Economics as a Science: Insights from Classical Muslim Classifications of the Sciences

by Osman Bakar

Source: Islam and Civilisational Renewal, vol. 1, no. 3 (April 2010), pp. 426-444.

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Abstract: This article seeks to emphasise the need to re-examine the foundational assumptions of modern economics, especially in light of the traditional Islamic idea of economic wisdom and Islamic conception of the science of economics as conceived by Muslim political philosophers. As argued by the philosophers and more generally the epistemologists every academic discipline or every science, including economics is structured on the foundation of four epistemic elements, namely, its subject matter, its premises, its methodology, and its objectives. Any attempt to rethink this science in Islamic terms needs to address in particular the issue of its foundational assumptions. These premises include beliefs about the modern homo economicus, what his needs are, and the kind of society best suited to help deliver these needs both at the individual and collective levels. This article will discuss these premises and the classical subject matter of economics by explaining the meanings of the two classical terms for economics, namely, tadbīr al-manzil (lit. ‘household governance’) and iqtisād (thrift, providence, and moderation). It concludes with the assertion that the progress of modern Islamic economics as a true science depends as much on the clarity and solidification of its foundational assumptions as on the building of its necessary institutions.

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