We are seven point eight billion. Behind the numbing complexity of numbers lies a story of sharp contrasts, of existing inequities and of promised demographic dividends. It is the story of a population bomb ticking away, with the primary needs of the common people and the unequal distribution of wealth reminding policymakers of needed structural change and the urgent tasks ahead…
Thomas Robert Malthus —an 18th century English cleric and scholar influential in the fields of political economy and demography— gave us a gloom and doom theory of population. In his book, An Essay on the Principle of Population, he warned us that out-of-control population growth would deplete resources and bring about widespread famine. This is famously referred to as the Malthusian Theory of Population.
The fact that we are alive and writing this piece is ample testimony to the fact that Malthus had a paranoid view of looking at the global problem!
Even today we witness a lot of discussions revolving around this topic and there is a common belief that population should be controlled.
This belief in effect made the Muslim community ‘transgressors’ so that many Muslims have now settled on a maximum of two children per family in contrast to the earlier larger Muslim family.
So, whatever be the inherent flaw in Malthus’ theory, it is important for us to see if human birth is a subject of celebration and joy, or legitimate cause adding to the arsenal of prophets of doom? This article focuses on discussing whether overpopulation is a problem to the world today [or will become so in future], especially when it comes to growing number of claimants to limited resources.
The current world order is largely dominated by secular-liberal-democratic values. Keeping this in mind, as well as the fact that the subject of population and resource utilization falls under economics, the relevant principle(s) for dealing with population explosion should be addressed.
One of the major theories that shape the belief that the growing population is a problem is the principle of relative scarcity. According to this principle, man’s needs are unlimited, and resources are limited. Consequently, it encourages man to produce as much as possible in order to cater to the unlimited needs that would satisfy him through distribution by the trickle-down effect.
The limitations of the model of relative scarcity are as follows –
- The current economic model does not differentiate between man’s necessities and luxuries. The necessities of man are those without which his survival is difficult, meaning food, clothes and housing, for without these, a man remains in an agitated state.
- Putting the whole emphasis on production alone can never solve man’s needs or his desire for luxuries. There has to be a robust economic model that focuses on the distribution of what is produced. The fact that nations today flash their GDP as a sign of progress in the face of increasing poverty among their people, testifies to the absence of any just distribution system.
- Adding to the above, the current economic system has failed to distinguish between economic science and economic system. Economic science is the subject of study which concentrates on techniques of production, whereas the economic system studies how resources are to be acquired and then how can the produced goods be appropriately distributed.
To add to current woes, this economic system focuses on stocking the resources at a few selected places —which unfortunately leads to the migration of people to these ‘resource centers’ to acquire them. This causes such resource centers to witness dense migration so as for individuals to claim their share of the pie —when all could have been easily catered to, had the resources been made evenly available according to population areas.
The economic system in Islam does not stand on such frivolous concepts, let alone the Theory of Limited Resources. Firstly, government in Islam is required by necessity; this is in contrast to government being a ‘necessary evil,’ as generally perceived under the current Western-dominated system. The people who are given administrative positions in the Islamic government are the ones who are responsible for order and efficiency.
“Every one of you is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock. The leader of people is a guardian and is responsible for his subjects. A man is the guardian of his family, and he is responsible for them. A woman is the guardian of her husband’s home and his children, and she is responsible for them. The servant of a man is a guardian of the property of his master, and he is responsible for it. No doubt, every one of you is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock.” [Ṣaḥīḥ Al-Bukhārī 6719, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 1829]
One of the prime duties of the ruler, originally known as the Caliph, is to ensure that the basic necessities —food, shelter and homes— are provided to the citizens, Muslims and non-Muslims both.
The Prophet (ﷺ) said,
“There is no right for the son of Adam other than these things: a house in which he lives, a garment to cover his nakedness, a piece of bread, and water.” [Sunan Al-Tirmidhī 2341]
Once the basic rights of people have been taken care of, the economic policies are framed with the objective of providing prosperity to the citizens; this Islamic model is in contrast to that experienced by the nations today where such policies are mostly to appease people and secure vote-banks.
This way, Islam also differentiates between the necessities and luxuries of man. The necessities of man is the direct responsibility of the Islamic state, followed by facilitating its citizens towards prosperity.
It’s important to understand that in contrast to the ‘limited resources’ notion given through the relative scarcity theory, Islam encourages man to seek his provision without having to worry about resources, limited or unlimited.
Allah ﷻ says in the Quran,
And when the prayer has been concluded, disperse within the land and seek from the bounty of Allah, and remember Allah often that you may succeed. [Sûrah Al-Jumu’ah, 62: 10]
Couple this with the strong Islamic concepts of sustenance (rizq)…
A Muslim not only welcomes others in sharing his resources but also keeps himself away from immoral attributes of selfishness, stinginess or envy.
The most honest answer to Muslims not possessing these morals today is that it is only the immoral nature of the system in which we live that has turned man into grasping for goods beyond his needs.
And enjoin prayer upon your family [and people] and be steadfast therein. We ask not for provision from you; We provide for you, and the [best] outcome is for [those of] righteousness. [Sûrah Ṭâ Hâ, 20: 132]
Say, “Indeed, my Lord extends provision for whom He wills and restricts [it], but most of the people do not know. [Sûrah Al-Saba’, 34: 36]
Allah is the one who created you, then provided for you, then will cause you to die, and then will give you life. Are there any of your ‘partners’ who does anything of that? Exalted is He and high above what they associate with Him. [Surah Al-Rûm, 30: 40]
Secondly, Islam has a detailed distribution system. The laws of inheritance, of treasure buried under the earth, the obligation of Zakah, of war-booty, endowment, maintenance of the family, gifts, interest-free loans, securities, the charity of fitrana, and taxes imposed by the Islamic ruler on the rich in cases of emergency —these are some of the many ways that the distribution of resources takes place amongst the people, details of which can be studied in books written by classical scholars.
Beyond the obvious advantages brought by the Islamic distribution system, it keeps wealth in the Islamic economy always circulating.
…so that it will not be a perpetual distribution among the rich from among you. [Sûrah Al-Ḥashr, 59: 7]
In conclusion, it needs to be mentioned that the principle of relative scarcity is just one of the many principles that shape the current economic system and its devastating or misleading effects are evident.
The people who should be considered as an asset —as they truly are under Islam— are instead considered a threat to the resources. Each human is a repository of infinite possibilities, and we should treat him like that.
However, this magical population mark, which sends a sense of despair to many, also gives us an opportunity to think about the ways and means to make every section of our communities, every person feels privileged.
The world has means to take care of its 7.8 billion population, only if it is gracious enough to acknowledge its flawed man-made theories beholden to individual profit and greed. It’s not about replacing this model with other man-made ones, as even the best of minds combined together will not be able to decipher the correct viewpoint towards life because of the limited nature of humans.
What better favor could mankind do for herself than to bow down in front of the Lord of the Worlds, Allah ﷻ!