“The Book of Earning a Livelihood” is an excellent and much needed book that is more relevant now than ever, since the age of materialism afflicts us with greater force than ever before. It may be the earliest book in economics (and Islamic economics) and when economics is defined according to its original definition of “household management”, this is one of the earliest books on the subject of economics (yes etymology is also discussed in the book).
The book is written by the one of the greatest Muslim scholars, Imam Muhammed ash-Shaybani (born 132 AH so is a very early book), the genius and leading Mujtahid and student of Imam Abu Hanifa, and teacher of Imam Shafi’i. Dr Adi Setia has done an excellent job in translating it, as he has been focusing on translating early Islamic texts related to economics.
At the same time the book shows the comprehensiveness of Islam to encompass all aspects and relate them to each other so beautifully. That is beautifully expressed when the writer explains the Qur’anic verse “And help each other to kindness and conscience” (Ma’ida, v2) as including helping and cooperating with other people through working/job (thus earning), which allows a person to then feed himself/herself and get enough energy to worship Allah swt. This means for example that the person who initially helped the other through work (like giving a job or making clothes), will get the reward of the worship of the employee. Thus we get a new perspective in hiring employees, and in working, and in helping people (even feeding them), and the task of hiring people becomes one connected to Allah swt and reward, if the intention is correct.
The book is divided into 50 chapters and 3 appendixes in 330+ pages. It was supposed to be 1000 chapters, but the author died before he could write more, revealing the widespread knowledge of Imam Shaybani. As the title suggests discusses the various aspects related to earning and spending, often bringing thought provoking insights, and relates them to ethics, Islam and philosophy.
The chapters range from issues of whether gratitude when being rich is better or being patient when poor, whether one who gives money is better or the one who takes, whether marriage is better or worship, what is the limit to spending on oneself, is agriculture better than commerce, is work better than worship, how various trades relate to each other, dealing with wealth and so on, whilst using the Qur’an and Sunnah as evidence. It shows how the early scholars thought and related Islam to the day to day lives of the people.
The book emphasises the need of circulating money from the rich to the poor, instead of just between the rich, and to not do things that would make the poor jealous. This is done by discussions of the virtues of giving, and the obligation to give, and controlling one’s lifestyle.
Related to controlling our food appetites, a very interesting Hadith of the Prophet (Sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) is quoted about one of the signs of the Last Hour, which may refer to the modern idea of buffets where tables circulate round, and the bowls move round, is “large bowls (of food) are circulated around their table spreads, whilst (divine) condemnation descends on them” (pg 92, also similar in TIrmidhi).
In the appendix (which forms about 40% of the book) are a lot of gifts offered by Adi Setia to the readers since he includes excellent discussions on money management in Islam, a new vision of an Islamic gift based economy, and reflections over interfaith dialogue over tackling structural greed in society. One gets the immediate thought that Adi Setia is a new critical genius (he teaches Islamic philosophy of science and the Islamic worldview at IIUM) that the Muslim world should appreciate more. His ideas reflect the way that Muslims who brought the Muslim world to the golden age thought, i.e. by looking at different types of knowledge through an Islamic worldview, and critically and solidly engaging with them masha'Allah.
This is shown by how he gives a framework for the economy by using the Qur’an to show that man’s wants should be limited, that needs take priority, that there is an abundance of resources (contrary to the scarcity view of many people), and that man should turn to Allah swt since He will give more. So the revival of the world from its modern ecological destruction lies in returning to Allah swt.
In conclusion, though I only covered a few points in the review, this book is a welcome addition to both the Muslim and non-Muslim world, and applying its ideas leads to a new and refreshing step forward in solving many of the world’s problems.