FROM THE FOURTH CHAPTER: COMMERCE

. . . The pious merchant became the cornerstone of Islamic civilisation. The markets were adjacent to the mosques, and whereas today, when walking through a Middle Eastern bazaar, pop music blares out of loudspeakers, in pre-modern times one would hear the murmuring of the Qur’an being recited. At the time of prayer, the market would go quiet, and if a famous scholar visited the city, traders would close their shops to attend his discourses. 

Unlike the West where business is competitive, in Islam it was a collaborative endeavour. The markets were grouped according to their trades. The first sale of the day was believed to hold particular blessing. If, when a trader had already made a sale, another customer came to his stall and he noticed that a fellow trader was yet to make his first sale, he would direct the customer to his colleague’s stall. If a trader fell on hard times, the other traders would club together to put him back on his feet. As the civilisation developed, these practices were formalised within guilds, which also encompassed the crafts.

The guilds were corporate bodies of merchants and craftsmen which regulated entry into trades, the equal treatment of guild members, the opening of shops, and the quality of work and products. The guilds also arbitrated disputes between members, and ensured prices were proportionate. As the novice was being trained in a trade or craft, he would be taught the moral and ethical codes of his profession. The guilds would often have a patron saint and initiation ceremonies, and thus imbued everyday work with an imprint of the sacred.. .

But the modern cult requires us to be transformed into consumers and this can only be achieved if childhood is re-engineered. The child must be conditioned to live in the short duration, and to achieve this a consumer childhood has to be invented. So, marketeers created their version of childhood. Plastic toys in garish colours, leaving nothing to the imagination, are placed before the child. The child is excited by this apparition, plays with it for a while and then gets bored. To keep the child happy, the toy is replaced by another and then another, and so it goes on until the child develops an addictive personality. The imagination is further assailed by films and games that completely hypnotize the child. Robbed of his/her own imagination, the child becomes dependent on an external source, and a dialysis of the imagination takes over. And now the Kantian nightmare kicks in. The child is immersed and surrounded by the images and ideology of the sovereignty of the individual, and is being taught from an early age that he or she must think for himself or herself, yet without any personal development having been achieved nor any objective criteria attained. 

Prematurely wrenched out of childhood with their identities malformed, the children become self-obsessed and regard the world with the eyes of consumers; everything now becomes a matter of personal choice. By the time of reaching the next major transition in the teenage years, the child rebels. Deprived of roaming and the formation of proper relationships in their own world of childhood, the transitioning children now attempt to create their own society separate from the adults, just when the relationship between the adult and the child is most important in drawing the child into adulthood. What has followed is brilliantly described in Robert Bly’s Sibling Society. Instead of a vertical social structure where the different stages of life are linked, it turns into a layered horizontal society, where each generation is forever trapped in an arrested adolescence. 

The hegemony of the merchant has turned human society into an appetite that can never be satisfied and is literally devouring the world.


You can order the complete text of Rethinking Islam & the West by Ahmed Paul Keeler here.

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