemented in several countries such as Japan. In Japan, deposits are not given any interest (0 interest rate), even though loans are still subjected to interest.

The persistency of using the services of these conventional banks might be one of the causes why these Muslim populated countries are in such a bad mess. When the guidance from the Quran and Hadeeth are neglected, Muslims should beware and introspect on all the misery that is given upon them.

May we all be people who have the heart to give in charity and kindness.

Keywords: interest, banking, bank, Islam, Shariah, riba, usury, al baqarah, 276

Monday, October 6, 2008

People Who Challenge and Change Nature

Humans are given free will by God. Choices are ours to take.
This is also true in regard to our attitude towards nature. We have the choice to tamper with nature and adjust it according to our will, and destroying it through our greed or we can cherish it and wisely benefit from it. It seems that our civilization is opting for the first option, which I don’t think is a very wise choice.

We change things in nature to what we think is best for us with our limited knowledge. We tamper with genetic attributes of organisms for our economical benefit, not knowing what the consequences are. We change our appearances through plastic surgery to be more attractive to others (did you know that there were 11.7 million cosmetic procedures in the US in 2006?). We create artificial rain to fill up dams not knowing what effect it may have on global climate. We kill animals that seem dangerous and not beneficial with little or no knowledge about them.

Humans have a tendency to want to take control of everything which is of interest. Unfortunately, we severely lack the knowledge we need to be able to tamper with the ways of nature. Muslims are ordered to think about Allah’s creation, but for goal of understanding it, and realize the Creator’s greatness. However, muslims are ordered to be very careful in utilizing the creations (nature). In fact, the Quran has warned the danger of following the people that change nature. As said in Al Maidah verse 119,

The approximate meaning (Picktall’s translation):

"And surely I will lead them astray, and surely I will arouse desires in them, and surely I will command them and they will cut the cattle's ears, and surely I will command them and they will change Allah's creation. Whoso chooses Satan for a patron instead of Allah is verily a loser and his loss is manifest.”

The verse talks about the disbelievers, which take Satan as their helper. They also walk the path that Satan has built to misguide humanity, giving them false hopes and delusions of grandeur. Allah is the One Who permits this to happen, and verily it is He who knows best. One of their main characteristics is that they will change the nature of Allah’s creation to what they think is better.

Every creation has its purpose, no matter how bad or ugly it may seem for us. Take cockroaches for example. It might be a bit difficult to find anything positive related to this insect. We always relate it to trash, disgusting, and other filthy words. However, cockroaches can serve as bio-control agents in agriculture, to control lepidopteron pests such as moths and butterflies. The ugliest person in our eyes might be the kindest of all, which is what really counts. We should never judge Allah’s creations to be good or bad using our simple and incapable minds, more else change them into what we think is better.

May we all be protected from false hopes and dreams, and be among the righteous.

Keywords: genetic modification, an nisa, 119, greed, Satan, Nature, Choices