Islam’s Straw Man will Haunt the World, Part X: Islam in Our World Today

This is our final post in this series. In the nine earlier posts we have tried to shine light on Islam’s essential scaffolding. What is the essence of Islam and how does this translate into institutions and governance? And more practically, what should be the impact of these recommended institutions in what we can see and measure in communities and countries that profess Islam? We have embarked on this journey in the belief that the practice of Islam does not reflect its essence and this failure has in part encouraged a false image, a convenient straw man that has and continues to fuel Islamophobia, that is widening the chasm between East and West. Our goal is to enhance the understanding of Islam, in both the Muslim and the non-Muslim world and to narrow the widening chasm.

So we developed Islamicity Indices as the instruments to measure adherence to Islamic teachings and their implementation. Given our goal of comparing countries, we did not incorporate what is largely the mechanical side of Islamic teachings (the so-called Five Pillars — professing faith, daily prayers, fasting in Ramadan, pilgrimage to Mecca and paying alms). Although these are important, if we had included them we could not compare the performance of Muslim and non-Muslim countries because of the bias in favor of a country where the population simply professes Islam and is categorized as Muslim. Our goal was to measure the extent that countries across the world were in line with the rules (institutions) that are recommended in the Quran and practiced by the prophet Mohammad, to achieve just, caring and thriving communities. We divided Islamic teaching into four broad areas — the economy, legal and governance structure, human and political rights, and international relations — with each of these further subdivided. We estimated these four indices and in turn we combined them to get a fifth overall index. We have estimated these indices since 2000. The full results, the details of what was incorporated into the indices and many more references and downloads are available on our website (WWW.IslamicityFoundation.Org).

The results can be summed up in a famous saying of Mohammad Abduh over 100 years ago, after simply using his eyes, “I went to the West and saw Islam, but no Muslims; I got back to the East and saw Muslims, but no Islam.” Namely, Muslim countries have not followed the rules, adopted the institutions and achieved the values and behavior that Islam demands. Instead, non-Muslim countries better reflect Islamic teachings. While our website shows the details of which countries perform the best, here is a broad summary. The countries that have performed the best on the overall Islamicity Index since 2000 are not Muslim: New Zealand, the countries of Northern Europe (the Netherlands, Sweden, Ireland, Switzerland, Denmark, Luxembourg, Finland, Norway, Germany, Iceland, the UK), Canada and Australia. The best performing Muslim country has been Malaysia, ranking about number 40 among 152 countries, followed by Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, with the latter two owing much of their high ranking to vast oil/natural gas reserves relative to their small populations which helps them in the economy index and in turn in the overall index. These unflattering results are to be expected if one compares the important teachings of Islam and what they demand to what we see practiced in Muslim countries — oppression, autocratic governance and illegitimate rule, injustice, unequal opportunities for individual development, grotesque opulence alongside poverty, corruption and armed conflict. Therein lies the crisis of the Islamic civilization.

On a more practical level, these indices and their roughly 50 component indicators afford an easy method for Muslims to absorb the teachings of their religion and take charge as opposed to following the opportunistic dictates of corrupt clerics and rulers. It enables Muslims to monitor the success and failure of their country from year to year and to peacefully work for positive change. At the same time, these indices are an instrument to easily familiarize non-Muslims with the essence of Islam, going well beyond the Five Pillars that have been popularized around the world and in so doing to help destroy the straw man and the Islamophobia that it continues to fuel.

While Muslims are ultimately responsible for their own fate, the world powers — the UK, France, Russia, China and over the last 60 years especially the United States — have had a negative effect on developments in many of these countries. Most pointedly, the United States, while espousing freedom and democracy, has supported brutal dictators in the Middle East who have robbed Muslims of their freedom and a better life. All this in the name of stability and now the war against terror. The list of these foreign abuses is too long to discuss in this short post, but we cannot help but list the harm that the United States is doing at this moment to the Middle East as well as to its own soft power, reputation and long-term security. The U.S. is supporting a brutal dictator in Egypt. Washington is all in with a barbaric crown prince in Saudi Arabia who has not only dismembered a peaceful journalist but is imprisoning and torturing hundreds of peaceful citizens who dare to utter an opinion not sanctioned by the state. The Saudi prince, MBS, is not only oppressing his own people, he is murdering thousands of innocent Yemenis in a war for which the U.S. has supplied intelligence, covert operations, mid-air fueling and all the arms that kill and maim. He has even blockaded a U.S. ally, Qatar. The U.S. has gone all in with Netanyahu and Israel with blind support that will in time only harm Israel and Jews around the world. Policies such as endorsing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which no other country supports, and moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem are a kick in the face of more than 400 million Arabs in the world and a slap in the face of nearly 2 billion Muslims. These are policies that may help Netanyahu’s re-election but they make millions of enemies for the United States and endanger Israel as a democratic country because it treats its Arab citizens increasingly as second class. The U.S. treatment of Iran from 2018 onward could unravel the relative global peace that we have achieved since WWII. The U.S. has abrogated an agreement that it signed and that was endorsed by the United Nations Security Council (JCPOA), it has escalated sanctions against Iran that are hurting innocent Iranians and most recently it has named an integral part of the Iranian government, the Revolutionary Guards, as a terrorist organization. This is the first time the U.S. has so named a part of any government. The U.S. Administration may be doing this to support Netanyahu’s re-election and MBS’ obsession to start a war with Iran or in the name of stability, but in the end it is a short-run policy with ominous blow-back. There will be a price to pay for American, Saudi and Israeli hubris. We forget the past at our own peril!

Will Iran and other countries respond by naming the multitude of U.S. covert operatives as terrorist? Where will it all end? Sadly, while these policies may supposedly achieve some measure of stability for the moment, they are impeding reform in Muslim countries, fueling resentment and anger, leading to catastrophic instability and turmoil for the future. Bombs and drones will not buy long-term peace and prosperity. If you ask why the U.S. has become so unpopular in the Middle East, you need look no further. Westerners should imagine themselves in the place of Arabs and Muslims. How would it feel to be oppressed by illegitimate rulers supported by the United States and bullied by Israel? Will there be a time to say enough is enough? Yes, foreign powers are in part responsible for what we see. Yet, we repeat, it is Muslims who must take charge of their religion, adopt its rules and build its institutions. This process begins with self-development as we have outlined in an earlier post. It will take years, more realistically decades, to achieve a turnaround and create just and thriving Muslim countries. It is not Islam that is at fault because it has hardly been practiced in Muslim communities since the prophet Mohammad’s death.

Since this is the final in these series of posts, we dare give you a peak at the latest indices ranking 156 countries and to be posted on our website by May 15. While there are a few significant individual changes, the broad results are the same. The top five performers in the overall index are New Zealand, Sweden, the Netherlands, Iceland and Switzerland, while the top performing Muslim countries are the UAE (ranking number 48), Albania (49) Malaysia (50) and Qatar (51). Yes, Muslim countries have fallen further back. It should be no surprise. Although the performance of Muslim countries is disheartening in the overall index, their performance, as to be expected, is even worse in the human and political rights index with the top three: Albania (43), Bosnia and Herzegovina (50) and the Kyrgyz Republic (76). What we observe in Muslim lands goes against everything that the Quran preaches. Muslims countries have a long road to travel!

Finally, what do we see as the future of the Islamicity Indices Program? For the Islamicity Indices Program to thrive and reach its full potential, we hope to merge into a world-class university as the Center for Islamic Institutions. A university setting would be the ideal medium. In this medium, we can expand our Advisory Board to include university alumni from around the world, develop exchange programs and increase and formalize our country partnerships. We hope to work with partners from Muslim countries, through exchange and training programs, to spread the message of the Islamicity program to all countries around the world. We hope to energize students, expand course offerings and establish student and faculty exchange programs to create a global community that understands and supports the mission of reform and of building effective Islamic institutions. In this way, we hope to put together a united global community that is dedicated to peaceful change and building effective institutions with freedom and justice as the scaffolding. We can also begin a professional development campaign with university backing to garner the support of foundations and philanthropists around the world to support this program as an independent, thriving and ongoing initiative. In the process, we would hope that the Islamicity Indices Program would also become a flagship initiative for such a university.

For a number of books that detail and support this ten-part short article series, please go to www.hossein-askari.com and www.IslamicityIndices.Org

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Hossein Askari

Hossein Askari

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MIT engineer-economist. Prof: Tufts, UT-Austin, GW. IMF Board. Mediator Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait. Writing: Econ-Finance, Oil, Sanctions, Mid-East, Islam.