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Bahrain: Are Taxes Un-Islamic?

Money is on a number of bloggers’ minds this week. Ammar is concerned about unmanaged growth in the Gulf economies:

… When I see the current levels of growth in the Gulf region right now, it starts to get a little bit scary. … I’ve seen companies reach growth levels of over 800% per cent, and these aren’t small companies that only need small amounts of capital to grow. No. These are companies that originally started off with a few million dollars worth of capital in the first place.

[…]

So this must be a good thing right? Well, sure, if you’re on the receiving end of it. But expand your stream of thinking and let’s look at this on a larger scale. Sure, the people involved in the investments, real estate, and any of the other fields that seem to be generating unbelievable cash flows are better off. …These people are only a small percentage of the population of this region. …While some people are getting richer, a lot of people are actually getting poorer, and the gap is widening.

[…]

But that’s not the only problem.

I sit and ask, how long can this almost dreamlike growth be sustained? Another two years? Five? Maybe 10? There will be a point when certain factors start to crumble, and it's not that I don’t have faith in the current economy, it's just that the normal rules of economics and history tell you that something will happen, and it just might come all crashing down. And who will be the victim here?

Some people are clearly doing very well for themselves, otherwise why would Gulf Air place a classified ad in the local newspaper offering a Boeing 767 for sale? Silver thinks it is ridiculous:

To make matters worst it was posted next to used cars!!

We turn from the rich to those at the other end of the scale; a number of bloggers have posted about the unemployment benefits soon to be introduced in Bahrain, funded by a one per cent deduction from everyone's salaries. Mahmood reports that a number of religious scholars are apparently against the idea:

According to Fadhlalah, Isa Qassim and a bevy of other religious scholars taxes are haram (forbidden by Islamic law). … What is the objection, I hear you ask? Simply that in Islam you cannot force people to give up their hard earned money, so if that money is collected from an unwilling participant who should give it up freely, then the receiver would have received “tainted” money, hence haram, should he or she accept it.

So what is a modern country to do, in light of these conflicting fatwas and interpretations thereof? … What we need are drastic measures and this is the perfect opportunity to grasp the moment and enact them.

What we need now is an unambiguous declaration to remove Islam from the basis of our constitution and rule the country with modern ways and thinking rather than stay for ever beholden to a bunch of folk’s disparate and desperate interpretation of ancient texts.

On the same issue, Mohammad Al-Ubaydli makes reference to an ancient champion of liberty (or maybe to his modern-day namesake):

Cato would be proud – Islam is used to back libertarian principles.

Rayyash has some questions:

لماذا يستثنى العسكريين من المعادله ويضافون عند الدفع
لماذا اقدمت الحكومة على استقطاع مبلغ مضاعف لم يقترحه الخبير
واذا كان بالامكان اقتطاع مبلغ الواحد بالمائة من الحكومة والذي يكفي لسد العجز فلماذا الاستقطاع من باقي المشتركين
ولماذا وافق نوابنا الكرام على اقتراح الحكومة دون الرجوع الى قواعدهم
Why is the military excluded from the equation and added when it comes to being paid? Why did the government approve deducting an amount twice as much as what the expert had suggested? If it was possible to collect the one per cent through government contributions, which would be sufficient to meet the deficit, why are they deducting money from employees? And why have our esteemed MPs approved the government's recommendation without returning to their constituencies?

Mohammed AlMaskati approaches the issue from another angle:

According to today’s AlAyam the Unemployment Fund is expected to collect a total of 36 Million Dinars in one year, and would reconsider the tax law after 5 years. On the other hand, as reported in today’s AlWasat the government of Bahrain has bought 9 UH-60M Black Hawk Assault Helicopters with a total cost of US $204 Million (that’s BHD 76.9) roughly 2 year’s worth of workers taxes.

*sigh*

Still on money matters, Mohammed AlMaskati also has something to say about scholarships being given to university students, details of which were recently published in the press:

…Scholarships are supposed to be given out to students in uncommon and needed majors that aren’t offered by the local universities but are required within the local job market. This is apparently not the case here in Bahrain. …90% of the scholarships are for the most common majors within the University of Bahrain, which is not only already supported by the government but has recently lowered its fees to be within the reach of the majority of the people of Bahrain (and with all fairness, it is). … A quick glance on the scholarships is enough to give you butterflies in your stomach. 15 Scholarships in Islamic Sharia, one in Art and Porcelain, others are degrees in Office Management, and the list goes on to include Domestic Studies and Sociology.

Is this how we reward the outstanding students! By offering them scholarships in local universities or send them all the way to the other side of the world to study Office Management and come back to work as a secretary.

Hasan Hujairi wants to know how promising artists are supported in Bahrain:

I’ve been asking some of my friends – who are in their mid-twenties (just like me) – about what they think of the environment in Bahrain in terms of it encouraging local artists – regardless of their medium of expression. I had a few mixed answers. One group said that Bahrain is very stifling to art just because there are too many social restrictions and obligations. The second said that it is very difficult to find places in which art may displayed/shared with others. Another group said that the reason there aren’t much activity by artists is because people are lazy.

[…]

Here in Japan I get many requests to play the Oud for different audiences and in different events to share Middle Eastern heritage with the people here, even though I’m just an amateur. This makes me sad knowing that in Bahrain, I would probably not find invitations as easily unless I was “exceptionally” good. It’s all just a catch-22; how can you expect musicians and artists to be “good” if there is no encouragement to develop their skills and build on their experiences?

Ali Abdulemam begins a series about different aspects of Bahraini society, and this week he looks about the ‘sheikh culture’ in Bahrain, referring to the ruling family:

ما يهمني هنا هو كيف نصنع “الشيخ” كمجتمع ونعزز مكانته “التشيخية” علينا

عندما تذهب إلى المجالس التي يديرها أفراد العائلة الحاكمة ترى ، أن التقاليد البدوية مسيطرة ضمن نفس النسق او السياق ولكن بصور أخرى، فلازال صباب القهوة أسود، تذكيرا لما كانوا يمتلكونه من عبيد

[…]

سلطة الشيخ لا تتوقف عند المجتمع العام العادي، بل حتى الشركات لو أرادت أن تيسر كثير من معاملاتها خصوصا الكبيرة فيجب أن يكون عضو او رئيس مجلس الإدارة أمام إسمه “الشيخ”وهذا موجود في معظم الشركات الكبيرة

What concerns me here is how we as a society create ‘sheikhs’ and elevate their position over us.

When you go to a gathering organized by a member of the ruling family, you see the Bedouin traditions dominating the arrangement or environment but in a different way; the coffee pourer is still black, a reminder of when they owned slaves.

[…]

The power of a sheikh doesn't end amongst ordinary society, for even if companies want to facilitate their activities, especially the large ones, a member of the board of management, or the chair, must have ‘Sheikh’ before his name, and this is the case with most large companies.

Khalid, at The Drivel of 2 Bahrainis, has the environment on his mind, and is pleasantly surprised by a new public garden that has just opened:

As many of you know, Bahrain was once known as the “island of a million palm trees”. Unfortunately, that’s history now and what we have today is a concrete jungle instead. If you look at an aerial picture of Bahrain, you easily notice how yellow the place is as opposed to say Abu Dhabi, which you wouldn’t even think is a desert.

For a while, at least for the government, a garden meant having a few swings, maybe a basketball court, a café, few trees and plants here and there and loads of brick. Even the walkways weren’t green enough. The word green must have not been in their dictionary. I think the general complaint was that it’s too expensive to maintain those gardens, yet, you look at other cities and notice that they use sewage water instead and thrive in keeping their cities green.

I remember last summer, there were some serious talks about making the country a greener place, etc. and that this initiative would start with planting more trees here and there and with the revival of Al Andalus garden. … To be honest, I didn’t expect much given the current standard of gardens or mini parks that we have, but this one actually turned out to be much better than I expected. Actually, it’s nice and I wouldn’t mind spending some time in it when am back.

We end with Bahraini Rants, who is feeling the heat:

Know when you pull out a nice cold can of soda / pop / cola from the fridge and there’s this cool layer of condensation forming on the can? Now imagine the condensation, covering the entire can, getting pretty wet, cool to the touch, and slippery, so slippery.. This is what summertime is like in the Middle East, except it’s so hot that there’s no coolness to the condensation forming on your skin. Instead, it’s hot humid sweat that forces your clothes to stick to your body, that makes you want to peel your skin off and release the steam that’s making your blood bubble and boil. It’s this unbearable heat that you don’t just think about cooking an egg on the road, no you think about making an omelet, frying up some bacon, and even some toast.. Nothing is as futile as wiping the sweat off your brow in our climate this time of year, because just as soon as you wipe, there’s more sweat dripping down. You’ll start to discover new things about your body, like, “wow! I didn’t know I could sweat from my ear lobes, wow, summertime really teaches you new things about your body…”

More from our hot and sweaty Bahraini bloggers in a week…

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