An Introduction to Marxism for Non-Marxists by a Former Marxist – Part 1

Dr. Jerry Hionis

In a first, and hopefully not a last, I’m happy to have Dr. Jerry Hionis contributing to the site. After reading this article here on “Islamic Economics vs. Global Capitalism”, Jerry offered to give some insight into the fascination with Marxism and those that speak about Islamic Economics and Finance, Jerry himself a former Marxist. Jerry holds a PhD from Temple University. His primary research is in conflict theory with an emphasis on civil conflicts and Warlord-like competition. Other research interests include game theory, economic development, Islamic economic theory and history, political theory and African economics. You can read more about him here.

An Introduction to Marxism for Non-Marxists by a Former Marxist – Part 1

By Dr. Jerry Hionis, Jr.

The terms (or concepts of) “Islamic Economics” and “Islamic Finance” have become buzzwords among both lay and academic Muslims. And while the average person has some quasi-educated opinion on the subject of economics, I have found that most do not truly understand what the field actually studies. Some of the most common explanations of what economists actually study are: the stock market; money; banking; taxes and interest rates; and, general business and entrepreneurial methods. True the previous list of topics are covered under the banner of economics, but the field is actually much more encompassing. As a formal definition, Economics is the social science that studies how individuals, groups, firms, governments and entire societies deal the almost existential problem of scarcity, or the inability to satisfy all wants, needs and desires. In short, economics is about human decision making. Therefore it should be of no surprise that Islam — at its fundamental core — approaches economic theory at almost every turn and is not just about banking.

A common question that has been asked since the beginning of the 20th century is where does Islam fall in the debate between market-based capitalism and state-planned socialism? Needless to say this question is not easily answered but an attempt will be made. What I will attempt to do is bring the debate into context by arming the non-economist (Muslim or not) with a little history and background of the two systems.

Let us begin with the market. What is a market? The colloquial usage of the term market will more often than not arouse an image of a physical place where consumerism occurs: a shopping mall, a supermarket, an agora, a bazar and so on. These examples are technically markets but economists hold a much broader definition of what a market is. To an economist, the market is not the physical location where goods and services are exchange but the actual exchange of these goods and services in and of itself.

So when did markets begin? The fact of the matter is that we really do not know. Markets have always — to a degree — been around when ever a group of humans have chosen to stay stationary around each other. Modern anthropologists state that early man (1) tended to either be nomadic or pastoral. This slowly evolved into a settled society where agriculture and the herding of animals became the basis of society. With a settled society comes commerce; and with commerce, comes markets.

This is what makes markets so fascinating. They were not an idea that was developed, created and then implemented but instead they naturally arose. All the great “classical” economists such as Ibn Khaldun, Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Jeremy Bentham and Alfred Marshall wrote about markets but as an observation of what was already going on. It is correct to claim that these economists suggested policies and ways to augment the market for the better, but they did not invent the market itself.

Overtime the study of markets and economics has advanced into many different schools of thought. While theoretically markets will maximize efficiency and the distribution of goods and services, there are many drawbacks. For a market to work at peak performance, many (and I do mean MANY) assumptions need to hold \ldots which unfortunately tends to be more rare than not. As a result we run into what is known as market failure. To put it bluntly, markets don’t always work as advertised. In some historical cases, such as in Russia, post-colonial Africa and Latin America, China and Germany, markets failed to the extent that their abandonment was sought. Hence the rise of modern or scientific socialism.

[Check in next Thursday for part 2 of An Introduction to Marxism for Non-Marxists]


(1) It should go without saying that I am referring here to mankind as a whole and not excluding the female element. In fact, modern sociologists and anthropologists claim that while there existed a division of labor during the nomadic period of humanity, the division was viewed as being more equal than it was under periods of settled agriculture.

(2) The most common cited avenues that lead to market failure are asymmetric information, externalities and non-private goods and services.


Here’s a bonus, Economic Morality at Radtalks:

Time is Abundant – Part 03 – Friday Khutbah – Joe Bradford

Time is Abundant – Part 03 – Friday Khutbah – Joe Bradford

The second in a series of Friday sermons about 103rd chapter of the Quran “By Time”
Listen to part 01 here
Listen to part 02 here

The 7 deadly sins ( Shirk, Magic, Murder, Riba, consuming wealth of orphans, turning back in warfare, and slandering pious women) are rooted in the need of control. Rather than relying on Allah and giving Him control in all matters, we believe control must be in our hands for us to benefit and feel secure. Ironically when we believe we are in control and securing ourselves we are actually losing baraka from Allah and will end up on the pathway to the 7 deadliest sins.

Shariah creeps onto the Washington Post (I keed)

A blog I read frequently, the Volokh Conspiracy (Eugene Volokh et al’s popular legal blog) has now moved to the Washington Post.

Volokh has serialized his article entitled “Religious Law (Especially Islamic Law) in American Courts, 66 Okla. L. Rev. 431 (2014)” for readers this week, which touches on broad aspects related to the compatibility between Islamic law and American law.

Reading this (generally very good) article, my first thought was that despite the author’s attempt to substantiate all his claims, some of them are still based on preconceived notions of what Shariah is without consideration for context and legal nuance. This to me means the door for more research and writing in the field.

My second thought was there is still a conflation of national laws and cultures with normative Islamic law by both Muslims and non-Muslims.

In the broadest sense possible, I touched on many of these topics in 2010 at a lecture hosted at Texas A&M University. You can watch it here:

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell – Guest Post on AltMuslimah

AltMuslimah published a piece by my friend Abu Yusuf and I on maintaining a healthy relationship. The article is titled: Don’t ask Don’t tell. Here is an excerpt:

“What the hell do you mean by ‘a few dates’?” my wife asked me through a cold, tight smile. We’ve been married for ten-ish years, but when I recently accepted a Facebook friend request from an old acquaintance who I’d dated in high-school, I felt obligated to disclose this tiny detail. Small mistake. My wife’s voice was tinged with jealousy. Jealousy is the number one cause of spousal murder in America.1 Dozens of Shakespearean plays show us how destructive and hungry jealousy can be. It must be fed with information; Curiosity then is the road to jealousy. That’s why Instagram-stalking is exhausting (I’m told).

We live in a world filled with history. We make a little every day. Most of it is lame, like watching the first 4 seasons of Gossip Girl (or all 6). Some of it is spicy, like the time… well, let’s just say my state revoked my license until I was 18. Dating what’s-her-face was lame. But history scars deep. I still walk around with my head down from years of acne, and I’ve been cruelly reminded of why we shouldn’t pull power cords with our toes. My unmarried 30-something friend calls his history ‘character development.’ His survival rule: ‘Don’t ask. Don’t tell.’

Coincidentally, that’s also the Islamic position.“Don’t ask about things that if revealed will upset you” (Qur’an 5:101). KaPow! The big picture here is a concept called ‘satr’ wherein you cover your sins, as well as those of others, just as you cover your body with clothes. A man approached the Prophet after prayer and said he wanted to unburden himself by revealing some of his sins to the Messenger. The Prophet said “Didn’t you just pray with us?” to which the man answered in the affirmative. The Prophet then said “Then God has forgiven your sin.”2 The man left.

There’s no reason to spill the beans on everything you do at all times. It’s better to conceal rather than blab your sins, and quietly and steadily work towards changing the sinful behavior. This is satr.It’s a survival rule that helps us stay sane in a world full of sordid secrets. The Prophet said: “Whoever covers a believer’s sins in this life, God will cover his in the next.”3 The gist of this is simple: leave things alone that you don’t need to know about others, and keep things from others that they don’t need to know about you. Remember that dude who is now a modest guy, but was a player back in the day?….

To read more follow this link to AltMuslimah.


Lessons learned in the front seat

medina lessons learned


When I first accepted Islam as a teenager, I became friends with an elderly American man named Curtis Shabbaz. He was ill. Having worked in an asbestos factory in his younger years way before regulation or even knowledge of its dangers, he was later diagnosed with cancer.  His wife would drive him to the Masjid on Sundays when he felt well. Only when they arrived he would be so weak that he was unable to exit the car. She would park the car in the direction of the Qibla, and he would pray in the passenger seat all by himself. I would often go out and sit in the car with him, keep him company, and have a pleasant conversation.

One day, while I was asking him about how he grew up and how he found Islam, he asked me what it was I was going to do now that I had become Muslim. He told me “The Imams and teachers of my generation took us as far as they could and they did a good job. But you will need to go and study. You will need pick up where they left off, to go learn Islam from the source,” he said. This was the first time anyone told me about studying Islam. The first I had heard anything about “seeking knowledge” as it were. He continued, “You need to go overseas. Go get this deen and bring it back to the people. And when you’re over there, you’ll find people that will help you, they’ll support you, they’ll equip you with the knowledge you need to bring back to us.” While I was in Medina, I found people that were willing to give us the shirts off their backs, all because we had come to study in the City of the Beloved Prophet. If I told you stories of people’s generosity, you may not believe me.

medina lessons learned

Abu Harun said: We used to visit Abu Sa’id al-Khudri, and when we would enter upon him he would exclaim “Welcome to the bequest of the Messenger of God! The Messenger of God informed us saying: People will come to you from distant lands to gain understanding [in faith] so welcome them and treat them well.” In another narration he added “…and teach them.”(1)

Br. Curtis was right, we found exactly that. Curtis continued, “When you get back, look for me. I will be there to support you, and so will the Muslims.”

Sadly, Curtis’ Janaza was the first I ever prayed over. I remember crying uncontrollably. Crying inexplicably. I was unable to understand why, but I never forgot the lessons that he taught me in the front seat of his car.


(1) Narrated by al-Baghawi in Sharh al-Sunnah, with supporting narrations found in Sunan Ibn Majah. The aggregate of these narrations seems Hasan.

How can a person be poor and still owe Zakat?

Do Poor People Pay Zakat?

As some of you may know, Zakat is one of my passions and is one of the most visited and asked about issues on my site. I use the Pubble service to field questions from readers of this site. Its a great service that I highly recommend. Occasionally, those questions deserve detailed answers or are common questions that deserve to be highlighted. The following is one of those questions.

Here’s what one reader wrote in yesterday:

so from what my mom is telling me, from what she is hearing from a some scholar, that given current value of gold/silver, if you have $400 in your savings (not the amount of income that you made), that you are eligible (or compulsory) to pay 2.5% in zakat? i’m not trying to start a fiqh fight, but my question is: what about people who themselves are in dire need, they are poor, they live off of welfare, food stamps, etc. yet Alhamdulillah at the time of paying zakat, they have like say $1000.00 in the bank, would they still be required to pay zakat? because I’m confused as to how people who in of themselves, their own nation’s standards classifies them as poor, even (these) poor people would have to pay zakat?
Also, can someone give me a simple way to understand:
a) conditions to make you eligible to pay zakat
b) conditions to make you ineligible to pay zakat
c) conditions to make you eligible to receive zakat
d) conditions to make you ineligible to receive zakat?
Do we go by the standards as set by the financial/political institutions of the nation of residence? OR do we just disregard that, and go only by the Hadith without any regard to the specific context that many of America’s poor live in today?
and tbh my intention is (hopefully) pure, because I believe that zakat has many purposes, other than purifying the donor’s wealth and giving him barakah, but to also address poverty in of itself. I do not want to see people who in of themselves are truly poor, for it to be compulsory upon them to pay zakat when they are in such a fragile situation, where every penny literally counts. and to give even 2.5% of that wealth could mean a difference.

Firstly, I think that a standard course in Zakat law would answer most of your questions. Here is a quick guide to many common Zakat questions. I usually do one yearly during Ramadan, so if you are in the Houston area it would be great if you attended. It is free and offered at local Masjids.

From what I understand from your question, you are perplexed that someone could own the minimum amount to make themselves liable for Zakat, but still be poor enough to receive Zakat. There is an essential condition that you may not be aware of, and that is the surplus wealth kept in savings (the $400 you mentioned) must be held consistently for one full calendar year.

Basically we’re asking the question: “If I have savings and spend from it, making my savings go below Nisab, do I still have to pay Zakat?” The short answer is: No, you do not have to pay Zakat if your savings go below Nisab.

If a person has savings of this amount or more for one calendar year, without ever dipping below that amount or having that amount earmarked for their on going expenses, then they will pay Zakat on that amount. While there are situations in which a person can be eligible to receive Zakat and liable to pay it (think of the concept of the working poor) they are very few and far between, given that Islamic law does not oblige a person to pay on their earnings and gross income, but only pay Zakat on their surplus savings after all expenses and other liabilities.

and Allah knows best,


Don’t see what you’re looking for here? Try our Zakat page for more information.