Islamic law demands much of Muslims; how successfully do they fulfill its precepts?
Scheherazade S. Rehman and Hossein Askari of Georgetown University provide an answer in a 2010 article, "How Islamic are Islamic Countries?" In it, they establish the Islamic teachings and then calculate how well these are applied in 208 countries and territories. They posit four separate indices (economics, the law and governance, human and political rights, international relations); then they combine these into a single overall index, which they call the IslamicityIndex.
EI2 stands for Economic IslamicityIndex; LGI2 for Legal and Governance IslamicityIndex; HPI2 for Human and Political Rights IslamicityIndex; and IRI2 for International Relations IslamicityIndex. Together, they make up the IslamicityIndex (I2).
Perhaps surprisingly, the ten countries that top the list of Islamicity turn out to be, starting at the top, New Zealand, Luxemburg, Ireland, Iceland, Finland, Denmark, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and the Netherlands. The bottom ten are Mayotte, the West Bank and Gaza, Somalia, the Isle of Man, Eritrea, Sudan, the Channel Islands, Iraq, the Comoros, and Angola. Put differently, none of the top ten "Islamic" countries has a Muslim-majority, but in seven of the bottom ten, one-half or more of the population is Muslim.
Welcome to New Zealand, the surprise country that best applies Islamic teachings.
Malaysia, a barely Muslim-majority country has the highest ranking in their list, coming in at #38 from the top. Kuwait, a fabulously rich oil exporter, has the highest ranking for a thoroughly Muslim-majority country, at #48. Jordan has the highest ranking for a thoroughly Muslim-majority country without oil wealth, at #77.
Taking the 57 members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) as a sample (and ignoring population sizes, so that the Maldives with 300,000 has the same weight as Indonesia with 237 million), their aggregate score is #139, or distinctly below the halfway mark of #104 (i.e., midway through the 208 countries surveyed). In other words, according to this study, the world as a whole willy-nilly abides by Islamic precepts better than do Muslim-majority countries.
The real aggregate Muslim number is probably well below #139, in part for technical and statistical reasons, in part because the survey was published in 2010, before the Turkish prime minister went rogue and before the Arab upheavals began: Turkey ranks a relatively high #103, Mali #130, and Syria #186; their current scores would certainly be much farther down the Islamicity scale. Combining these factors, I estimate the real aggregate score for Muslims today to be #175.
The IslamicityIndex helpfully quantifies my two-part theory (as presented in books published more than 30 years ago on slave soldiers and Islam in public life) about Islam and politics: (1) Islam's demands are inherently too difficult for Muslim rulers to achieve, alienating Muslim populations from their governments, leading to a wide gulf between rulers and ruled, and to greedy autocrats who disdain their subjects' interests. (2) Compounding this problem, since about 1800 Muslims have realized that they lag behind non-Muslims in nearly every sphere of human activity, causing such symptoms as despair, irrationality, conspiracism, and Islamism.
Asked about my thesis, Mr. Askari disagrees. In a letter to me, he blames "opportunistic religious leaders" who "have distorted Islamic teachings and have hijacked the religion for their own personal gains." Their greed has enabled "oppressive and corrupt rulers to thwart the development of effective institutions," he argues. Finally, colonial and imperial powers have "exploited these conditions for their own gains." In other words, he sees an evil triad of religious, political, and Western forces creating a vicious circle that blocks progress.
My answer: When presented with the failure of a seemingly noble ideal (Communism, Islamic law), adherents instinctively blame human failure rather than ideals; we must try harder, do better. At a certain point, however, when the goal is never realized, it becomes logical and necessary to blame those ideals themselves. Fourteen centuries of failure should be a sufficiently thorough experiment.
Despite the Wahhabi ideology and control of Mecca, Saudi Arabia applies Islamic teachings less than do most countries.
Take the specific case of Saudi Arabia: If application of the Wahhabi doctrine for 2½ centuries, a stable government and control of Mecca and Medina for nearly a century, and unearned riches beyond the dreams of avarice still leave the country ranking a miserable #131, how can any society hope to attain Islamic ideals?
Askari blames Muslims; I blame Islam. This difference has enormous implications. If Muslims are the culprit, believers have no choice but to continue trying to fulfill Islamic teachings, as they have tried for more than a thousand years. If Islam is the problem, the solution lies in reconsidering the traditional interpretations of the faith and reinterpreting it in ways conducive to successful living. That effort might begin with an exploratory trip to New Zealand.
Mr. Pipes (DanielPipes.org) is president of the Middle East Forum. © 2014 All rights reserved by Daniel Pipes.
Jan. 8, 2016 update: In an echo of the IslamicityIndex, Feisal Abdul Rauf (of the "9/11 mosque" fame) came up with a Shariah Index Project and published a book on the topic, Defining Islamic Statehood, Measuring and Indexing Contemporary Muslim States (Palsgrave, 2015). The book has two main components.
First, it defines an Islamic state as one that "must acknowledge divine sovereignty foremost and then act to protect and advance its citizens according to the six maqasid (objectives) of Shariah: life, religion, mind, family, property, and honor."
Second, it measures Muslim states to see how they fare. A colleague of Abdul Rauf, Jasser Auda, explained in a seminar at the International Institute of Islamic Thought, an Islamist organization, according to an IIIT summary of the event, that
when they would run numbers, Muslim minority countries would actually have a better Islamic index. "So, what is an Islamic state?" Dr. Auda asked. "The state is more Islamic when it approaches the maqasid more. As such, many Western countries are more Islamic in some ways."
Jan. 24, 2016 update: Beila Rabinowitz of MilitantIslamMonitor.org brought to my attention the write-up of a talk by Usama Hasan at Bristol University in England, on Dec. 6, 2013, that makes the same point with the bonus of a historical quote:
Dr. Hasan argued, based on Islamic scripture and its mainstream, normative interpretation, that an 'Islamic state', if such a thing existed, would be a just state, respecting basic human rights, freedoms and democracy. Furthermore, it would be obliged to help provide for people's basic necessities such as food and drink, housing, education, jobs and healthcare. Dr. Hasan stated that in this sense, "Britain is far more 'Islamic' than many so-called 'Islamic states'."
In the discussion that followed the talk, an audience member quoted Muhammad Abduh, the Egyptian reformist thinker of a century ago, commenting upon his return to Egypt from Europe about the religious duty to promote civic society: "In Paris, I saw Islam but no Muslims. In Cairo, I see Muslims but no Islam."
March 9, 2016 update: Ali Raza Rizvi, a prominent Shia cleric, told an interfaith meeting in London that he "feels more Islamic" in Britain than in Muslim-majority countries:
I feel that London has more Islamic values than many of the Muslim countries put together. There are many different communities living together in peace and harmony, giving respect to the others and loving others and that is what Islam is all about – and unfortunately [much] of the Muslim political leadership has failed to provide that. I feel more Islamic living here because I can easily practise my faith and give respect to all other members of the community belonging to different faiths and not even belonging to a faith, to anything. Because that is what Islam is all about, respecting and giving to others ... if in one line I could say what Islam is all about, it is all about love and justice.