The Quran on those who Exploit

May 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

“WOE UNTO THOSE who give short measure: those who, when they are to receive their due from [other] people, demand that it be given in full – but when they have to measure or weigh whatever they owe to others, give less than what is due! Do they not know that they are bound to be raised from the dead [and called to account] on an awesome Day – the Day when all men shall stand before the Sustainer of all the worlds? “(Quran 83: 1-6)

I have been thinking a lot about these verses, and wondering about production around the world. There is an expectation that when we buy commodities in North America, we pay the full price – no bargaining, no compromise. Companies make billions off of this. But how do they reward those who make their goods? They pay them meager wages, barely enough to live on. They often don’t even pay their North American workers enough or give them benefits (think Walmart). During the market crisis, heads of corporations paid themselves millions in bonuses, while the common citizen paid the price of their company bailouts.   God in the Quran addresses these sorts of people by the use of the word ‘wail’ ( وَيْلٌ), the definition meaning ‘woe unto you’ or ‘destruction, ruin, or doom unto you’ and they are later in the same chapter promised Hellfire. Exploitation, even on a small scale, is a very serious offense in the Quran. Are we a part of this? Do we even care?

I remember a few years ago MSA National was giving a scholarship to Muslim students from Chevron-Texaco. I wrote them a long letter explaining that it makes no sense for those who believe in Islam and its truth to accept money from a company that has raped (I didn’t use that word exactly) parts of Nigeria (along with other places in the world, but I used Nigeria as an example) and has put almost nothing back. How can we as Muslims be a part of that? The outer forms of worship (prayer, fasting, etc.) mean nothing when we’re accepting money stained with the blood of those who were exploited for oil.

I never received a response. This may be overly cynical to say, but I don’t think many Muslims care about exploitation as long as they don’t see it, don’t hear it, and don’t think about it. Looking Muslim and acting Muslim as well at following religious ritual is enough. This example was of a group simply accepting money from a major oil company, but many are directly involved in these dealings. Even on a small scale, cheating on business deals is a norm among many I’ve observed.

God curses those who exploit others, and those who are unfair in their business transactions. Ritual is not enough, if we do not make sure our actions are fair and just, we’ll be answerable to Him for what we’ve done to others.

Islamic Relief: An Islamic Perspective on Fair Trade

April 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

The international relief and development organization Islamic Relief has published an in-depth analysis on fair trade according to Islamic principles:

An Islamic Perspective on Fair Trade

The growth of international trade has brought about significant economic benefits and prosperity to many. However, small-scale producers in many poor countries, particularly those whose livelihoods depend upon the farming of a single crop, are unable to compete in a world market controlled by large multinational companies and distorted by the subsidies provided by rich countries to their producers. As a consequence, farmers in poor countries have few options for generating an income and many live in poverty often unable to meet even their most basic needs. Fair trade is a response to these conditions.

European and North American Fairtrade labelling bodies, non-governmental organisations and various faith-based organisations have all been instrumental in promoting fair trade. Indeed, for ethical and moral reasons, many Christian faith-based organisations have adopted a clear and unequivocal position in support of fair trade. Is an Islamic perspective on fair trade also supportive? Do Islamic principles and teachings encourage Muslim organisations to be equally active? And does an Islamic perspective provide additional insights? In order to address these questions, this paper presents an Islamic perspective on fair trade. It does this by outlining the key principles upon which fair trade is based, such as sustainability, fairness, equity, and workers rights, and examines relevant Islamic teachings.

This investigation finds that the principles of Islam are not silent on issues of fair trade and trade justice. Indeed, there is a rich heritage in Islam of high moral standards, ethics, values and norms of behaviour, which govern personal, professional and business life. In the area of business and commerce Islam obliges buyers, sellers and consumers to act honestly, fairly and with integrity in their daily business practices – for business is not something that can be treated separately from all other aspects of social life. Islam also obliges workers to be treated fairly, and with dignity and respect. Since the fair trade movement is primarily concerned with fairness, equity and justice, it seems that the principles of fair trade and the teachings of Islam are entirely congruent. With references from the Qur’an and ahadith this analysis demonstrates that, from an Islamic perspective, there are indeed strong and clear faith-based reasons for supporting fair trade initiatives. Through supporting fair trade, Muslims can ensure that producers receive a fair price that guarantees a living income and decent working conditions with longer-term contracts that provide greater security and ensure more sustainable development.

Read full article: http://www.islamic-relief.com/InDepth/downloads/Islam_and_Fairtrade.pdf

Adbusters: “Ramadan Xmas”

December 25, 2010 § Leave a comment

“Ramadan Xmas”
By Sarah Nardi

Source: Adbusters Magazine
http://www.adbusters.org/magazine/87/ramadan-xmas.html

Most of us, whether we’ve experienced it directly or not, are familiar with the idea of a comedown. A comedown is what happens when a drug, usually a stimulant, begins the long, painful process of withdrawing from your system. As the euphoria of the high begins to wane and the anxiety washes in, you suddenly start to feel dizzy and disoriented. The drug, previously situated between you and reality, is wearing off and, as it goes, you’re left to navigate the void created by its absence. That means going through the process of reconnecting to yourself, to your body’s natural rhythms and your mind’s natural pace. And when it’s finally over, you’re left feeling listless, lifeless and blank … the soaring high replaced by a crushing melancholy.

That’s how I feel every year after Christmas.

Once the cheer I’ve been mainlining since the day after Thanksgiving dries up, I’m left with an emptiness I can’t quite describe. There’s nothing like the sight of Christmas decorations after the holiday has passed. Walking into a room strewn with yuletide detritus is like returning to the scene of Bacchanalian excess the morning after, when all you’re left with is a headache and a vague sense of shame. The thought of candy, cookies, credit cards – consumption in any form – invites feelings of guilt and disgust. I can’t wait to eat a salad, go to the gym. I vow never to go to the mall again. I just want to get clean. Coming down from Christmas – reconnecting to my body’s natural rhythms and my mind’s natural pace – takes days.

I doubt I’m alone. Most people seem a bit pallid and disconnected, not quite themselves, in the days following Christmas. It’s as if we’re all trying to traverse the void that the holiday, with its attendant excess, has left in its wake. But what if we were to introduce some elements of Ramadan into our celebration of Christmas? Muslims, during the month-long observance of the Islamic holiday, abstain from eating, drinking and sex during the daylight hours. The practice of fasting is meant to teach patience, humility and restraint. It is meant to inspire empathy and appreciation. It’s a way to achieve “God-consciousness” and repent for past sins and misdeeds. Above all, fasting is meant to bring one closer to one’s spiritual self. By denying the body, practitioners are strengthening the soul and the mind. It is an exercise in discipline and meditation that, once completed, should leave one feeling more connected, more whole.

Westerners have a long tradition of borrowing from other cultures to temper an immoderate nature. Yoga brings us calm, Tao brings us balance – so why not look to Islam for a bit of restraint? Maybe we can begin this year at the height, rather than the depths, of self.

Muslims in Fair Trade, Eco-Friendly Fashion

September 27, 2010 § Leave a comment

“Organic and Islamic” – Muslims Showcase Ethical and Fair-Trade Fashion
By Arwa Aburawa

Source: Green Prophet

Islam, fair-trade is more than just a fashion statement, it’s a deeply-ingrained value

Many people wouldn’t normally associate Islam with fair-trade and ethical fashion but that is all set to change as a growing number of Muslim companies rediscover Islam’s fair-trade message. Whilst fair-trade fashion would generally conjure up images of well-dressed hippies, there is a new generation of Muslims who are placing ethical concerns at the heart of their work and wardrobe. Not only does this indicate rising green and ethical awareness in Muslim businesses, it also means there is a growing demand from normal Muslims for environmentally-friendly options. I spoke to some of the people behind these unique companies from across the UK, Canada and the Middle East to find out more.

Muslims go Organic with T-shirts and Hijabs

Urban Ummah is a UK-based clothing line that sells fair-trade, ethically produced and environmentally-friendly printed t-shirts with catchy Muslim slogans. One t-shirt which caught my eye was the ‘Yes, I am Organic and Islamic.’ It explains on the website that going organic is not only good for your health but ultimately leads to a better quality of life for you and those growing the crops, who would otherwise suffer from the side effects of harmful pesticides.

“As Muslims, it is our duty to put a stop to this [farmers in third world countries becoming ill due to the use of chemicals in the crops they produce]. If we switch to a few organic products on our shopping lists instead of the usual rubbish we subject our bodies to, perhaps we can make a real difference to someones life. Becoming fairtrade, organic, ethical and environmental, is all expected of a Muslim, so please give a damn!”

But it’s not just t-shirts that Muslim businesses are providing; Artizara sells fair-trade hijabs for eco-conscious Muslimahs, and in Canada Queendom Hijabs offer a full range of eco-hijabs made from certified organic cotton and bamboo.

Organic cotton is particularly eco-friendly as it has minimal impacts on the environment, while bamboo grows at a rapid rate, requires very little pesticide and is 100% biodegradable. Founder of Queendom Hijabs, Abeer Al-Azzawi spoke to Green Prophet about why she decided that all her products would be environmentally-friendly.

“Islam promotes values of caring for nature and God’s creation,” she explained. “So it’s our responsibility to respect nature and do what we can not to damage it. If we have opportunities to contribute positively to environmental issues, we should seize them.”

Green Credentials spread to the Middle East

Aber, who is originally from Iraq, added that she hopes her green credentials will inspire the rest of the Muslim world to be more eco-conscious. In fact, an ethical fashion revolution seems already under way due to SHUKR Clothing, a company which is championing ethical and fair-trade practices in the Middle East.

SHUKR was launched in 2001 by Jaafar Malik and Anas Sillwood, both British citizens who have recently moved to the Middle East. Anas explained that like many other younger Muslims he struggled with the dilemma of trying to dress in ways that were faithful and modest on the one hand and fashionable and modern on the other. “SHUKR was, therefore, launched to meet the need for contemporary, fashionable Islamic clothing,” he explains.

“Interestingly enough, we soon found that members of other faith communities also seemed to have similar dilemmas to a certain extent, and it wasn’t long before we also had loyal Christian and Jewish customers amongst the SHUKR clientele.”

Anas explains that in terms of fair-trade, the majority of SHUKR’s raw materials – especially cotton – are purchased from Syria under fair, fixed prices which support cotton producers.

“Islam’s emphasis on fairness and justice spills over into a concern for fulfilling workers rights, the second main goal of the fair trade movement. The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, famously said that the worker should be paid his wages before his sweat dries…”

“As for environmental sustainability,” continues Anas, “The Qur’an repeatedly informs us that wastefulness is an appalling trait, and traditional Muslims in the Muslim heartlands have internalized this message; they may not have had the exposure to widespread governmental “green” campaigns like we have in the West, but their religion has taught them, for example, not to waste.”

As SHUKR, Queendom Hijabs and Urban Ummah have illustrated, the green and fair-trade message is growing amongst the Muslim population who believe ethical standards are important as they are rooted in Islamic principles. Minimizing waste, protecting the environment and providing fair wages may have only recently become fashionable but they have always formed part of the Islamic ethic of fairness.

http://www.greenprophet.com/2010/08/muslim-ethical-fashion/

Personal Responsibility

September 18, 2010 § Leave a comment

Lately I’ve been thinking about the motivations behind certain actions and their results or potential impact.  Though this may seem like a trivial example, when I recycle small items I wonder if I should even bother when the environment is being severely damaged by large polluters daily; what would my little piece of garbage matter when companies like BP have wreaked havoc on the planet?

The same sort of question could be asked about my desire to make ethical choices when I shop, purchasing fair trade products and trying to avoid sweatshop-made items. What would those small acts amount to in the face of such large corporations like Nike and the Gap who wield considerable power and influence all over the world? My purchasing power seems paltry in comparison – as does my small act of recycling – so why bother?

I have learned that if one wants to change the world, one must change herself first. Not only does it matter for the sake of being consistent and avoiding being hypocritical, but movements are based on collections of individuals who were faced with a decision, and made the change in their own lives.

The greatest motivating factor for me, however, is the knowledge that all I do is witnessed by the Judge of all things. God commands social justice and the care of all He created and I believe Muslims too often separate these ideas from popular understandings of religiosity. Ritual is only a part of being a good believer; care for others, animals, and our earth are also essential factors in what would constitute a good human being and a good Muslim.

I believe that when God commands goodness and forbids evil, social responsibility is a part of His command and we are personally responsible for what is in our power to do, and every action, small or large, counts. Many may simply interpret this as the imperative to care for the poor, but there are so many references in the Quran and Ahadith (sayings of the Prophet) that forbid oppression and describe it, and those who perpetrate it, in the worst of terms. We who live in the wealthy nations are a part of systems that are directly or indirectly oppressing small nations and/or their citizens. Are we not responsible as Muslims to help those being oppressed? And will we not be questioned if we are in fact capable of making change for the better within those systems?

Not only do our actions in working for social justice matter in changing ourselves and our world, in helping us to be better human beings and Muslims, and in helping us to work against oppression, but we are also promised reward by the Most Merciful:

As for anyone – be it man or woman – who does righteous deeds, and is a believer withal – him shall We most certainly cause to live a good life and most certainly shall We grant unto such as these their reward in accordance with the best that they ever did.” (Quran 16:97)

God also motivates us to this good in the Quran by saying:

“Verily, [only] they who stand in reverent awe of their Sustainer, and who believe in their Sus­tainer’s messages, and who do not ascribe divinity to aught but their Sustainer, and who give whatever they [have to] give with their hearts trembling at the thought that unto their Sustainer they must return: it is they who vie with one another in doing good works, and it is they who outrun [all others] in attaining to them! And [withal] We do not burden any human being with more than he is well able to bear: for with Us is a record that speaks the truth [about what men and women do and can do]; and none shall be wronged.” (Quran 23: 57-62)

Tariq Ramadan on Anti-Globalization Activists

September 3, 2010 § Leave a comment

In the article “Globalisation Critics are Naive” Oxford University professor Tariq Ramadan –  a critic of globalization himself – highlights some of the problems within the current movement, discussing the imperialist language of Western activists, their ignorance of other nations and potential partners for the cause  in the Muslim world, and prejudice towards other minorities living in the West who are among those being fought for. Though I do not know enough about the anti-globalization movement in the West to say whether or not I agree with his arguments, I did find the article to be quite interesting. Here are some important points from the piece:

“To such an extent that it is not unusual to meet men and women championing progressive opinions on social, political and economic issues, while their cultural vocabulary still bears the imprint of an old colonial outlook. From forum to forum, one grows accustomed to meeting this new species of activist – a living contradiction of the contemporary left – economically progressive but culturally so imperialist; ready to fight for social justice but at the same time so confident and sometimes arrogant as to assume the right to dictate a universal set of values for everyone.”

-“To advocate another kind of globalisation armed only with Western rationalism against the uniform commodification of the world is not only contradictory, but profound nonsense. “

-“Amid the talk of democracy, social justice, of the struggle against discrimination in employment and housing, of the rejection of racism, of antisemitism and islamophobia, the populations most affected (those living in deprived urban areas, young people of ‘immigrant origin’, Muslims) are virtually absent from the numerous forums where one thinks for them, without them. If they do come along, they are questioned, suspected. ‘What do they want?’ This single question says enough about the contradiction.”

-“Although the impressive size of the protests against the Iraq war must be acknowledged, one has to ask what alternative was really being proposed (beyond saying ‘No to the war’) to counter America’s unilateral stance and its programme of supervised democracy. Absence of awareness about Islam, as much as the fear cultivated and shared at the heart of a caricaturally constructed West, have led those seeking another kind of globalisation to engage in superficial, if not dangerous talk on Islam. Where are the Arab and Muslim alter’-globalisers? How can we reach out to the millions of activists in the Middle East, Africa and Asia who could become the new life blood of the movement? Such is the fear, and so widespread is the suspicion, that it is unimaginable that Muslims, with their convictions and values, might themselves be agents of change.”

-“Blind to the dynamics of social, cultural, economic and political liberation underway across most of the Muslim world (and often expressed within and through Islam) and oblivious to the struggles being fought by European and North American Muslims, the ‘alter’-globalisers continue to cultivate too many prejudices. Convinced that they are progressive, they give themselves the arbitrary right to proclaim the definitively reactionary nature of religions, and if liberation theology has contradicted this conclusion, the possibility that Islam could engender resistance is not even imagined … unless it’s to modernity. In the end, only a handful of ‘Muslims-who-think-like us’ are accepted, while the others are denied the possibility of being genuinely progressive fighters armed with their own set of values: by doing this, the dialogue with Islam is transformed into an interactive monologue which massages ‘our ideological certainties’ just as Huntington wanted to ensure ‘our strategic interests’.”

To read the entire article, please visit:

http://www.qantara.de/webcom/show_article.php/_c-327/_nr-15/_p-1/i.html

Stand Firmly for Justice

August 30, 2010 § Leave a comment

“O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for justice as witnesses to Allah even against yourselves, your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor, for Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest ye swerve, and if ye distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do.” Quran 4:135

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