Monday, September 8, 2008

Ramadan & Economic Sustainability

Quote of the week:
'I am as My servant thinks I am. I am with him when he makes mention of Me. If he makes mention of Me to himself, I make mention of him to Myself; and if he makes mention of Me in an assembly, I make mention of him in an assembly better than his. And if he draws near to Me an arm's length, I draw near to him a fathom's length. And if he comes to Me walking, I go to him at speed.' - Hadith Qudsi

Commentary of the week:

Ramadan and Sustainability:

As you can see, the Ramadan theme continues this week (and depending on responses, perhaps for the month). This could be because it is difficult to summarize in a single IWB the various strands of thought that being famished and dreaming of samosas all day forces upon weak minds such as yours truly or it could be that there is something unexplored about the subject still left to say. The thirst for something cool, refreshing and liquidy does not allow me the latitude to use the overtaxed brain matter too much today so I will leave this particular question for now. What I will share with you though, is a thought that is becoming more and more impossible for me to get away from as I reflect a bit on the first few days of fasting.

Perhaps it is also appropriate for me to describe exactly the circumstances in which this thought was forcibly put into my head. It sort of happened as I was huffing and puffing my way up the last hill to perform my various cleaning duties at the glass castle that is Ittihad on my two-wheeled human powered vehicle that I began to day dream about not having to huff and puff back home after work and instead thought of driving back in the red Porsche that had just overtaken me at something approaching light-speed at a distance so close as to almost take my bushy, flowing and truly impressive beard with it while I progressed at a pace approaching that of a particularly slow snail on her way to visit reluctant in-laws. Of course, it should not have been so easy for me to lose focus on what is truly important in life but what can I say - the car was the exact shade of cherry red it should have been and I was suffering from severe dehydration. The thought in question though, as I was deciding between making a sincere prayer for a drink of water or wishing for the Porsche itself, was driven home in quite violent fashion as my poor vehicle suddenly fell into what is perhaps the largest pothole east of the Grand Canyon. As my bones, wrists, knees, elbows, neck and torso felt the impact of a bicycle travelling upwards towards a fairly heavy body travelling downwards, I was reminded again of many things that I had foolishly forgotten. One was that there is language one must not use during fasting, or ever really. The second was that on the road of life, it is not the usual smoothness that is memorable, but the violence of the potholes. Once I recovered (if that is indeed the word), I also realized a deeper truth - which is that it is exactly such thoughts as the ones I was having for the Porsche and the vicious cycle of longing for things only to be bored with them later that festivals such as Ramadan are supposed to protect people such as me from.

Even if on the face of things we think of Ramadan as a particularly Muslim month, there is no denying that there are many religions, faiths and viewpoints that advocate the sacrifice of both some our petty needs and some of our deepest longings in order to develop something of a more refined personal and societal character. Festivals such as Lent come to mind, but I am sure that there are many others with whom we share some of the concepts of Ramadan. One reason this is important for one as obsessed with finance as me is that Ramadan to me is perhaps one of the most anti-consumption ideas to take some hold in a society bent on consuming itself and in theory this holds great promise for the development of a sustainable economy. To truly take advantage of this month and it's insights promises to let us break out from the mental prison of personal needs and take us through to the liberation of generosity and compassion instead. This is an important point because one of the things that we need at a societal level is a system or way of life that allows us to live as part of the world, not as parasites upon it. While one has to be very careful about promising grand solutions to the world's problems and we as Muslims certainly cannot claim to have everything figured out (the disagreements about the sighting of the moon come to mind), there is nevertheless a deep wisdom at work here in building a society that is willing to sacrifice personally for at least some part of the year in order to give the rest of the planet a bit of a break from their personal needs.

As this is not a very obvious topic for discussion (I think), I am somewhat sure that there has been very little research that has been done to determine whether widespread societal fasting such as that during Ramadan contributes to the sustainability of that particular economy. Of course - it may be difficult to gather evidence because we could be so far gone as Muslims that we simply shift our consumption to the evenings instead of during the day and thereby do not really change much except just our patterns, not the amount or kind of our consumption. If the latter is true, then perhaps this loss of the deeper meaning and transformational promise of Ramadan is a tragedy even larger than that of the pothole. One feels though, that that all of you fine IWB readers are better than that, and it is only moi that needs the bone-crushing reminders.

Ramadan Mubarak - May this month be full of blessings for you all IA.

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Finance News:

1. For those of you wondering what the Private Equity industry is up to ... read more here

2. An interesting story about the emerging nexus between Finance and the Army in Canada ... read more here

3. Is Commercial Banking the next in line for losses? ... read more here

Economic News:

1. Municipal Bond market in a bit of a pickle. Can't have cities and townships going bankrupt now can we ... read more here

2. Another Green Revolution with implications for a sustainable economy ... read more here

Islamic / Middle East / Emerging Markets:

1. Looking just beyond the headlines of a booming Indian economy ... read more here

2. Abu Dhabi is getting into the movie business. Can this mean that the next Superman will have a beard, or will wear his underwear on the inside?! Stay tuned ... read more here

3. Almost everything that is wrong with the field of Islamic Finance in one short paragraph (hat-tip to Sikander Ali) ... read more here

Interesting but not all Finance:

1. An excellent write-up on how universities contribute to local (and global) economies. A case study of the Perimeter Institute, funded by the founder of RIM (hat-tip to Suhail Ahmad) ... read more here

2. Absolutely and positively a must read for anyone that is fasting this Ramadan (hat-tip to Fariha Naqvi-Mohamed)... read more here

3. A piece of ice larger than the size of most countries breaks off the Arctic Ice-Shelf ... Hummer, anyone? read more here

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