Islamicity

“I went to the West and saw Islam, but no Muslims; I got back to the East and saw Muslims, but no Islam.”
(Mohammad Abduh)

Introduction

The OIC, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (or Organization of Islamic Cooperation), has 57 members. These are countries with large Muslim populations. Although a revision of membership criteria is under consideration, these 57 countries are generally considered Muslim countries.

Islam is a rules-based religion. The Holy Quran provides the foundational rules. These rules were interpreted and put into practice by the Prophet Mohammad (sawa) in the first Muslim community in Medina. The Prophet Mohammad (sawa) shepherded and served the first Muslim community in Medina subject to the support and concurrence of the community. Under his guidance the Muslim community flourished with justice as its hallmark. Muslims are asked to study the Quran and the life of the Prophet Mohammad (sawa), to internalize the rules prescribed by The Almighty, and to follow them to develop just and flourishing communities. It is clear from Islam’s scaffolding that the legitimacy of rulers and governments is earned by their being even more rule compliant than required of individual Muslims.

Islamicity Indices

When we simply used our eyes to look at the Muslim countries, we failed to see a high degree of rule compliance. We could not see the socio-economic outcomes that we would expect from rule-compliant Muslim countries. We realized that a benchmark or index was needed to assess the degree of rule compliance or “Islamicity,” to serve as an indicator of needed political, social, and economic reforms.

This was a difficult task that was best taken up in steps. The difficulties were many:

  1. What should be the characteristics of a truly rule-compliant Muslim community?
  2. Where could the data be found on these characteristics?
  3. How could diverse data be summed up (or what importance or weight should be assigned to each characteristic) in a single number or index?

As a first attempt I collaborated with Professor Scheherazade Rehman to construct two initial socio-economic indices for all countries—both Muslim as well as non-Muslim. The first index was an overall index that included four broad facets of a Muslim community—economic and human development, laws and governance, human and political rights, and international relations. The second index was a standalone economic and human development index (these two indices and the papers describing their construction can be downloaded below). We endeavored to incorporate what we gathered to be the least controversial characteristics or outcomes of a rule-compliant Muslim community; these are reported in the two papers below. We also decided that we would afford equal importance to each of these characteristics, as we could not develop a sound basis for assigning differential importance and thus weights. These two papers and indices have generated much interest and debate in Muslim countries and elsewhere. The Islamic Development Bank (IDB) organized two conferences focusing on developing a Shariah-based index of socio-economic development in 2014. In 2015, Malaysia, in a speech by the Prime Minister, adopted its own index to measure the country’s compliance with Islamic teachings, needed reforms, and progress.

Given our focus of assessing socio-economic development outcomes we did not include core personal Islamic beliefs, as these would bias the results against non-Muslim countries. These core beliefs are the acceptance of Islam’s fundamental axioms of Tawheed (unity), Nubuwwah (Prophethood), and Ma’ad (accountability). Tawheed is recognizing Allah (swt) as the One and Only Creator and Sustainer of the entire Creation. It implies the unity of creation and the rejection of any kind of discrimination or disunity. Nubuwwah refers to the Prophets and Messengers entrusted with divine revelations for the guidance of mankind. Ma’ad establishes accountability and justice, for humankind will be judged and rewarded in accordance to their rule compliance or non-compliance. Moreover, we omitted from these indices the requirement of self-purification. Self-purification is not only crucial for professing Tawheed but also to enable development. It requires present consciousness and awareness of the self and its Creator. This ultimately leads to embodying Islamic virtues and compliance with the rules and principles prescribed by Allah (swt).

As a second attempt, again with Professor Rehman, we looked at the performance of groups of countries (OIC and others) along individual dimensions (no overall index), such as education or poverty eradication. By omitting an index we avoided the problems associated with appropriate index weights (this paper can be downloaded below). The sub-par performance of Muslim countries was again evident.

As a third attempt, I collaborated with three colleagues (Alaa Alaaabad, Zamir Iqbal and Adam Ng) to develop an index that was possibly more acceptable to religious scholars—an index that is more in the spirit of Maqasid al-Shariah-namely, the objectives of Shariah. In addition to compliance with Islam’s core beliefs, this index incorporates: equitable distribution of income and wealth, safety and security, socio-economic justice, social capital, environmental sustainability, healthcare, education, institutional quality, economic development, financial development, and business environment. The first paper on this index covering only some Muslim countries has been published in the International Journal of Pluralism and Economics Education, Volume 6, No. 4, 2015 (“Benchmarking Objectives of Shari’ah (Islamic Law): Index and its Performance in Select OIC Countries”); we hope to follow up on this paper with another paper that includes more Muslim countries, and introduces non-Muslim countries.

As a fourth attempt, I collaborated with Hossein Mohammadkhan to modify, improve, and update our original index. The first result of this work has been published in a book: Islamicity Indices: The Seed For Change, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.

As a fifth attempt, Hossein Mohammadkhan, Dr. Liza Mydin and myself are collaborating to deliver regular updating of the index by December 1 of each year. We are also following up on this work by developing longitudinal indices for individual countries (i.e., over time), which will afford countries the benchmark to monitor their own progress; these indices for individual countries will be also updated and reported by December 1 in future years. In the more distant future, we hope to develop a detailed benchmark of what we consider to be the socio-economic hallmark of Islam—justice.  This project will take around three years. When this project is completed, our quest will be to assess how each Muslim country stacks up against this benchmark—both in comparison to other countries (cross-sectional) and to its own performance over time (longitudinal).

The purpose of these endeavors is first and foremost to encourage each Muslim to discover his or her religion from its indisputable source—the Holy Quran—not from pronouncements of clerics, rulers, the media and much less from extremists, who all have their own agendas. Second, it is to provide Muslims with a performance indicator of their rulers, governments and communities. Third, it is to assess successes and failures in order to derive better policies; the contemporary socio-economic state of Muslim countries is not stellar and a change of policies is required for a turnaround. Fourth, it is hoped that both the Muslim and non-Muslim world will begin to attribute the current state of affairs in Muslim countries not to Islam, but to its correct source—non rule-compliant Muslim rulers and governments, their cronies, and their foreign backers. Fifth, it is hoped that this endeavor will be the catalyst for positive change in the Muslim world, by providing a benchmark to assess success and failure. And sixth, these developments should help in closing the growing chasm between the Muslim and non-Muslim world to enhance the unity of humankind. For a short talk on Islamicity, please access the podcast that was aired on the German Broadcasting System in February 8, 2015: “A Benchmark for Islamic Societies: The Seed for Change.”

Dissemination of Results and our Islamicity Website

Our work and results can be accessed on: “Islamicity-Index.Org”. We hope to secure the funding and enlist other colleagues to:

  1. Establish the “Islamicity Foundation” to oversee this project
  2. Update and report our Islamicity indices on a regular basis
  3. Report longitudinal indices for individual countries
  4. Report improved Islamicity and justice indices that we hope to develop in the future
  5. Enable others to submit their Islamicity indices to be displayed on this site
  6. Disseminate policy papers to encourage meaningful reforms and enhance political, social and economic conditions in Muslim countries

Downloads

How Islamic Are Islamic Countries?” with Scheherazade Rehman, Global Economy Journal, Volume 10, Issue 2, May 2010″

An Economic Islamicity Index” with Scheherazade Rehman, Global Economy Journal, Volume 10, Issue 3, September 2010.

The Economic Development of OIC Countries: A Survey,” with Scheherazade Rehman, in Islamic Finance and Economic Development, Zamir Iqbal, Abbas Mirakhor and Tunc Uyanik (eds.), World Bank, April 2013.

Hossein Askari Islamicity Talk: “A Benchmark for Islamic Societies: The Seed for Change