Articles on Islamic Economics

Is Islam the Cause of Underdevelopment

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.


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.

6 replies »

  1. The underdevelopment in Muslim countries has a lot to do with Islam. The examples of Turkey, Bangladesh and Indonesia are not relevant because conventionally speaking, a true Islamic country is considered the one where the government runs a Sharia’h law in the land. The countries mentioned by the author as exceptions have secular constitutions instead of a Sharia’h law or a Sharia’h inspired constitution.

    Moreover, the success of individual Muslims in non-Muslim countries is largely attributed to the open, fair and progressive socio-political system that those non-Muslim countries offer to its citizenry without any discrimination based on religion, background or else. If you jump on a conveyor belt, you don’t take credit for it because you are only benefiting from it.

    Islamic values, as practiced, are backward and aggressive in nature and the proof of this is in the condition of Muslims. Muslims are not appreciative of science, evolution and other intellectual discourses because they think that all the proof has already come to them 1400 years ago. This inculcates the non interest in most matters relating to science and personal enlightenment and discovery. There are hardly any Muslim scientists or explorers in the present age and time.

    What underscores this underdevelopment is the idea that “Islam can not be wrong” and it is always the people and their motives. This is illogical because people get their ideas from a source and for the Muslims, it is their religion.


    • Thanks for the feedback. Islam is a set of principles and it has to be judged based on its principles. Secular countries in recent past have killed millions of people, but when Secularism as a doctrine and philosophy is discussed, this can not be cited. We need to compare principles when we are comparing doctrines. Muslims like all other human beings can be good in few aspects and can be poor in others. That is a separate story altogether. There are millions of Muslims in North America, Europe and Asia. Some are Nobel Laureates and some Royal Science Society fellows are Muslims as well. Dialogue and thinking must never end. I appreciate it and thank you for your reading and feedback.


      • Thank you for your reply and yes I agree that an open discussion is always healthy and this is the main thing that the Muslim world needs more of. No society flourishes unless there is free flow of ideas and tolerance to accept difference of opinion.

        What your article lacks in my view is the critical analysis behind the reasons why Muslims stand where they are. Your theme is underdevelopment, but I see you in a constant defense mode while trying to get brownie points from irrelevant examples. When you state your top 5 reasons for such underdevelopment, do you have a hypothesis?

        Your example of Muslims getting successful in the west is a credit towards the western societies for providing the right environment. The credit goes to the non-Muslims for this, but you claim it the other way.

        There are more universities in US than the entire Muslim world combined, yet in Muslim theology, they are lowly infidels. What a principle. When Muslims have more schools and universities than mosques, they will prosper.


      • Brother, I did not say that West did not achieve material progress. Indeed, it has. It also has stronger institutions which protect human rights for its citizens in some ways better than many of the current Muslim countries. There are problems in West which may be present in other societies and nations as well. My argument is not centered at defending everything related to Muslims and disregard everything about non-Muslims. I do not know whether your response to my article is criticizing me or other authors you had read before.

        Not all non-Muslims are ‘Kafir’ in the sense in which Quran uses the word. You may get some insights from this article:

        Regarding your hypothesis that Muslims will prosper when there will be more universities than mosques, I pray we have both of these simultaneously in Muslim societies as much as is needed. From a development policy perspective, the single most important contributor to improved literacy in Pakistan are religious schools (Madaris). Seeking education is obligatory on every Muslim as per Islam.


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