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.

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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)

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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