IMASE Reflections 8: Can you to do me a favour, please?

Imagine you are out of town and check yourself into a hotel and you pay the owner with a $100 bill for your stay. He then takes the $100 and buys vegetables from the market for his kitchen. The market owner next takes the $100 and gives it to the wholesaler who supplied him with the vegetables. The wholesaler then uses the $100 to buy vegetables from the farmer who grows the vegetables. The farmer then takes this $100 bill, many days later, and gives it to you since you are a fertilizer producer and the farmer needs what you have. You now have the same $100 bill which you gave away many days before.

The question is; has this $100 bill changed in anyway? Does it look different? Has is changed is shape? Has it grown in value?

This $100 bill has caused the hotel owner, the market owner, the wholesaler and the farmer to be productive. And even though you were the originator from which this chain started, the same $100 bill has caused you to be productive so as to produce $100 worth of fertilizer many days later.

Where is the real value here? Who actually produces something new and of value? The answer is nobody, except the Earth (with God’s Will). The Earth produced the vegetables from the seeds, water, sunlight and nutrients from the soil. However, the Earth also does this in a cycle. However, although the Earth produces the real value from which the whole transaction is based on, it is not paid anything for its effort. This is a system predetermined; and yet it is of no real value to modern man since we have chosen not to recognise it. If one day the Earth refuses to produce, the whole system would unwind and life would cease to exist.

Have they never yet seen how We visit the earth, gradually depriving it of all that is best thereon?

HQ, 13:41

So who produces the $100 bill that is so powerful that it motivates so many, if not all of us, to get up and do things? Who determines the value of things? From the analogy above, we see that the productively of a society from which money is at the centre is based on two things; (1) the amount of money circulating in the system, and (2) the speed and the quantum in which the money circulates. These are the two elements on which the present day monetary system is based. Whosoever controls these two elements controls the world of modern man.

The monetary scenario given above is of course a simplified one. Let us say the cycle is ‘broken’ by the farmer who decides to use the money to buy a shirt instead. The shirtmaker would then use the money to buy cotton from a farmer who may then come to you, as the fertilizer producer again. The shirt maker creates a new cycle and each cycle creates many more cycles and what you end up with is a complex three-dimensional web with incredible complexity which is very difficult to model or measure. So economists use macro-economic terms to describe this web, like: productivity factor, gross domestic product, monopolistic competition, perfectly elastic, expansionary fiscal policy etc.

Now let us look at the process by which money changes hands, the ‘line’ between those who are doing the transactions from which the system flows, between the wholesaler and the farmer and so on. Let us say some smart fellow decides he wants to make money by not doing any work. This fellow wants to sit in his air-conditioned room and get poor, not so smart people like you and me to give them our money for doing nothing. The best way to do this is to put up a toll gate along this pathway. The toll gates operators will not let the system flow freely unless their fees are paid first.

Now this is what we in the modern day call a bank, our wholesaler deposits $100 into it and gives the farmer a cheque instead. The farmer gets a cheque and the bank gets the money. The farmer will only go to the bank when he needs the money or he may issue you, the fertilizer producer, a cheque too - and the money remains in the bank! The time between when the cheque is exchanged for money, if ever, is crucial for the bankers to ‘make’ their own money from your money. Thus, money makes money and this money is made from the ‘line’ of transactions between the people who are actually productive.

Imagine again that you made lots of money last year and decide celebrate and check into a 7-star hotel. You pay the owner a $5000 upfront payment as a deposit for the stay and to be refunded anytime if you do not like the hotel. The hotel owner then takes the $5000 and pays off the vegetable market owner for the supplies he bought their last month, to repay his debt. The market owner then takes this $5000 and repays the wholesale company the money he owes. The wholesaler then uses the same $5000 to pay the farmer for vegetables he borrowed from him 12 months ago. The farmer now, elated to get back money owed to him decides to give his family a treat and checks his family and himself into the same 7-star hotel in which you are staying and pays a $5000 deposit.

Introducing new complexity, you decide you do not like the service in the hotel and go to the operator to demand your money back. The hotel operator returns the $5000 to you, the same $5000 you paid, but which has since passed through many hands without your knowledge. Now, has this $5000 changed in anyway? Is it bigger or smaller? Has its value risen? Has it got the ability to forgive people’s debts?

This $5000 has repaid debts worth $15,000. It has made three people happy and these three people will not be asked about their debt by a judge, including “The Judge”. Again who controls this flow and how it flows?

This is the basis of the financial system. However, what if on average for every ten people who pay $5000 upfront a day in the hotel, only one asks for their money back? If the hotel owner is a lazy fellow and wants to make money from nothing, he may presume that $45,000 is already his. He will use this money for services like advertisements to get more people to stay in the hotel.

Is this utilisation of money which is not yours acceptable? If the hotel makes money from your deposit, should you not be given some of their earnings? But what if I know that every day I receive $45,000 of deposits? Do I not effectively have $450,000 if I can convince people to do things for me now and collect their money in ten days? Or perhaps I can give someone $45,000 today if I get them to give me $45,100 in 10 days. This is the modern financial system. The real issue about money is that we can use money to get people to ‘do’ things for us. The more money we have, the more we can get people do things for us. But is that the only way money can be used?

He that spends his possessions [on others] so that he might grow in purity – not as payment for favours received, seeking only his Lord the most high.

HQ, 92: 18-20

Let us reverse this scenario. Imagine you make lots of money this year, money which you have not been paid but nonetheless you decide to stay in a 7-star hotel. This time you pay the owner by promising him $5000 next month and he agrees since you are a well known person. The hotel owner, who assumes he will be getting $5000 next month, buys vegetables and promises to pay the market owner in 40 days. The market owner then gets fresh vegetables from the wholesaler and promises to pay him in 50 days. The wholesaler then gets his vegetable from the farmer with a promise to repay in 60 days. The farmer then comes to you and asks for $5000 worth of fertilizer promising to pay you back in 70 days.

In just a short period, five people have become debtors who were not before. Everybody owes everyone else. This is a system that is driven by debt and many nations’ financial systems are driven by it. It is a system that does not pay for real value received. In this system, only bankers, and their associates, who do little to create value, make the most of the benefits ‘derived’ from money. In the coming IMASE reflections series, we explore the modern monetary and financial systems, the problems associated with them and how we have imprisoned ourselves by the very system we created not so long ago.

To the Madyan People (We sent) Shu'aib, one of their own brethren: he said: "O my people! worship Allah. Ye have no other god but Him. And give not short measure or weight: I see you in prosperity, but I fear for you the penalty of a day that will compass (you) all round. "And O my people! give just measure and weight, nor withhold from the people the things that are their due: commit not evil in the land with intent to do mischief. "That which is left you by Allah is best for you, if ye (but) believed! but I am not set over you to keep watch!" They said: "O Shu'aib! Does thy (religion of) prayer command thee that we leave off the worship which our fathers practised, or that we leave off doing what we like with our property? truly, thou art the one that forbeareth with faults and is right- minded!" He said: "O my people! see ye whether I have a Clear (Sign) from my Lord, and He hath given me sustenance (pure and) good as from Himself? I wish not, in opposition to you, to do that which I forbid you to do. I only desire (your) betterment to the best of my power; and my success (in my task) can only come from Allah. In Him I trust, and unto Him I look.

HQ, 11: 84-88

Putting all this to one side, the most important question is this. Why is money so important that we do so many things to get it? We spend our entire lives accumulating it. Some make it their purpose in life. Others do not think of it except in numbers. Value is money and life is but the pursuit of money. What is the real value of this piece of paper?

Once upon a time, a King went on a hunting expedition in the forest. Whilst hunting, he became lost and tried to find his way home for many days without success. As time passed, he got thirsty and desperately tried to find water. One day he saw an old man with a jug of water, approached him and asked him for a drink. The old man replied, “what would you give me for a glass of water?”, to which the king responded, “I am the King, I will give you half my kingdom for the glass of water”. The old man agreed and the King got his drink.

Many years past and the King became infected with urinary disease and was dire pain, unable to relieve himself. He passed a decree that whoever could cure him of this disease would be given half his kingdom. Many tried to cure him but failed. After some time, the old man who the King had met many years ago appeared and claimed to have the cure. And sure enough he was able to cure the king at the first attempt. The honourable King remembered his promise and said to the man, “I now owe you my entire kingdom, please come up to the throne and assume your position as the new King”. To this the old man replied; “No thank you, I have no need for a Kingdom which is only worth a glass of water and a glass of urine” and left never to be seen again. The king realised the true value of things in this world.

SAY [unto those who believe]: “No weight or value would my Sustainer attach to you were it not for your faith [in Him]!”

HQ, 25:77

We use money as the measurement of richness only because we can motivate others to do what we want. But is money the real motivation behind our actions? In making it so, are we not at risk of making money a modern day idol? What about those people who get us to do things without monetary payment? Are they rich too? Are the Prophets rich when they get people to obey them? Are good people who fight for a good cause rich when they inspire us to do the same with their commitment? Are those who sacrifice their time for the destitute and the orphaned poor rich, if they motivate us to do the same? Does the Earth ask for wages when it produces the pomegranates which we eat? Does the sky ask us for a salary when it gives us water to drink? Do the trees ask us for remuneration when they produce the oxygen we breath? Does the Sun ask for income when it generates the light by which we see?

Perhaps the time has come for us to re-evaluate ourselves and what motivates us to do things.

And so the two (Moses and the Sage, Khidr) went on, till, when they came upon some village people, they asked them for food; but those [people] refused them all hospitality. And they saw in that (village] a wall which was on the point of tumbling down, and [the sage] rebuilt it [whereupon Moses] said: "Hadst thou so wished, surely thou couldst [at least] have obtained some payment for it?"

HQ, 18:77

[the sage explained] “As for the wall, it belonged to two orphans in the town and a treasure was hidden beneath it. Their father was a righteous man, so your Lord wanted them to grow up and get out their treasure for this were mercy decisions from thy Lord. I did not do it of my own accord..”

HQ, 18:82