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City of Brass

This is a great article in the London Review of Books about Islamic finance, in the context of the global banking crisis. I found this excerpt particularly insightful: 

One of the central differences between the Islamic and conventional approaches to finance is that our own cults – which may well see a revision before the end of this crisis – ascribe supernatural powers to money. Cult specialists are at great pains to understand and control how it works, but admit that it does so in magical ways that go beyond the effects of human commerce (for the markets, too, have magical attributes, including innate goodness). Whatever we want from money, we suspect, as devotees, that in the end it will always behave as it sees fit. Our awe of it is a bit like a rapt meditation on the way the shower of gold behaves – shimmering and falling – when it cascades over Danaë in her cloister in Argos. In the story, it’s merely the form chosen by Zeus for her seduction, but in our meditation, there is no Olympian in disguise and no intention to seduce, just the metal shimmering and falling, in consummate self-expression, as deity and dogma. Islamic approaches – there are quite a few – are much closer to Nonconformist and Anglican traditions, where the divinity stands to the side of money, reminding the faithful that he is one thing and mammon another. Money, in this view, is an object of caution rather than superstition – and, in spite of its dangers, a useful tool for anyone who wants to build a respectable world, with God’s instructions pinned to the wall above the workbench.

well worth a read in full.
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