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When thinking about Islam and economics, the most striking fact is how poorly Muslims have done with the ample economic resources at their command. Rather than minimizing this fact, Chapra puts it at the center of his analysis of what he calls "the causes of Muslim decline." His conclusion is blunt: that decline results from "an absence of public accountability" and intolerance of "free and fearless criticism of government policies." He contrasts leaders who are not "accountable before the people" with the "democratic governments in Western countries [which] have done a great deal to promote justice, development, and well-being." Nor does he skimp in his criticism of the treatment of women, arguing that they should be as educated and active in the workforce as men. He concludes his book with a chapter on "the need for political reform," asking, "can peaceful struggle be successful?" and concluding it can because "globalization is acting as a check on despotic governments." All this is impressive in itself; coming from the senior economic adviser to the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency makes it all the more so.

About half of Chapra's study is concerned with approaching economics from an Islamic perspective. Chapra argues economics should promote the realization of humanitarian goals, rather than being value-neutral. He is at pains to argue that Islam is compatible with reason, that science (including economics) can be built on a religious paradigm, and that there is no reason to assume a conflict between reason and God's revealed word. He also explores the Islamic principles for running an economy, providing a good defense for the Islamic injunction against interest, namely, that investors should be at risk (he argues for shareholding, instead of bank loans).