– Hamri Ibrahim and Daniel Iqram
The Malaysian Insider
15 June 2014
Muhammad Abduh, a prominent Muslim scholar, once said, “I went to the West and saw Islam, but no Muslims; I got back to the East and saw Muslims, but not Islam.”
A recent study was carried out by Hossein Askari, Professor of International Business and International Affairs at George Washington University in the United States. The analysis, which was conducted with his colleague Scheherazade S. Rehman, concluded Ireland to be the country that is most faithful to the Qur’an.
One cannot help but wonder if Askari and Rehman reflected upon Abduh’s words when they stumbled upon their findings, and whether it brought a smile to their faces.
To measure prosperity, the two academics used such tools as the Economic Islamicity Index and Overall Islamicity Index, emphasising on legislature, governance, human rights, politics, and international relations as well.
Aspects, such as corruption of leaders, lopsidedness before the law, and discrepancy between the rich and the poor were all taken into account.
A point of note is that the Scandinavian nations all featured in top places in both indexes. These northern-most European countries also just happen to be ranked among the most peaceful and safest in the world.
The abovementioned countries are most definitely not composed of largely Muslim denizens; most of the populace probably have never even come across a Quran before, much less opened one up.
How is it, then, that they can be deemed to be more Islamic than supposedly Islamic states themselves?
The answer lies in the fact that Islam is very much a universal religion, designed to suit cultures of all orientations.
As rahmatan lil ‘aalamin (the Mercy to All Creation), much of the religion is common sense and espouses good, in line with the inherent nature of Man.
However, it does not take a divine set of beliefs to teach Man what is generally good and what is not, as such notions have already been wired into human thinking by the Creator of creators.
So, what is the deal with Islam, then?
Islam came to the Arabs (although it was ultimately meant for all mankind) at a time when their society was abysmal, devoid of moral depth to the point that nobody batted an eye if a newborn girl were to be buried alive out of shame for the baby’s gender.
Fathers and sons shared mistresses. Tribalism was the order of the day. The lack of humanity was unbelievable.
To us living in modern society, such practices may seem to be unacceptable beyond a shadow of doubt. But here is where one must be reminded of the fact that the human mental faculty is a malleable and ductile thing; the standards by which a person judges actions, whether his or others’, are subject to the forces of culture.
What is right to one man may be evil to another; one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.
The point of a true religion, in light of all this, is to set a benchmark applicable across all times and places.
Islam acknowledges that much of Good and Evil are obvious to humankind and need no further debate, but what it aims to do is set right the creed of Man first, to teach him to know his Creator.
Only then can Man learn to discern the good from the bad beyond what is apparent and elevate his virtuousness to the heights he was meant to.
Working on this principle of a threshold standard of virtues common to all peoples, modern Muslim-majority societies could certainly learn to adopt simple, everyday practices integral to Western society.
The custom of saying, “Thank you” to the bus driver upon getting off, or wishing a bypasser, “Good morning” on a routine morning run, for example, are in tandem with the Islamic spirit of fostering good ties with others.
These social courtesies have become second nature in Western society to the point that it would be out of the norm to not utter them when indicated.
In a more local context, the Japanese (whose country ranked 21st on the economic index) are known to be a people disciplined and mindful of their elders, yet possessing a certain gentleness in their mannerisms, the epitome of Asian values.
They are known for their punctuality and their quickness to shame if unable to complete a given task; this from the nation painted as the arch-nemesis of the Asian peoples for their notoriety in World War II.
Again, these are qualities that Islam would be proud for any of its communities to embody.
Even closer to home, the Singaporeans managed to squeeze into a lofty 7th spot in terms of economic prosperity, despite the fact that they are often portrayed as a society unjust to their Muslim minority.
Many a Malay has cried foul over their suppposed de-Islamisation agenda, yet none can deny the remarkable rate at which their country have prospered.
What is undeniable also is their outright emphasis on hygiene, apparent in their bans on public smoking and gum-chewing. Such designated importance on cleanliness would put many of their Muslim detractors to downright embarrassment.
On the contrary (and what an unfortunate contrary it is), no Islamic country, including those in the Arab world, was ranked in the top 25 on any of the lists.
Malaysia was ranked the highest among Muslim-majority countries at number 33, followed by Kuwait at number 42. Saudi Arabia was at the 91st spot, while Qatar was even lower at 111th – paradoxical, to say the least, for cultures who claim to handle their daily affairs in compliance with the Quran.
The sad reality is that Islamic states are far from mirroring the teachings of their faith.
They are rife with sectarianism, warfare, poverty, oppression of the weak, corruption, drugs, endless politicking – the list goes on ad infinitum.
If one did not know any better, one would be wont to think that Islam is a religion that encompasses degeneration of society.
Cliché as it may sound, it should be known to all that Islam is a most complete and comprehensive religion of good, but its steadfast adherents are not able to speak on behalf of those who merely claim to profess the faith.
There has to be a compartmentalisation between it and its followers.
Past generations of Muslims just could not do without flipping through their Book every day of their lives. Where did we go astray? Is the Quran for ourselves or for our shelves?
As a Muslim, I will be the first to admit that whatever prejudices that exist against my kind are firstly our own doing; we are the ones who portray an inaccurate image of our belief through our non-practice, which subsequently generates adverse reactions from others.
The consistent lack of adherence to established principles has caused others to view Islam (and not Muslims per se) with a skewed perspective.
Cat Stevens, now known as Yusuf Islam, once said something to the effect of, “I was fortunate to have known Islam before I knew Muslims. If it were the reverse, I would not have embraced Islam.”
Islam, when practiced according to its intended depth, should be an attracting force to outsiders, not one that drives them away.
The Islamic empire was once a revered force and held power over much of the world, commanding respect from both friend and foe. But Muslims today have to stop living in the past and revelling in their fomer glory.
We instead must rise and face the challenges of today with wisdom and with the pride that our belief should confer us.
There may be those who argue against the accuracy of Askari and Rehman’s study, but at whatever rate, the reality that it attemps to present is observable enough on its own.
If anything, it should act as another knock on our door, an effort to wake up the ummah (Muslim community), more so when the ones knocking are Muslims themselves.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) once said, “I have left among you two matters by holding fast to which, you shall never be misguided: the Book of God and my Sunnah (Way).”
Have we done enough to do him proud? – June 15, 2014.