The Economic Implications of Sufism

Looking at sufism from an economic perspective, the problem, it seems, is that if the sufis reject the accustomed lifestyle and apply austerity to their own model of consumption and earning, as individuals, this will not raise an economic concern at the macro level. But when the call for the return to asceticism is publicly declared as the ideal way in which God ought to be served, and to which all pious Muslims should adhere, sufism is bound to raise a few concerns from the economic point of view. This can be highlighted as follows:

First, while austerity is advocated, and sometimes advised, as an economic policy in the case of inflationary economy it is not recommended in the case of deflationary economy. Austerity helps curb the demand-pull forces in an inflationary economy that is caused by the effect of the increase in aggregate demand for the goods and services available. Nevertheless, when the economy is in a state of deflation, as a result of not having sufficient demand for the supply of goods and services available, the deflationary effect, other things being held constant, is expected to be worsened in a sufì economy. By contrast, as a means of creating, or increasing, aggregate demand, governments, more often than not, pursue a policy, or policies, that activate demand including the direct injection of voucher money that is aimed particularly at increasing consumption, not saving.

Second, with limiting the aggregate demand for goods and services, sales will decrease, leading to decreasing entrepreneurial profits and/or generating losses. If that persists, enterprises will be forced out of business as a result of not being able to cover their costs and of the rate of return on capital being less than the cost of capital. This leads to loss of production. Production, after a period of piling up, will decrease as a result of decreasing sale, and total production in the economy will decrease as a result of both the productive enterprises being forced out of the market and the surviving enterprises decreasing their production. The aggregate supply of goods and services will, therefore, decrease. Prices may come down as a result of the decrease in both aggregate demand and aggregate supply, but that would be a case of low prices in an economy of poverty.

Third, if the society is limiting its earning capacity to the level that is merely sufficient to keep soul and body together, as most sufis advocate, the level of production will be lowered further, leaving very little room for economic development, let alone growth.

Fourth, with very little revenue, if at all, to the Treasury, as a result of the Zakah base being almost non-existent, the Islamic state will not have sufficient funds to spend on education, health and other public services and infrastructure that are deemed necessary to the survival of society. Defense will be almost non-existent, as a result of a zero, or meager, defense budget; which will make the Islamic state vulnerable to any take over attempt by neighboring non-Islamic, or non-sufi Islamic, states.

Fifth, even from a religious point of view, not having enough to spend on one’s food and basic needs would make one vulnerable to illness and weakness that may prevent one from exercising the love of worshiping God fully. Sixth, in brief, sufism cannot stand on its own as an economic model. If sufism is advocated as an esoteric way of life, it is only suitable as a sect within other sects of a more worldly outlook to life so as the rest of society can provide for the needs of society, including those of the sufìs. It is not surprising therefore to find someone like al-Shaibànì (750–804), as we saw earlier, criticizing the sufis’ views on consumption and earnings.

Source: Ahmed El-Ashker and Rodney Wilson, Islamic Econmics – A Short History, pp. 213-214.

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Madina365 is online magazine which mission is promotion of Islamic history and forgotten Islamic tradition such as liberty, freedom of thought and free market society.

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