Religion

  • Issue 9 / January - March 1995



    Trusteeship In A Just World Order

    K. Baslar

    The beginning of the 1990s brought talk of a New World Order. Expectations were raised. The world was to be rebuilt on new principles and justice was to be established universally. Years have now passed and expectations have not been fulfilled. The gap between the rich and poor nations continues to grow and very few have seen any real change.

    The disintegration of communism led to the dawn of a new era in which Western values would predominate and the world re-organized on the basis of ‘global’ co-operation and international solidarity rather than confrontation and conflict, now looked upon as the remnants of the Old World Order.

    After the collapse of the communist block with its ideology proven to be a failed experiment, the world’s attention turned to the establishment of a new and ‘just’ world order which would promote global peace and security and foster international solidarity. Today, few would dare claim that this has been achieved. The slogans have changed, as have some governments and a few flags, but for many, the new order has brought them nothing tangible.

    The richest 20 per cent of the world’s population still earns 60 times more than the poorest 20 per cent. The disproportionate distribution of the world’s resources threatens the world with environmental and economic crises. In part, it was these crises that formed the motivation for a new order. Global problems can only be resolved through global co-operation and solidarity. The obvious answer was a new world order.

    If the current level of population growth continues, over one billion people in Africa will be without the basic necessities of life, such as food and water by the year 2025. Poverty and political unrest due to disputes over resources have generated huge refugee flows. There are 75 million people displaced every year. Of the 75 million, 2 million migrate from the poor nations to the richer countries in search of a better life. Some may say they are the lucky ones, but often they face greater hardship in their adopted lands than at home.. They face a variety of new social problems and are forced to overcome different challenges. The terminology may have changed, but the reality has not.

    The New World Order is said to be marked by three notions: democracy, market economy and peace and co-operation. As to the present world order, it was based on three citadels of positivism, namely, sovereignty, nation-statehood and the liberal notion of property, none of which can offer adequate solutions to the current crises of humankind. The new order is, in fact, not new, as its economic, military and philosophical underpinnings have much in common with those of the world order established alter the first and second World Wars. The present world order leads the way to a zero sum game of some sort; everyone wins everything or everyone loses everything.

    Fortunately, not everyone subscribes to Fukayamis thesis concerning ‘the end of history’. They do not believe that history ends with liberalism’s victory over communism. The West may think that the end of communism is the total exhaustion of all viable systematic alternatives to Western ideology, and corollary, the universalization of Western liberal democracy, crafted with the norms set in the old world order, will be the ultimate point of humankind’s ideological evolution.

    In a rapidly changing world order, those who do not accept this as the end of the story have a duty towards themselves and others not to remain marginalized. There is an alternative. We must strive to understand the contemporary world and apply the principle of trusteeship that is natural to all communities. The concept of the world being a trust in the hands of humankind is nothing new and it is not limited to any one community. Understanding that God gave us the world as a trust leads us to adopt a special world-view. It is this world-view that offers us alternatives for the future direction of humankind and the answer to our various problems. Surely the earth belongs to God and He bequeaths it to such of his servant as He pleases... (al-A’raf 7.129); and certainly, to Him belongs all that the heavens and the earth contain” (al- Hajj, 22.64).

    A new world order should be built upon co-operation, solidarity and brotherhood among all the nations of the world. To this end, true understanding of trusteeship is a significant milestone one the way to universal brotherhood.

    In a society be it domestic or global, where the world is seen as trust and concept of trusteeship is embedded in the hearts and minds of individuals and rulers, justice emerges in a natural divinely- ordained manner. Where the concept of amana, trusteeship, is forgotten, wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few. Lack of effective motivation to reduce inequalities is bound to destroy, rather than foster the feelings of brotherhood that submission to God’s natural way ultimately creates. Submission is not restricted to worship. God has ordained a role for humankind.

    The resources with which God has endowed this world are finite but sufficient to cater for the well-being of all, if used efficiently and equitably. The responsibility of khilafa, guardianship, should lead us to find ways of utilizing the God-given resources in so efficient and equitable a manner that the well-being of all is ensured. This can only come about if the resources are used with a sense of responsibility and a constraint determined by Divine Guidance.

    Although the khilafa was the ultimate symbol of Muslim political aspiration, responsibility according to Divine Guidance has been lost in their lands and the imbalance of resources is even greater among its people than elsewhere. They present the best examples of unequal and unjust distribution.

    There are great disparities among the fifty or so Muslim states. Natural resources are unequally distributed. Where water is abundant, oil is scarce; where oil flows like the sea, there is scarcity of water and arable land; in a country where the land is arable, there are no mineral resources; where there are tropical forests, there is insufficient supply of energy etc. The Muslim states clearly need each other. However, forgetting trusteeship has led them to disunity.

    As well as unequal distribution of natural resources, wealth has also been distributed unevenly. For example, following the sharp rise in petroleum revenues in 1974, Saudi Arabia became one of the fastest growing nations in the world. Saudi foreign assets grew from about $4.3 billion in 1973 to nearly $150 billion in 1982. However, due to the steady decrease in the price of oil, that amount has fallen down by more than $60 billion since 1982. The same can be said for other petrol-rich Arab countries.

    Accordingly, six Arab states-namely Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, UAE, Qatar and Oman-with a total population of approximately 16 million people have a combined GNP of about 150 billion dollars. The other Arab states, with a total population of about 205 million, have a combined GNP of 200 million dollars. As a result, GNP per capita in the ‘rich six’ is about 9,400 dollars as compared to only 975 dollars in the poor states, a ratio of almost 10 to 1. (Rabie, 1992. p.103). Consider the immense divide between Brunei and Bangladesh. Brunei’s GNP rate per capita is slightly more than 15,000 US dollars; in Bangladesh, it is only 179 dollars. The ratio is a staggering 84 to 1.

    We recently witnessed how the uneven distribution of strategic energy resources was used to destroy Muslim brotherhood. Muslim countries spent billions of dollars on weapons to protect God’s resources and wealth from satisfying the needs of God’s servants. The military industry of the West is being fed at the expense of Muslim solidarity. Imagine what could happen if, instead, these billions of dollars were to used for the welfare of the Muslim peoples.

    In the future, we may see regional wars fought for control of the most important resource in the Middle East, namely, fresh water. Scientists estimate that the total population of the region will be 423 million by the year 2000 and will have doubled in twenty-five years time and therefore many countries will have only about half as much water as they had in the 1970s (Bulloch & Dhrimsh, 1993). If water is exploited as a political weapon rather than shared among the people of the region, in accordance with the terms of amana. we may witness the coming to pass of one of the prophecies of God’s Messenger, upon him he peace, who said: There will emerge a mountain on the waters of the Euphrates. A treasure will be unearthed from beneath it. War will break out to possess this wealth. Ninety nine out of every hundred will be killed. Each will hope that he will be the only one to survive’ (Bukhari and Muslim). Elsewhere, he advised us not to participate in this war. There are interpretations among some scholars that the ‘mountain’ refers to a gigantic dam, and ‘treasure’ to the most precious of commodities, water.

    As a result, to prevent such regional conflicts and wars. Muslims must rediscover the spirit of the concept of amana. That is to say, the problems of the Muslim states such as foreign debt, hunger, malnutrition, environmental degradation and resource scarcity can only be alleviated if we truly understand that we are obliged to share and care. When we start sharing our natural resources and technology with the poor and the needy; an important barrier in the way of solidarity will be brought down. This will replace enmity with gratitude and war with peace and security.

    If we desire radical changes in the foreseeable future, it is our duty to change our own conceptions and to seek to influence the way our countries are ruled. A just world order can be realized only if we understand fully that we are only trustees of God. Denying our responsibilities will burden our shoulders with a great sin.

    It is our duty to be ready to discharge fully our God- given trust on this earth. When this happens, God will grant us the keys of the universe. God has said: ‘My servants, the righteous shall inherit the earth’ (Al-Anbiya, 21.105). No one should doubt that one day this truth, guaranteed by God’s oaths, will come true. At that time, those who become the trustees and masters of the earth will also rule over the remotest parts of outer space.

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