Salman Ahmed Shaikh
It is observed that many of the developing countries are countries with Muslim majority population. In fact, if we flip this, almost every country with Muslim majority population seems to be underdeveloped. Is this a coincidence or has it anything to do with Islam and its principles. Below, we would like to make few important observations.
First, there are exceptions to the two statements above throughout history. Even in modern history, there are exceptions and in fact many Muslim countries have achieved progress and development even in western sense of the term. Malaysia and Turkey are good examples. In last thirty years, even the countries like Bangladesh and Indonesia have improved on several development indicators. Moreover, there are millions of Muslims that live in Europe and North America that have contributed to their respective nations and achieved professional success in diverse areas including academics, science, technology, commerce, arts, sports and public offices. Increased acceptance of Islam in developed world supports the notion that modern education and science has not given any reason to not believe in Islam to say the least.
Second, the message of Islam historically over the many centuries had been accepted by people of all regions, race, color, gender and whether they live in Muslim majority areas or Muslim minority areas and whether they had been poor or rich. Plus, the message of Islam is much more than the recent attributes which are negatively associated with Islam. That is the only reason why the following of Islam and new converts have even increased in recent times.
Third, most Muslim majority countries are not ideological states and had not seen religious parties or authorities ruling the state in most cases. In fact, for once, it happened recently in Egypt through a democratic process. It is for everyone to see how it was made to fail by vested interests.
Fourth, most critics like Kuran (1997) make a common mistake of equating Muslim history or Muslim civilization of past or present as representative of Islam. Advent of religion of Islam dates back to the beginning of human existence on earth. The concept of unity of Allah and belief in life hereafter had remained in every prophet of Islam’s teachings. Muslims believe in all prophets (pbut) including Moses (pbuh) and Jesus (pbuh). Muhammad (pbuh) is the last of all prophets (pbuh) and the book revealed to Him (pbuh) is the true representative of Islam and its teachings.
There is need for understanding this clear separation. A major part of Quran is a historic narration of wrongdoings of the people who were addressed by prophets (pbut) in person while spending their lives within them. Islam neither in those times nor now will be reflected by how it is received, taken and followed by Muslims. In fact, there have been several instances in holy Quran where the pious believers who lived during the life of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) are also admonished, warned and asked to correct their mistakes.
Presently, the systems and institutions that prevail and especially how they are being managed by the ruling authorities in Muslim majority countries represent gross deviation from Islamic principles. Mirakhor & Askari (2010) clarified this by writing that the claims of any society to call itself Islamic must be validated by the existence and effective operations of the institutional structure (rules of behavior). They opine that in today’s Muslim societies, the core elements of the institutional structure that would designate a system as Islamic are, by and large, notable for their absence.
But, still we see misnomers like ‘Islamic world’ in debates and academic literature. Part of the mistake is attributed to Muslims too who have followed the authorities (religious and political) who have misused the name of Islam for their benefit. But, this clear separation has to be understood by all so that debates and dialogues can be directed towards principles rather than actions of minority groups taken as Islamic. They are not even taken as Islamic in Muslim majority areas. At least, if electronic and print media cannot put up sensibility for commercial reasons, the academic discourse needs to avoid such misnomers. Indeed, there are internal shortcomings in Muslim countries that have led to underdevelopment. But, it has nothing to do with following Islam.
Kuran, Timur, “Islam and Economic Underdevelopment: An Old Puzzle Revisited,” Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics, 153 (March 1997): 41–71.
Mirakhor, Abbas & Askari, Hossein (2010), Islam and the Path to Human and Economic Development, New York: Palgrave Macmillan.