“Religion is the opium of the masses”, the words of Karl Marx can often be heard from those on the pulpit in their vehement speeches against the communist narrative. The Marxist critique of religion is not only an abstract philosophical conception but is deeply rooted in our religious convictions. Religious narrative across the globe is based around a cleansing from materialistic greed and focuses on spiritual fulfilment, while discouraging rampant materialism to fulfill carnal human desires. This tendency to neglect the worldly realm as inherently inferior and regarding any desire of gaining worldly prestige, wealth and power as an ultimate fallacy is common among major religions. This spiritual bliss seemingly appears to be a worthwhile alternative to mindless pursuit of money but the insistence of religion to not simply curtail the human will to power but reject it altogether, causes the poor to not only forsake the endeavor of worldly improvement but deem it utterly futile as simply, “Why would one work to improve the worldly condition if it is simply an inconsequential time lapse to the all-important eternal abode”.
Hence, not only this allows for the poor to dwell in their misery but find meaning and contentment in it and hence becomes opium to distract us from our worldly failures with the idea that our poverty is somehow noble in the eyes of the almighty. I witnessed this firsthand when a child of about twelve, was shunned away by his farfetched dream (as dreams should be) of opening a car dealership with words such as, “God isn’t pleased by this pursuit of wealth, you will have to account for all these riches you want. Poverty is much better as we are close to the Almighty”. This negation of the will to power, the very fuel to all colossal human accomplishments hence results in people shying away from their inner potential as it is shrouded in guilt and infidelity. Hence, this traps the rich in what Nietzsche termed as the “guilt trap” but more importantly allows the rich to exploit the poor as they are enshrined in spiritual bliss over their wretched material condition.
The Islamic worldview embodies a fundamental dichotomy to the matter but the Islamic approach to the Human drive to ambition is much more nuanced than the biblical contention of Christ driving money lenders out of the temple. On one hand, the Islamic narrative coincides with the Abrahamic tradition and weighs ultimate meaning to the hereafter. The Islamic spirit doesn’t completely sever the human ambition but rather channels into a form that it morphs from a zero sum exploitation to an enterprise based around mutual benefit. The values severe society from reducing to the Marxist dysphoria of relentless capitalism, blind greed and exploitation but rather focuses on the all-important principle of balance. This element of “Meezan” or balance is evident in all aspects of the Islamic doctrine as it balances worship with worldly life, matters pertaining to family relations and ambition also embody this cardinal principle of harmony and balance. As Mumtaz Mufti termed it, “Build yourself the biggest mansion but do it with equity but arrange a dwelling for less fortunate too, for your luxury is an award of the Almighty”. Hence the Islamic doctrine doesn’t revolve around guilt but a sense of duty and compassion to help others. This is the fundamental aspect of Zakat and the Islamic welfare system which is meticulously designed to curtail the chasm between different classes that Marx warned against.
Hence the Islamic doctrine has termed an honest trader as Allah’s friend and pondering over nature, working for the betterment of the human condition are synonymous with worship rather than the church’s clampdown on sciences. This can be summarized as, “This world is not an inferior and futile occurrence but it is the tree that shall bear the fruit of afterlife and hence be looked after appropriately”