Smokers’ Corner: Faith and Economics – Newspaper

Lee Kuan Yew, former Prime Minister of Singapore and architect of the small country’s great economy, first visited Pakistan in 1988. According to popular columnist Ardeshir Gowasji, as Yu was leaving, a Pakistani journalist asked him if he had any advice. Privilege for Pakistanis. Yu said it was impossible to do so in the case of a nation more interested in life after death than life on earth.

In this brief exchange between Lee and the journalist is a question that sociologists have long explored: Does the way a society practices religion have any effect on how it approaches economic activity?

German sociologist Max Weber was one of the first major scholars to explore this. In 1905, after studying the rapid rise of capitalism, modernism and secularism in Europe, Weber attributed the rise to the 'Protestant work ethic’.

Weber wrote that the Protestant sect of Christianity (split from Catholicism in the 16th century) considered economic activity a 'calling’ and a religious duty. According to Weber, this created a highly productive work ethic that facilitated the development of capitalism. This contributed to the secularization of Europe’s political economy, as Protestants also favored reforming the relationship between church and state.

The religious attitude of a people greatly affects the economic behavior of a country. While the work ethic of Protestantism may have been linked to the rise of capitalism in Europe, in Pakistan ritual piety often precluded practical application.

Weber provided examples of Protestant-majority European regions experiencing better economic conditions and growth compared to Catholic-majority regions. Slower economic growth was in areas dominated by more orthodox variants of Christianity, as these variants disliked change and were less likely to tolerate religious freedoms and restrict the role of the Church.

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But how can one explain the phenomenal economic growth seen in countries like Japan and, more recently, China, or countries where Christianity has never been strong?

Expanding on Weber’s thesis, sociologists argue that these countries adopted the 'Protestant work ethic’ because it was intertwined with the period of 'modernisation’ of the early and mid-20th century. Various non-Western scholars consider this an 'Orientalist’ take, but they agree that economic growth is more likely to emerge in countries where religion is flexible and 'modernised’, or in the case of China. Rather than regions with no religious freedom, or inflexible variations of belief affect laws and policies.

The latter encourages innovative thinking, risk-taking and an inquisitive mindset. Stories and ideas depicting the rich as less peaceful compared to the poor (apparently, they are more likely to land in heaven) are common in such societies.

Weber understood religion as a positive force, however – especially Protestantism. He praised it as flexible, individualistic, enthusiastic, less ritualistic than other Christian sects and, therefore, a source of economic and social modernity. Interestingly, various Muslim scholars also understood Islam years before Weber formulated his thesis.

One such scholar was Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, who worked ably to promote modern education among the Muslims of India and to modernize Islam. Indeed, for him Islam is inherently modern. Sir Syed’s aim was to use this to create an entrepreneurial Muslim middle class in India. One of the books he translated into Urdu was Principles of Political Economy by liberal British economist John Stewart Mill.

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Then there were Muslim organizations that tried to develop the concept of an Islamic work ethic. Examples of this are the Tablighi Jamaat (TJ) formed in the late 1920s. In fact, there is no evidence that the founders of the TJK read Weber. But the main aim of TJ is to propagate the 'correct’ practice of Islamic rituals, interpreted as instruments by which one can regulate one’s life and thus enjoy both spiritual and material success.

But TJ’s work ethic did not evolve the way the Protestant work ethic did. Protestants did not claim monopoly like TJK. For example, the beliefs that led to early modern economic development in the West were devout Protestants, but according to political scientist Pippa Norris, the Protestant work ethic „escaped the cage” and became a cultural norm that benefited both believers and nonbelievers. .

TJ has many successful business people, sports stars and show business personalities in its ranks. It encourages them to achieve material prosperity. Like Protestantism, DJ sees disciplined hard work as a divine calling. But this requires following a certain dress code and certain interpretations of scriptures. For most members, pursuing these also means tapping into TJ’s wider economic and social networks. Those who don’t miss out. This anxiety may lead to 'guilty’ members compensating by actively participating in the more ritualistic practices promoted by TJ.

During the 2007 Cricket World Cup in the West Indies, more than half of Pakistan’s squad belonged to TJ. Pakistan made an early exit from the tournament. Also, Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer passed away in his hotel room. Between 2004 and 2006, Woolmer and cricket commentator Ramis Raja praised TJ’s influence in the team, saying it fostered a sense of unity and discipline. However, after the team’s unceremonious exit from the 2007 World Cup, it became clear that things were not so good.

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The team’s media manager, PJ Mir, wrote a scathing statement in which Woolmer said he was disturbed by the behavior of many players who spent more time and time trying to convert non-Muslims to Islam than attending team meetings. and training sessions.

The work ethic that DJ brought to the team may have worked, but because this ethic was so tightly tied to overt displays of devotion, players began to invest heavily in the rituals that supposedly fostered this ethic. Actually selected and paid.

Former Pakistan opener Saeed Anwar, one of the first cricketers to join the DJ, reportedly quipped that his post-accomplishments as a cricketer had no use in life. According to Weber’s Protestant work ethic, these achievements would have been seen as a way of using God-given talents and resources and, thus, would have been praiseworthy.

So what advice could Lee Kuan Yew have for Pakistanis?

Posted on Dawn, EOS, June 30, 2024

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