(This event is organised by MEI’s Arabia-Asia Research Cluster, as part of its quarterly public talk series.)
In today’s capitalist-consumer culture, avarice comes to signify the highest moral imperative for conducting an “ethical” life in a modern city. Once derided as sin and evil, excessive desire for material wealth and social position now signifies God’s grace and ambition. While modernity has radically altered the imaginative horizon in the West, assimilating the anticipatory reward of ‘treasure in heaven’ with the promise of material wealth in the seculum. The eschatological truth continues to function as an ethical reminder for Muslims to give charity in the name of God, often enriching the coffers of religious authority. In post-9/11 world, however, Muslim gift-giving and mercantile practices have come under direct surveillance for allegedly financing terrorism and money-laundering. This calls forth for an imposition of a predatory financial order, which alleviates avarice as a form of virtue, and hence conflates the difference between the desire for the Unknown with the desire for profit. Drawing on concrete ethnographic research, this talk illuminates how Islamic eschatological thought – the imaginative weight of End Times – despite facing the onslaught of parallel imaginary, arising from the selfish and corrupt financial architecture, continues to shape the desire of Muslim merchants. Moreover, the paper argues the just and ethical economic system cannot be established until the cravings for excessive wealth become subjected to the idea of Good.
About the Speaker
Noman Baig is an Assistant Professor in Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences at Habib University, Karachi. He has a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin. His doctoral ethnographic research was conducted in Pakistan largest wholesale bazaar, Bolton Market. The dissertation particularly focuses on the convergence of Sufi moral discourse and meditative practices of zikr/dhikr with globalized technologies of finance capitalism. His new research explores the transnational mercantile network in South Asia and Middle East, and the significance of mystical theology in understanding the nature of commercial desire.