The well-being of Muslim societies needs political, religious and economic reforms, away from its historic culture of violence, repression and deprivation, to empowering individuals, including women, and opportunities to all. Would it happen? I m not quite optimistic...
Have you ever pondered over the question: What has been the contribution of Islam and Muslims to the world civilization until now? The answer is very evident and straightforward: oppression, violence, discrimination, and fanaticism. These negative immoral values have been an essential part of Islam, since its inception.
Here is the evidence. Muhammad, the leader of Muslims claimed that he was a “prophet”, and in the name Allah, he ordered his followers to kill the “infidels”, non-Muslims; in particular, Jews and Christians.
While Judaism and Christianity were spread peacefully under sacrifices by followers of Moses and Jesus, Islam was spread under the threat of the sword: “Submit to Islam, otherwise you’ll be killed”. Islam considers non-Muslims the enemies of Allah. For more details, check out “Understanding Muhammad” by Ali Sina.
Also in the name of Allah, Muhammad urged his followers to conquer the world and force its people to convert into Muslims. Muslims call all this “Futuhat” (opening). The Muslim conquest was bloodier much worse than “colonialism”. The British and French colonialists never forced people to renounce their local faiths. For further details, check out “Islamic Jihad” by M.A. Khan.
After Muhammad’s death, four of his staunchly contemporary followers—called the Caliphs, or Al-Khulafa’ Al-Rashidun (the rightly guided successors), as Muslims prefer to call them—took over. Abu Bakr, Omar, Othman, and Ali, all of them were murdered by fellow Muslims in bitter power-struggle for the leadership of the rising Muslim empire.
Exploiting a power-vacuum in the world after the decline of the Roman Empire, Muslims went on to conquer a vast part of the world: the Middle East, North Africa, Spain, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan (and other regions in Central Asia), parts of India, Bangladesh, parts of China, down to Malaysia, and Indonesia.
As Omar Ibn Al-Khattab, the second Caliph, was visiting Egypt after his troops conquered it, he stood in front of the largest and most precious library in world at the time, in Alexandria, and asked, “What is this?” He was told it was a library. He stated, “If its books say what the Koran says, then it is superfluous. If it doesn’t, it must be destroyed.” And it was destroyed.
As a tourist, if you roam the Arab and Muslim countries, what historical ruins do you sight? Certainly not Muslim ones! In Egypt, you see Paranoiac ruins; in Iraq, Babylonian ruins; in Syria, Tunisia, Morocco, and Turkey, you sight Greek and Roman ruins, in Lebanon, Phoenician ruins, etc.
Two beautiful churches were converted into mosques; the Sophia in Istanbul, and the one that is now called Umayyah Mosque in Damascus.
Since the inception of Islam, Muslims have always divided the world into Darul-Islam, where Islam is the state’s religion, and Darul-Harb, where ruled by infidel laws, and Muslims may live in there as a minority.
According to a study by the American University in Cairo/Egypt, the majority of Muslims all over the world want to see Sharia, the “law of Allah”, be introduced and applied across the globe.
Ideologically, i.e. religiously, Muslims have always claimed “purity” and “supremacy” of Islam over other religions: concerning Judaism and Christianity, Muslims allege that they have been corrupted over the time, while canonical Islam demands annihilation of all polytheistic beliefs and creeds. Mosques and madrassas all over the world preach this to this day.
Besides, it is unthinkable for the majority of Muslims to separate Islam from the state. They claim that Islam is a full-fledged system that must regulate both religious and mundane in human life and society. They also believe that Sharia is “the best law” for all, every time and every where.
Advocates of “rationalism” and “secularism”, like Ibn Khaldun (1336-1406) and Ibn Rushd (1126-1198), inspired by Greek philosophy, were prosecuted and put under house-arrest during the so-called “golden age” of the Muslim empire. Both scholars were able to study Greek philosophy, and write their scholarly works NOT in the center of the Muslim Empire, namely Baghdad and Cairo, but in its peripheries, Spain, which at the time enjoyed an economic and cultural prosperity.
At present, Muslim scholars dare not criticize irrational archaic passages of the Koran and Hadith (prophetic tradition). They risk being killed or prosecuted. Egyptian theologian Nasser Hamed Abu Zeid is a case in point.
Heads of religious establishments, who predominantly were and are still fundamentalist, have enjoyed full power and have staunchly been allies of Arab-Muslim leaders.
Religious establishments, run by ministries of religious affairs—called Wazarat Al Awqaf, or schools like Al Azhar in Cairo/Egypt—have always played a “vital” role in cementing the rule of totalitarian regimes. Through their Ijtihad (efforts of interpretation) and fatwas, they have tried to justify/legitimize the ruler’s actions whenever and wherever it is convenient to both. They have also played an important role in brain-washing the masses, and, hence, helped subjugate them to the ruler’s will.
“Submission”, which is central in Islam, indeed, the literal meaning of the word “Islam”, plays a pivotal role in subjugating the masses, especially the illiterate among them, who constitute the majority in the Muslim world. Additionally, according to both the Koran and Hadith, Muslims must subjugate themselves to the will of “Walee Al ‘Amr” (the ruler) and to elderly MEN in the family.
Muslims are pacified by the tenet: “It is all Allah’s will. The reward will come in Paradise.” Islam urges Muslims to surrender to the will of Walee Al ‘Amr. It is “haram” (sinful) to object to the ruler’s will. As a result, Muslims learn hypocrisy, and grow scared of the altruistic leadership.
Furthermore, Islam, including the Koran and Hadith, reject the concept of “democracy” and formation of political parties, which, they believe, are pagan fads that only split the Muslim Umma (nation). Instead, Islam advocates “Shura” (consultation) among the powerful in society.
Muslims address each other by “akhi” (brother), but in practice they do everything in their hands to accommodate their own interests, and disregard the common one. Investing in the common interest of the community is practically unknown in Muslim societies; the powerful do everything possible to subjugate the masses.
Muslim leaders do not trust each other, nor tolerate criticism. Everyone amongst them believes that they are acting correctly, and those, who disagree with them, are branded as “traitors”.
In addition, the Arab states have always fueled internal and external disputes to distract from their failure to introduce reforms, provide proper development, and deliver solutions. The Israeli- Palestinian conflict is a prime case in point.
Hence, the Arab and Muslim states have always been plagued with internal division, conflict, and weakness.
The Muslim empire, and later the majority of independent Muslim states over the 20th century, have been and are still being ruled by undemocratic despotic regimes. They are either absolute monarchies like in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, and Morocco, or semi military regimes like in Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, and Iraq under Saddam. Pakistan, Bangladesh, Turkey, and Indonesia have been ruled by the military on an on-and-off basis.
Arab and Muslim societies are also plagued by delusion and a wishful illusionary mindset. The Arab and Muslim media are replete with brain-washing propaganda and conspiracy theories, depicting Islam as the best religious and socio-economic program for all times, and blame the abject misery in the Muslim world on Western hegemony.
Ali Gom’a, the grand mufti of Egypt, claims that Islam is the best religion on earth: “Those who do not like it, do so because they do not understand it.”
Islamic apologists like Navid Kermani, an Iranian-German, claim that “very few people understand Sharia.” In other words, all those atrocious passages in the Koran and Hadith that act as precursors to hatred, violence, and discrimination against women, are all a mere “misunderstanding”.
While Muslims reject “interests”, accepted and paid by banks, as “riba” or usury, they, in reality, take and pay interests, but they call it “murabaha”, shared profit. They also brag that Islam has “liberated” women, but in theory and practice they are discriminated against and denigrated (See Is Islam a Violent Faith? and Women in Hadith).
Muslim clerics also brag that the Koran is the “best scientific book of all times”.
Zaghlul Al Najjar—a Geologist and Earth Sciences professor, and Muslim theologian—publishes weekly articles in the Egyptian Al Ahram, propagating that the Koran is the most important scientific book of all times. For example, just because the Koran mentions the word “tharra” (atom), he alleges that the Muslim holy book is the “mother” of all “scientific books”. When average Muslims hears this, they get impressed.
Also Muslim propagandists depict ad nausea a wonderful picture of the so-called “golden age of Islam”; although Muslims world became the leading empire at the time by acquiring all intellectual treasures and wealth resulting from conquest of the world’s leading civilizations, it was far from an ideal society; and it was facilitated by deviant/apostate caliphs like al-Mamun and his successors.
Undoubtedly, religion, any religion, becomes part of its followers’ culture. While Protestantism, according to Max Weber, enhanced the Industrial Revolution, Islam hampered all kinds of social and economic development of Muslims wherever they have lived. Only deviation from Islam helped whatever contributions Muslims have made in the past.Under the title “Culture and Economic Success,” in the German monthly magazine “Mercure,” Siegfried Kohlhammer ponders over the relationship between culture and economic progress.
Kohlhammer defines “culture” as the sum of values, religious norms and beliefs, and traditional habits that un/sub-consciously determine the thinking and behavior of a people. Culture, which we acquire and learn over the process of our socialization, affects our “Weltanschuung” and perception of our intellectual, human and material environment around us.
This applies most starkly to Muslims, wherever they constitute the majority, or live as minorities in developed states.
Kohlhammer dedicates a big proportion of his article to explain why Muslims are economically less successful as a majority, and less integrated as immigrants. He believes that certain religious and cultural norms and beliefs hinder Muslims to achieve economic success.
Kohlhammer argues that Muslims in general are extremely protective of their families, especially of their female members. They are also patriarchal. Unlike other cultural groups, they do not allow their female members to work outside the home, and strive for a career. The relationship between migrant Muslims and non-Muslim communities is dominated by suspicion and mistrust.While Muslims, generally speaking, attribute their material failure to past European colonialism and ongoing western hegemony to keep them impoverished, they also easily resign to “Allah’s will”. They believe that earthly life is trivial and not worth of being economically proactive. They are deeply convinced that they are the only ones to reap God’s succor in the next life. “Ambition” is equivalent to “greed” in the Arab Muslim culture. This attitude and restrictive economic incentives have become part of the Arab and wider Islamic work-ethics and economic culture.In order to survive in a repressive economic environment, Arabs and Muslims develop “creative” methods of deception towards the state and fellow citizens. Deceptive bargaining and bribing are an essential part of daily transaction. Retail salesmen would swear by Allah that the “price”, offered by the customer, is the “cost price.” As the customer turns to leave, they call them back and sell at same price, i.e. the “cost price”, which, of course, is not true. This kind of transaction, although not rational and honest, is called “Shatara” (smartness), and dominates trade in Arab and Muslim countries. The majority of Arab and Muslim immigrants exploit the welfare system in Europe, often through deceptive and dishonest means, which is also a kind of Shatara to them.
In the Arab world, Arab regimes are not really interested in economic development for the whole population through a modern free economic market. The small number of successful Arab businessmen is an integral part of the regime. These people are usually partners of the regime.
Economic repression is maintained as an instrument of political oppression. Basic consumer goods like bread, sugar, tea, etc. are subsidized by the state in an attempt to buy allegiance of the population, and as an instrument of control. A modern, free and deregulated market might create progress and prosperity to the wider community. This, in turn, would empower people, further independence, and encourage them to demand for democracy, free speech, and human rights.
In most Arab Muslim countries, secure lucrative jobs are predominantly available in government departments and state-run institutions. The elite and people of the small middle-class are largely employed by the state apparatus. Most basic services, and the people, who work for these services, are controlled by the state. The private sector scarcely offers good jobs. A population growth of 2–3% yearly is increasingly making it difficult for both the state and private sector to provide enough jobs. Most Muslim states are bankrupt, and the private sector is almost paralyzed. Nepotism and corruption are used to “subsidize” mediocre incomes and offset striding inflation.
Potential bribe receivers are government officials, the police, judges, and even university professors. The rest of the population lives in dire deprivation. This corrupt environment is suffocating human energy, initiative, and creativity. It is generating a “culture” that is feeding conspiracy theories and rumors that “the others are guilty for our misery, primarily the West”. The Islamists and nationalists repeat as nausea that “We are the best Umma (nation) on the earth, but the West is hampering our development”.
Solid economic planning is missing. Arab and Muslim state leaders and warlords keep their populations busy with atrocious clashes, oiled by the same leaders and lords, such as in Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon, Libya, Afghanistan, and most recently Somalia.
The political discourse of the Arab regimes is one of defiance and belligerence. For instance, after Saddam Hussain of Iraq was executed, Al Gaddafi, the Libyan dictator, announced the erection of a statue for Saddam in every Libyan city.
Most Arabs are “experts” in political and economic analysis, their favorite pastime conversation. Criticism of local political leadership or demonstrations are repressed, hushed up by the media, and punished by jail and torture. On the other hand, tiny demonstrations by international human rights organizations against Guantanamo are reported on every Arab state-controlled TV and newspapers.
As minorities, Muslims have not been as successful as other ethnic and religious minorities either, both in developed and underdeveloped countries. Minorities like Jews, Germans, Japanese, Koreans, Chinese, Indians, Sikhs, and Armenians are the most successful people in North and South America, in Africa, and Asia, but Muslims are not.
The Jews, the arch enemies of Muslims, in the USA make just 1% of the American population, but enjoy a living and education standard that is 80% higher than that of their American compatriots. Sixteen percent of all Nobel Prize winners have been Jews.The Chinese community, for instance, in Indonesia and Malaysia (Muslim majority countries), in Thailand and America is economically the most successful. The same applies to the Japanese, Indian, and Korean ethnic minorities. In Uganda and Kenya, the Indian minorities contribute 35% of the gross national product. Arab Muslim and Muslims in general in America and Europe are not so successful. In Great Britain, 61% of Bangladeshi and Pakistani immigrants (all Muslims) are jobless. 48% of Pakistanis and 60% of Bangladeshis have a low standard of education. On the other hand, the income of Indians in the UK is higher than that of average Britons.
In Sweden, while the rate of employment among the local population is about 74%, it is only 42% amongst Turks, 31% amongst Lebanese, 21% amongst Iraqis, and 12% amongst Somalis.
On the other hand, according to a recent study by a team of researchers at the American University in Beirut/Lebanon, Arab Christians, as minorities in Muslim and non-Muslim societies are economically more successful than their Muslim counterparts.
The Muslim culture—loaded with a medieval repressive religion, called Islam—has never gone through a modernization process. Unless this happens, Islam will keep hampering progress in Muslim societies.
Therefore, political and religious reforms in the Arab and Muslim world are essential for the collective good of humanity, and the enlightened world must increase it pressure on the Arab/Muslim regimes to do so. Only then the war on deprivation and extremism can be won.
Political and religious reforms are the key to development and peace in the Muslim world. Would that happen? I’m usually an optimist, but this time round, I am not.