COMMENTARY: Addressing challenges posed by the Abu Sayyaf Group (9): Islamic Framework for Development

Ninth of 10 parts
28 May 2017

In undertaking any development interventions in the areas impacted by the Abu Sayyaf and its affiliated groups, the writer suggests that consideration be given to formulating these interventions within a faith-based framework.  Given the nature of the Islamic faith and the manner in which it permeates all aspects of life of its adherents, it is believed that this approach will endow greater significance and meaning to the interventions being proposed.

The writer is neither a Muslim nor do I have any pretensions to being a scholar of Islam, but I have learned a bit about the Islamic faith from my “brothers” and the people I have dealt with over the  years to have developed a deep respect for Islam.

 
The first thing that impresses one about the Islamic faith is how the faith impacts every aspect of the faithful Muslim’s life.  True, in any religion this is supposed to be the case, but one sees it most clearly in the lives of Muslims.  I have noted, for example, among my “brothers” the recitation of a silent prayer, “Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem” (In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful), before stepping out of the house in the morning or before any other significant actions during the day, aside from the mandatory prayers throughout the day (Salat).  As Askari et al. expressed it,

“There is a command from the Prophet that every activity must begin in the name of Allah, lest it remain incomplete.  Profound in its simplicity, this rule is a mechanism of transforming to sacred, as if through an alchemical process, even the most apparently trival and mundane action.”  (Hossein Askari, Zamir Iqbal, Nourredine Krichene, Abbas Mirakhor, “Understanding Development in an Islamic Framework”, Islamic Economic Studies, Vol. 22 No. 1, May 2014.)

Because of this writer’s business and development background, one of the aspects of the Islamic faith that I find most impressive is its economic, finance and development philosophy.  Again, reminding the reader that the writer is no “expert” on the subject, following are some aspects of this philosophy which are building blocks of the Islamic framework on development:

  1. The Oneness of the Creator and of all creation. It is from the Creator that all resources and goodness flows.
  2. The dignity of man, “the crowning achievement of the creation, for whose individual and collective development everything else has been created”. (Askari, Iqbal, Krichene and Mirakhor.)
  3. Man as agent-trustee, Khalifa, vicegerent of the Creator, Allah, on earth, given the responsibility to steward the resources on earth for the betterment of all mankind and the glory of the Creator.
  4. Social justice, as the objective of development under Islam, ensuring that all persons are given the opportunity to achieve the fullness of their capabilities.
  5. To achieve this, Islam has instituted redistributive mechanisms such as the Zakat, the Sadaqah, and the Waqf, so that those who have more than they need share with those who are unable to meet their basic needs, to enable the latter to grow with dignity and develop the gifts that the Creator has endowed them with.

On this latter point, Askari et al. have this explanation:

“The Prophet is constantly reminded in the Qur’an that the crucial aspect of his own mission, and that of the prophets before him, is to establish justice….this means creating a balanced society that avoids extremes of wealth and poverty, a society in which all understand that wealth is a blessing afforded by the Creator for the sole purpose of providing support for the life of all members of society….Islam ordains that what is left after one has reached a modest living standard must be returned to the less able members of society as an act of redeeming their rights….while Islam ordains hard work, the development of the earth and natural resources provided by the Creator, and the use of proceeds for the satisfaction of the needs of all humans, it prohibits the concentration of output in the hands of a few”.  (Askari, Iqbal, Krichene and Mirakhor.)

These are but a few of the elements of an Islamic framework for development.  They would appear to build a system that addresses many of the ills of today’s economic systems, particularly the ever-present (and widening) gap between the very few wealthy families and the growing masses of the poor, a gap which appears to be impossible to bridge given conventional economic prescriptions.  The World Bank and the Islamic Development Bank have noted that the richest 10 per cent of the world’s population holds 86 per cent of the world’s wealth while just 1 per cent of the world’s population owns close to 50 per cent of the world’s wealth.  (World Bank Group and Islamic Development Bank, “The Islamic Perspective on Development and Shared Prosperity”, IslamicFinance.com, February 26, 2017, http://www.islamicfinance.com/2017/02/islamic-perspective-development-shared-prosperity/.)

Tawheed, Khalifa, Amanah

The writer is involved with a group that is helping an MNLF community in the Zamboanga Peninsula undertake development projects in its area.  One of the first steps taken was to design an orientation program for the community which would adopt an Islamic framework within which to appreciate the development interventions being planned.  Prior to the initiation of various livelihood projects, community leaders underwent a seminar which focused on a review of key Islamic principles and their linkage with development activities.  These principles consist of:

  1. Tawheed – the Oneness of Allah and the recognition that everything in the universe flows from Allah;
  2. Khalifa – Man as the Vicegerent of Allah in this world and the Steward of all resources found herein;
  3. Amanah – the Trust bestowed by Allah on man as Vicegerent in this world and the responsibilities that emanate from this Trust;
  4. Islamic principles of leadership and how these would apply to running a development or livelihood project;
  5. Accountability of each and every person first to Allah and second to his fellow-man for all tasks he/she is responsible for.

After undergoing what was called a Foundational Seminar, the community leaders would then re-echo the principles to the community as a whole so that everyone would approach the development programs from a common perspective.  This framework seeks to instill in the community an appreciation of the deeper implications of development interventions and remind community members of the responsibility that each and everyone has in undertaking their tasks and ensuring that the program succeeds and achieves its objectives.

Yusuf Morales provides another framework for development.  Morales essentially uses a matrix which considers, first, the Maqasid al-Shariah or the Objectives of the Shariah and secondly the Hukm Shar’I or the Rules of Divine Law.

The Maqasid al-Shariah are essentially five – the preservation, protection and promotion of:

  1. Faith or religion – since after all, our life on this earthly plane is but a journey to our final destination, the afterlife, and our faith is what will guide us there.
  2. Life – it is through our life on earth that we are able to do good for our fellow-man and give glory and thanks to the Creator. This applies as well to all things that protect and promote our health such as a healthy environment.
  3. Intellect or mind – it is by developing our mind that we are able to develop our full capabilities as human beings.
  4. Progeny or offspring – after all we have brought them into this world and it is our responsibility to ensure their growth, welfare and development.
  5. Property and wealth – needless to say, to be able to live a decent life one needs resources to support both oneself and one’s family.

The Hukm Shar’I or the Rules of Divine Law are likewise five.  What is:

  1. Wajib – mandatory, undertaking such an action will be rewarded, failing to do so or violating the rule will result in punishment.
  2. Sunnah – recommendatory, undertaking the action will be rewarded, failing to do so will not however merit punishment.
  3. Haraam — prohibited, undertaking the action will be punished, avoiding it will be rewarded.
  4. Makruh –– detested but not forbidden, undertaking the action is not punished but avoiding it is praised.
  5. Jaiz or Mubah – neutral, neither reward nor punishment accrues to the person who undertakes this action. (See Yusuf Morales, “A Community Development Paradigm Looking from a Shariah Maqasid Framework and the Millenium Development Goals”, https://papers.ssrn.com/so13/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2686034.)

Morales’ framework is useful in many ways in development work.  Given a choice of programs or projects, for example, one can prioritize in terms of the Maqasid al-Shariah, viewing the objectives that a particular program/project promotes.  For example, livelihood projects as a general rule would promote one’s wealth, enabling one to live a better life and provide for one’s children.  But between a livelihood project which would have detrimental effects on the environment (for example, mining) and one which would be neutral or even enhance the environment (for example, reforestation), it would be clear that the latter would be the better choice despite the fact that the former may produce a higher revenue flow in the short term.

Furthermore, the Hukm Shar’I enables one to analyze the contents of a particular program.  A livelihood project could have certain elements that are haraam, such as the production of tuba or an alcoholic drink from a coconut production project, versus the production of virgin coconut oil or other products from the so-called “Tree of Life”.

An interesting project undertaken some ten years ago, implemented through the assistance of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), was the Philippine Environmental Governance Project (EcoGov) which focused on Islamic principles on environmental preservation and protection.  The project was implemented in 130 local government units in Western Mindanao with the objective of helping these LGUs incorporate forest and forestland management, coastal resource management and urban environmental management into their ecological governance programs.  The project was structured within an Islamic framework based on the Qur’an, the Sunnah and Hadith.  A major output of the project was the production of a handbook entitled “Al Khalifa (The Steward):  What Every Muslim Needs to Know about His Role in Environmental Governance”.  The handbook laid out the principles of Khalifa or “Man as God’s steward and trustee on earth”, Tawheed or “the Concept of Oneness in Islam”, and Akhira or “the Concept of Accountability”, and discussed how these all applied in promoting environmental governance among Muslims.  (A copy of the handbook can be found at pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/pnadl915.doc or could be googled at EcoGov Al-Khalifa.)

Consideration should be given to adopting a faith-based approach to any development or livelihood/poverty-alleviation programs/projects which would be undertaken.  This approach  could be discussed with village elders and religious leaders to determine if they would agree that it would be useful to adopt and would instill a greater sense of meaning for and responsibility in program/project participants.  Moreover, they could design their own framework appropriate to the circumstances obtaining in their particular areas and the types of programs being introduced, under the guidance of their religious leaders.

LAST PART TOMORROW: The Role of Religious Leaders

[Vic M. Taylor, originally from Cebu, has been involved in various peace and development activities in Mindanao, particularly in Basilan-Sulu-Tawi-Tawi (BaSulTa) in the different positions he has held in government and the private sector over the last 50 years.
He started as an instructor at the Notre Dame of Jolo College after his graduation from the Ateneo de Manila University in the late 1960s.  Subsequently, he oversaw the Rehabilitation and Development Program for Muslim Mindanao during the early years of martial law under the Office of the President.
Within the last 16 years and upon the request of the families of some kidnap victims, Mr. Taylor assisted these families to help secure the safe release of five victims from the ASG.
Recently, he has been working with a private group that is assisting a community of the Moro National Liberation Front in the Zamboanga peninsula in bringing development projects to their area.
This series is a revised version of a paper written by the author for the Mackenzie Institute, a Canadian security think tank, in light of the execution of two Canadian hostages by the Abu Sayyaf last year]

 

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