My Life in Islamic Economics by Muhammad Nejatullah Siddiqi

I have been involved in Islamic economics most of my life. At school, however, I studied science subjects, but switched to economics, Arabic and English literature for my BA degree at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), which I joined in 1949. The decision was influenced by my reading habit. I was devoted to al-Hilal and al-Balagh magazines, published under the guidance of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (1888–1958), poet, critic, thinker and one of the great leaders of the Independence Movement. I also read al-Tableegh, and was influenced by the Deobandi scholar Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanawi (1863–1943), the author of the famous book on belief and correct conduct (for women), Heavenly Ornaments. And, as most young people of my age and time, I studied the works of Maulana Abul Ala Maududi (1903–1979). Two of Maududi’s works had a deep impact on me: lectures he gave at Nadwatul Ulama, Lucknow, and a scheme he proposed to Aligarh Muslim University, both in the mid-1940s, later published in a collection titled Taleemat. Under the influence of these ulamas – religious scholars – I abandoned science and the engineering career I had planned.What I wanted now was to learn Arabic, gain direct access to Islamic sources, and discover how modern life and Islamic teachings interacted. I stuck to this mission, even though I had to take a number of detours stretching over six years – to Sanwi Darsgah e Jamaat e Islami, Rampur and Madrasatul Islah in Saraimir before I arrived eventually at Aligarh to earn a PhD in economics.

The years spent in Rampur and Saraimir were distinguished by lively interaction with Ulama. We spent most of our time discussing the Qur’an, the traditions of the Prophet, commentaries on the Qur’an, fiqh (jurisprudence) and usul-e-fiqh, or principles of jurisprudence. That this happened in the company of young men of my own age, fired by the same zeal, was an added advantage. We had each chosen a subject – political science, philosophy,  economics  – that we thought  would enhance our understanding of modern life. We were also fired by the idea of combining modern-secular and old-religious learning to produce something that would right what was wrong with the world. We received a warm welcome from Zakir Hussain (1897–1969), the former President of India, then Vice-Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University; Mohammad Aaqil Saheb, Professor of Economics at Jamia Milliyah Islamia, Delhi; and by eminent teachers at Osmania University in Hyderabad.

Our mission was to introduce Islamic ideas to economics. These were envisaged at three levels. A background provided by Islam’s worldview, placing matters economic in a holistic framework; a set of goals to be achieved by individual behaviour and economic policy; and a set of norms and values, resulting in appropriate institutions. Maududi argued that this exercise performed in key social sciences would pave the way for progress towards an ‘Islamic society’. I was fully sold to the idea. We were also influenced by the extraordinary times through which Islam and Muslims were passing all over the world. Islam was ‘re-emerging’  after three centuries of colonisation which was preceded by another three centuries of stagnation and intellectual  atrophy. The great depression had just exposed capitalism’s darker side and Russian-sponsored socialism was enlisting sympathisers. Islam had a chance, if only a convincing case could be made, we thought.