In Pursuit of Collective Happiness

Half the religion in the world propagates some form of fasting as a path to spiritual cleansing and enlightenment. The underlying principle of fasting/abstaining from the many kinds of human needs and desires is a display of man’s commitment to a cause, be it implicitly or otherwise. Muslims around the world had fasted continuously in the month of Ramadhan with similar precepts albeit with a slightly different perspective. A perspective much centered around the query of human values and the meaning in being part of an ‘ummah’ or the greater community.

The basis for these practices in the month of Ramadhan are actually a reminder that we do not live in a perfect world. There will always be those who are more fortunate than others, despite everyone being equal. A sorrowful yet sobering quote from a gentleman with an aboriginal descent (extracted from the famous documentary directed by Yann Arthus-Bertrand) pointed out how money have corrupted mankind to deny it’s peers the right to shelter, food and survival.

 

The ability for a society to survive in such an unsymmetrical state is made possible only through human compassion, empathy and tolerance. The month of Ramadhan essentially tests Muslims on these very fundamental and the dedication to carry out those universal human ‘responsibilities’ to the greater community. The month therefore is designed for it’s adherents to inculcate the following :

Compassion; to show kindness to the less fortunate. The encouragement of giving of alms and charity during the month is as much as it is an act of kindness as it is a genuine economic logic.

Empathy; to emulate the hardship of the impoverished through act of fasting and other deprivation of needs.

Tolerance; the humble acceptance that everyone is created equal and has equal rights. Patience as well as respect for all people regardless of creed, cast and religion.

If you’ve gone a month trying to achieve those deeds, you’ll discover what it means to celebrate Eid Fitr. The word ‘Eid’ stems from the Arab word for festivity, where as ‘Fitr’ denotes the exchange between the rich and poor through the act of sharing happiness through all possible means. Eid Fitr therefore, is the pinnacle of the act where everyone is entitled to celebrate and feast together to imbibe peace, unity, charity and more  importantly, as a reminder on the temporal feature of wealth and happiness were it not to be shared would render to be meaningless. This is the bedrock of the Islamic Gift Economy, the essence of which implies that wealth ought to be circulated in the pursuit of collective happiness of everyone in the society.

Essentially, the Islamic Gift Economy addresses the principle of voluntary exchange, the molecular activity that defines an economy. It departs from classical economics which emphasises on maximisation of personal gain and interest, towards a more collective and common good. Ideally, in an Islamic Gift Economy, the focus is to ensure redistribution of valuables within the community as opposed to the hoarding of wealth, thus minimising waste and inefficiency. This fits nicely with the framework of a ‘shared economy’ in that social convention driven by social media and technology, governs the exchange to ensure that the collective public and private expenditure is channelled towards societal goods.

 

The ‘Sharing Economy’: a proof that a little act of kindness goes a long way

Nowadays you don’t have to try hard to achieve good deeds because we are surrounded by technologies that connect and make our everyday life easier. The rapid development of the sharing economy built on the collaborative participation of peers (the public) is a valid tool that can be used to advance the value of compassion, empathy and tolerance through greater outreach and scalability. Why not, since everyone on the planet; rich and poor have access to smartphones and the internet.

It is not far fetch to imagine how Ramadhan and Eid can and will be celebrated in the future. Take for example the act of charity which can easily be done online through a plethora crowdfunding platforms. Charity and donation in support for causes that one believes in could be done instantaneously without much intermediaries. Now imagine a fundraising campaign on Ata Plus that lasts for the entire duration of the month of Ramadhan and achieving it’s funding target only to be immediately utilised during Eid. Wouldn’t that be something worth celebrating?

In addition to that, in a sharing economy, the prevalent perceptions of the proper boundary between the public and the private is often blurred. There is a general and broad notion of empathy that cuts across the society many of whom, if not all, experience similar things together. The nature of a middle class society means that everyone can easily relate to one another, and as seen in the turmoil brought by the 2007-2008 financial crises, everyone in the economy is equally affected. That is arguably the basis that makes sharing economy work, when the public started trading goods and services themselves, devoid from the question of private ownership and status symbols. Empathy therefore allows people to make use of idle assets for example, (in the likes of Airbnb) as offerings for those who needed most.

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Tolerance in a shared economy is made possible with the democratising feature of the Internet and the technologies such as blockchain. With the absence of hierarchy in the virtual realm of the internet, everyone is equal and has equal rights. Different values and cultures are shared almost seamlessly in a concoction of what is perceived to be the universal good. Parallel with the Islamic notion of the ‘ummah’, the virtual ummah 2.0 can already be said to be embedded in the concept of shared economy by allowing everyone having equal access to goods and services. If such ecosystems are orchestrated well and their benefits can be demonstrated, they could underpin new development models to bring about a positive change.

While many would still like to see the celebration of Eid and what Ramadhan encompasses in the lenses of religious practice and cultural tradition, there is no denying that the shift in society, the economy as well as technology will somehow alter the meaning of it all. When things are being done differently, in the name of efficiency, trust and transparency (a maxim we carry strongly today) these celebrations are there to remind us the core perennial values of what it means to be human. The only way a society can progress is through our own compassion, empathy and tolerance with one another. With that, Salam Eid Mubarak! Maaf Zahir dan Batin from all of us at Ata Plus.

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