There has been an unexpected mix of stern criticism and curiosity on my last article, ‘The builder of sandcastles’ (July 13). The angry reaction of the major political parties was instructive. If the pride of any of the leaders has been wounded, then they should read the article over and over again till it kills false pride. If they feel they have been unjustly accused of instigating mass protests at a time when the country is at war, then they need to be reminded “that one should be thankful that there is any fault of which one can be unjustly accused.” These were the words of Oscar Wilde after his imprisonment in 1897 on charges of what Victorian England preferred to call “gross indecency”.

The article only evoked anger but has had no impact. Imran Khan is determined to press ahead with his million-man march on Islamabad on August 14, Tahirul Qadri still rambles on senselessly about his impending revolution, and an assortment of other political leaders have either teamed up with Imran or Qadri.

August 14 promises to be the most eventful Independence Day that the country has ever experienced. As though to out-Herod Herod, the ruling PML-N has announced mass celebrations that day in the federal capital. But the only befitting way in which August 14 ought to be celebrated this year is through thanksgiving and prayer – thanksgiving for the gift of Pakistan and prayers for our soldiers at the battlefront. The funds for the hugely expensive mass rallies should have been spent, instead, on the IDPs.

Otherwise sober and staid intellectuals seem to have developed a rather radical approach. This is evident from Abid Hasan’s recent article, ‘No agitation, no reforms’ (July 15). The title says it all.

The writer, a former operations adviser at the World Bank, is among the few well-read and balanced persons I have come across, but obviously there must be something in the stultifying atmosphere in Islamabad that transforms an individual so radically. At the Bretton Woods conference in 1944 the founders of the World Bank could not have imagined that a day would come when a retired representative of the organisation would actually become a forceful advocate of street agitation for bringing about structural reforms.

Abid, however, is right in the sense that there must be change but the priority has to be economic. It matters little to the man in the street whether Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan, Asif Zardari or any other middle-aged mediocrity is at the helm – they are all one and the same. The average citizen is ensnared by poverty and his miserable existence revolves around the unending struggle to keep body and soul together. His life is defined by the dreadful pronouncement of Maslow, “man lives for bread alone when there is no bread.”

The problem gets even worse when wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few. In his inaugural address on January 20, 1961 John F Kennedy warned: “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.” The warning is universal and applies to all countries. When it is unheeded and income disparities widen, the desperately poor turn to violence. Pakistan’s experience is that gruelling poverty has provided a recruitment windfall to terrorist groups and the country has paid an enormous price.

The findings of the 2014 Global Attitudes project carried out by the Washington-based Pew Research Centre show that 59 percent of those questioned in Pakistan rejected the TTP but 33 percent were indifferent towards the terrorist outfit. The implication is that a startling 60 million Pakistanis do not have any problem with the extremist worldview of the Taliban.

The country’s leadership does not have the luxury of time. Military action against the TTP is only a part of the answer. The poisonous ideology of the Taliban, which is based on the distortion of Islamic teachings, will take time to overcome. But what can yield quick results is a drastic revision of the pro-rich economic policies which the PML-N government has adopted.

The assertion in my previous article that Islam rejects trickle-down economics has triggered a deluge of emails which include several from India. Three basic questions were asked: (i) what is the end objective of the economic injunctions in the Quran?; (ii) is interest forbidden?; and (iii) how can an interest-free Islamic financing mechanism integrate with the global economy?

The answer to the first of these questions is that several Quranic ordinances leave no doubt that every citizen is entitled to a share in the community’s economic resources and, thus, to the enjoyment of social security. It was the second caliph, Umar ibn al-Khattab, who sought to translate these ordinances into a concrete administrative scheme but this remained an unfinished project because of his premature death.

The issue of interest is far more complicated. The earliest mention of riba (usury) in the Quran (30:39) was seven years before the exodus of the Muslims from Mecca to Medina. But the condemnation was formulated in general terms. The passage prohibiting usury as a legally binding ordinance (2: 275-281) was the final revelation received by the Holy Prophet, who died a few days later.

It was because of this that Umar ibn al-Khattab lamented: “The last of the Quran that was revealed was the passage on riba; and, behold, the Apostle of God passed away without having explained its meaning to us.” Under the circumstances, most scholars agree that the stern condemnation and prohibition of usury by the Quran pertains to profits derived from interest-bearing loans involving the exploitation of the economically weak by the strong and the resourceful.

Thus essentially the determination as to what kinds of financial transactions constitute usury is a moral one. Despite this jurists, past and present, have been making categorical pronouncements on what is loosely described as “interest” in terms of Islamic law. A case in point is the voluminous 1,100 page judgement of the Supreme Court’s Shariat appellate bench on December 23, 1999.

The answer to the third question on the integration of Islamic finance with the global economy is to some extent provided by the former governor of the State Bank, Ishrat Hussain. In a recent article he observed that the 2008-09 financial crisis, had resulted in “greater scrutiny of Islamic finance as an alternative to the global financial system because it offers itself as a source of stability, reducing fragility and volatility.”

He believes that Islamic finance is becoming increasingly popular worldwide. This is partly because profit-sharing rather than a fixed pre-determined rate of return on deposits shields Islamic banking from upheavals in the global financial structure. Britain is, therefore, on course towards making London the global hub of Islamic finance and the treasury is issuing a sukuk (Islamic financial certificates or bonds) worth £200 million. Ishrat then adds that Britain is “becoming the first sovereign state outside the Muslim world to issue an Islamic bond.”

This is factually incorrect because it was only on October 29, 2013 that Prime Minister David Cameron announced plans for the UK treasury to issue the Islamic bonds. Singapore blazed the trail four years earlier by issuing a sovereign sukuk in 2009, and, since then there have been several similar issuances. The trend has been set, and on March 26, 2014 Hong Kong lawmakers passed a bill authorising the government to issue $500 million sukuk bonds.

The world is rapidly beginning to recognise the merits of the Islamic economic structure. The 2012 Global Islamic Finance Report shows that $1.34 trillion worth of assets are being managed in accordance with the Muslim investment principles. Standard & Poor estimates that 20 percent of banking customers in the Asia and the Gulf region prefer an Islamic financial product over a conventional one with a similar risk-return profile.

Pakistan bleeds from a thousand wounds but terrorism is a dagger at its heart. The major cause is social injustice and economic deprivation. The remedy is obvious. One hopes that the country’s leadership will eventually recover from the summer madness of long marches and initiate measures to rescue the teeming millions from the hideous embrace of poverty.

The writer is the publisher of Criterion Quarterly.