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History of Political Economy 32.3 (2000) 699-701

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Book Review

Studies in Islamic Science and Polity

Studies in Islamic Science and Polity. By Masudul Alam Choudhury. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998. xxii; 210 pp. $69.95.

While this book is dedicated to “all those who have surrendered their lives in the cause of Islam,” it is intended to have a broader appeal. Critical of the ultra-individualism and excessive materialism of neoclassical economics, Choudhury [End Page 699] argues for the endogenization of moral-ethical values in contemporary capitalistic socioeconomic systems. But unlike other authors who have made similar appeals, Choudhury, trained in Western economics but with roots in the Islamic world, attempts to conceptualize and set forth Islamic socioeconomic thought, which is derived from the Qura’anic rules of behavior; and here those values are said to be endogenous.

After pointing out the limits of both the early rationalist Islamic philosophers and the contemporary adherents of the secular Western model, the author presents the Islamic view of knowledge, in which reason and revelation both matter—the former as the source of knowledge that enables comprehension of nature and pursuit of secular motives, the latter as the source of absolute, epistemologically centered values that enable the reconciliation of individual preferences with social priorities. The issues are reminiscent of medieval Scholasticism, which was dominated by attempts to harmonize the sacred with the secular and faith with reason. With the absorption of knowledge from medieval Islam and the Greek legacy, eventually reason prevailed, and the “duality between the moral and material essences of an otherwise unified reality was thus rendered complete in the Western world” (119). Thus, what has emerged is the sole primacy of the market based on its ethically neutral consequentialism, and the resultant sole primacy of individuated consumer preferences instrumental in molding the entire system of consumption-production-distributional activities. In this scheme, consumer preferences are simply exogenous. Further, motivated by materialist self-interest, value-neutral markets may ensure allocational efficiency, but distributive justice becomes difficult, unless moral-ethical values become endogenous, and that is possible only in a unified Islamic framework in which revelation is the key source of knowledge. Thus, the author argues, as did the early medieval Islamic sage, Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali (1058–1111), and the most influential Latin Scholastic, St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274), for the “primacy of divine space, from which reason emerges harmoniously as a cognitive realization.” In the author’s “unified reality” model, the “logical emergence of the primacy of divine space” uniquely emanates from the Qura’an (55).

In chapter l, Choudhury develops the Islamic knowledge-based model, inclusive of reason-revelation parameters. This is contrasted with the speculative/perceptual concepts of the “reason-materialist” Western models. Chapter 2 further contrasts the Islamic model with the mainstream strands of Western political economy, which, the author argues, lacks epistemological roots. In chapter 3, the Islamic worldview is applied to the important analytical area of social choice formation; and in light of this model, a social welfare function is developed and the foundation of welfare economics is presented. Chapter 4 attempts to provide a logical foundation to the philosophy of science from the Islamic perspective, with extensions into the realm of the natural sciences. In chapter 5, the Islamic knowledge-based model is applied to Islamic political economy, defined as “the study of interactive relationships between polity (shura, or consultative body) and the ecological order (market subsystem).” Thus, while markets are essential and respected, they must be “morally ordered,” [End Page 700] for which the source is God-centered revelation. Chapter 6 further disputes the applicability of neoclassicism to Islamic socio-scientific behavior. As a case study, the author is critical of the market-capitalism/privatization approach in the transformation of the Islamic central Asian republics of the former Soviet Union. Chapter 7 applies the Islamic model to Malaysian development, where the process of socioeconomic transformation has particularly aimed at a poverty-focused efficiency-equity mix. Chapter 8 discusses the role of money in Islamic political economy and argues for...


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