Islam and Mammon: The Economic Predicaments of Islamism

Timur Kuran

The doctrine of "Islamic economics" entered debates over the social role of Islam in the mid-20th century. Since then it has pursued the goal of restructuring economies according to perceived Islamic teachings. Beyond its most visible practical achievement―the establishment of Islamic banks meant to avoid interest―it has promoted Islamic norms of economic behavior and founded redistribution systems modeled after early Islamic fiscal practices.

Kuran argues that the doctrine of Islamic economics is simplistic, incoherent, and largely irrelevant to present economic challenges. Observing that few Muslims take it seriously, he also finds that its practical applications have had no discernible effects on efficiency, growth, or poverty reduction. Why, then, has Islamic economics enjoyed any appeal at all? His answer is that the real purpose of Islamic economics has not been economic improvement but cultivation of a distinct Islamic identity to resist cultural globalization.