Despite a bipartisan agreement yesterday, I think of the debt ceiling debacle like you are trying to keep your cholesterol normal despite daily consumption of Big Macs, fried chicken and ice cream. So when your blood work reveals a cholesterol of, say, 271mg/dl, you somehow snooker your doctor into agreeing that the upper limit of normal cholesterol is 300mg/dl instead of 200mg/dl. Over the next few years the cycle gets repeated, and each time you are able to negotiate a higher upper limit for "normal" cholesterol.
From an Islamic standpoint, the Big Mac in this case is America's penchant with an interest-based financial system. Neither slashing trillions in spending nor creating a Super Congress would prove beneficial. Unless we address the fundamental issue of interest, raising debt ceilings is just like increasing the upper limit of "normal cholesterol": it doesn't make you healthy.
But the true blue capitalists keep hammering the Keynesian economic concepts, arguing that demand alone is not always enough to stimulate full employment. Thus requiring external forces, such as governments, to create jobs and regulate business cycles, even if it means borrowing more money.
The Keynesian fans never give a straight answer to one simple question though: How would we ever pay off the principal and interest on this $14 trillion plus juggernaut?
That's where I think the Islamic teachings have something to offer.
Islam not only endorses private ownership for both men and women -- "And covet not that whereby Allah has made some of you excel others. Men shall have a share of that which they have earned, and women a share of that which they have earned" (4:133) -- but it also declares their properties as sacred, "O, people! Surely your blood, your property and your honor are sacred and inviolable..." (Last sermon of Prophet Muhammad).
Islam disapproves of wealth accumulation in a few hands though by stating, "...it may not circulate only among those of you who are rich" (59:8).
Remember, as of 2007, the top 20 percent of Americans own 93 percent of America's financial wealth, compelling the bottom 80 percent to survive on a high interest (high cholesterol) diet.
And God warns of war if interest is not abolished,: "O ye who believe! fear Allah and relinquish what remains of interest, if you are believers. But if you do it not, then beware of war from Allah and His Messenger" (2:279-80).
I don't find it funny, therefore, when some joke about starting a global war as one of the ways to reduce our national debt.
Like President Obama, Islam expects the wealthy to pay more. While Obama proposed a tax on wealthy American's income, Islam imposed a 2.5 percent contribution (Zakat) only on savings.
This 2.5 percent contribution is imposed on a Muslim's savings and stock-in-trade, payable to the state annually to fund social programs. Zakat is due on gold and silver too. Zakat on savings is not considered a "tax" by Muslims but a mean of purifying one's wealth.
Imagine if you own a business and pay 2.5 percent on your profits or savings annually. Wouldn't it provide incentive for you to work hard, expands operations and employ more people in order to increase your revenue? It's like being on a treadmill with a 2.5 percent incline -- perpetually. Say goodbye to high cholesterol!
Islam encourages circulation of wealth and is tough on hording. "And those who hoard up gold and silver and spend it not in the way of Allah -- give to them the tidings of a painful punishment" (9:34). So if you save a million dollars a year, you either spend it to run the economic engine or keep paying $25,000 annually.
It also, sort of, gives a money back guarantee if we eliminate interest: "Whatever you pay as interest that it may increase the wealth of the people, it does not increase in the sight of Allah; but whatever you give in Zakat seeking the favor of Allah -- it is these who will increase their wealth manifold (30:40)."
If you are murmuring, "go tell your Muslim governments to take their Islam's advice then instead of begging for financial aid from America", I want you to know that I agree with you 100 percent.
If you feel that I am trying to introduce sharia in the U.S., rest assured, I have no such intentions. I cannot help but think like a doctor who loves his country. I know that simply raising the "normal range" of cholesterol without fundamental lifestyle modifications would not decrease a patient's risk of succumbing to massive stroke or a heart attack.
Islam's solution for our financial problems, I believe, can potentially eliminate the risk of our credit ratings suffering a stroke or our financial health succumbing to a heart attack.
As Islam proposes to eliminate debt, rating agencies like Moodies are proposing that United States should altogether eliminate the debt ceiling.
That's like a patient saying, "Doc, I know the risks. Now could you please let me go so I can have my Big Mac, fried chicken and ice cream..."
Faheem Younus is an adjunct faculty member for religion and history at the Community Colleges of Baltimore County and a clinical associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. He can be reached at Faheem.Younus@Ahmadiyya.us
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