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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Vol. 9    Issue 24   01-15 May 2015

Development and the Muslim World

Professor A. R. MOMIN

In Islamic view, all resources have been created by God for the sake of humans (Quran 31:20, 57:7). These resources are for the benefit of all mankind and not for just a few individuals, families or groups (Quran 2:29). Man is therefore urged to partake of God-given resources (Quran 7:32, 28:77). Livelihood is described in the Quran as God’s bounty (Quran 2:198; 5:4; 17:66; 28:2; 62:10). The Prophet is reported to have said: “Seek for your family legitimate means of livelihood, for this is a jihad (holy war) in the cause of God.” The Prophet condemned indolence, dependency and beggary and emphasized that one should earn his livelihood through his own effort.

Islam is not against the ownership of private property or the accumulation of wealth. However, the whole range of economic activities from agriculture to trade and commerce is subjected to two basic conditions. First, one should employ legitimate means in earning one’s livelihood. Trade and other economic or commercial activities and transactions are subjected to a system of moral checks and balances. All unethical means of acquiring wealth, including unfair trading practices, bribery, hoarding, black marketing and usury, are strictly forbidden. Second, being the vicegerent of God, man is required to act as the trustee of economic resources. He should neither squander them in an unbridled manner nor use them as means of exercising control and domination over others. The Islamic tradition is highly critical of ostentation and conspicuous or wasteful consumption (Quran 9:35; 17:26; 25:67).

The Islamic view of development is informed by the concept of well-being (falah), which involves all round well-being, the sharing of resources, fellow-feeling, social justice and philanthropy. Islam is against the concentration of wealth in a few individuals or families (Quran 59:7). The Islamic principle of social justice is reflected in the Hadith: “Take wealth from the rich and turn it over to the poor.” The Quran says that the needy and the dispossessed have a rightful share in the possessions of the rich (Quran 70:25). In Islamic view, poverty and destitution result largely from the inequitable distribution of resources and the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few individuals or families.

The political elite in most post-colonial states in the Muslim world adopted the Western model of development, which envisaged the path to progress through economic growth, industrialization and modernization. The state assumed a central and commanding role in the process of economic transformation, which viewed development as a linear, top-down and state-sponsored process. Turkey’s Kemal Ataturk, Habib Bourguiba in Tunisia, Reza Shah in Iran, Sukarno in Indonesia, the Bathist leadership in Syria and Ayyub Khan in Pakistan embraced the Western capitalist model of development. Some Muslim countries such as Libya, which adopted socialist policies, followed the centralized, state-sponsored model of development. Authoritarian rule, widespread corruption of the ruling class and the uncritical appropriation of the Western model of development have seriously undermined the progress of Muslim societies. Most Muslim nations continue to be blighted by autocratic rule, corrupt leadership, widespread poverty, food insecurity, malnutrition, low literacy rates and wide income inequalities. According to the Islamic Development Bank’s estimates, over 350 million people in Muslim countries lived in extreme poverty in 2010. In sub-Saharan Africa, where over 15 per cent of the world’s Muslim population is concentrated, more than 60 per cent of Muslims are living in extreme poverty.

Nigeria, located in Western Africa, is Africa’s most populous country and its largest economy. It is the world’s eighth largest and Africa’s largest oil producer. It earns over $42 billion a year from oil exports, which accounts for about 90 per cent of its income. Following independence in 1966, political instability and endemic ethnic strife led to military coups, and military groups ruled the country from 1966 to 1979 and again from 1983 to 1999. The oil wealth has benefited only a handful of people, mainly oil barons and the corrupt ruling class. Nigeria’s former dictator, General Abacha stacked away millions of dollars in Swiss bank accounts. The oil industry is wrecked by widespread corruption, oil pilferage and mismanagement. There is a well-entrenched nexus between criminal gangs, oil barons, government officials and the army. Up to 200,000 barrels of oil are stolen everyday and it is estimated that oil worth at least $40 billion has been stolen over the years. Despite its oil wealth, Nigeria is blighted by widespread poverty, illiteracy, high foreign debt, very high unemployment rates, political instability, environmental degradation and endemic ethnic and religious violence. Nigeria used to be a food exporting country until a few years ago, but now it spends over $6 billion a year on food imports. More than 60 percent of Nigeria’s population of 170 million live in extreme poverty. In spite of its oil wealth, Nigeria’s per capita income declined by over 15% from 1975 to 2000 while the number of people living in extreme poverty quadrupled from 19 million to 84 million.

In addition to oil, there are massive reserves of uranium under the Sahara desert in the north of the country, which a French company has been mining for over forty years. The Nigerian government gets a commission for the mining, but the local population, mostly the Tuareg, have derived no benefits from the natural wealth in the region. Nearly 80 per cent of Nigeria’s population are illiterate and almost 90% have no electricity in their homes. The chronic shortage of power has led to the closure of hundreds of factories and loss of jobs for millions of people. In March 2014, at least 16 people were crushed to death in a stampede where nearly half a million people scrambled to apply for 5,000 government jobs. The country’s infrastructure is in shambles and health care facilities for the masses of people are virtually non-existent. About half of Nigeria’s population have access to potable water and sanitation. The country’s infant and child mortality rates are amongst the highest in the world. Life expectancy is 46 years for men and 47 years for women, one of the lowest in the world. Indonesia is the world’s biggest exporter of tin, which is largely mined illegally. In 2012, Indonesia exported 98,000 tonnes of tin, about 40% of the global supply. Major electronics companies such as Samsung, Apple and Phillips rely heavily on Indonesian tin and are among its biggest buyers. Indonesia gets about $ 2 billion a year from tin exports, but miners get a pittance as wages.

Some countries, notably Malaysia and Brunei, have shown how resources could be managed in a prudent, far-sighted way. Brunei, a tiny Muslim kingdom in South-east Asia, is among the world’s top 30 richest nations. Crude oil accounts for almost two-thirds of the country’s export revenue. Worried over the state of the economy after its hydrocarbon reserves run out after two decades, Brunei has started working out a long-term plan for the future. Currently, the energy sector accounts for 94% of government revenue, 96% of exports, 74% of investment and 69% of GDP. In the next three decades, Brunei’s oil reserves and natural gas resources will be exhausted. In January 2008 the government unveiled its first long-term national development plan called Wawasan Brunei 2035 (Vision Brunei 2035). It focuses on the need to explore a sustainable path for the non-oil economy. The plan also aims at elevating the kingdom into the ranks of the top 10 nations in the world in terms of GDP per head by 2035. The plan focuses on information technology, incentives to small businesses and investment in petrochemical production and other industries. The government also hopes to develop tourism and is targeting a 50% increase in tourism-related employment. The government also plans to promote industrial investment in non-energy sectors. The Brunei Economic Development Board (BEDB), in addition to focusing on business development schemes, is also devoting attention to promoting Islamic businesses from halal food production to Islamic finance.

Malaysia, like most developing nations around the world, invited foreign investment. At the same time, it saw to it that foreign companies would transfer technology for the exploitation of the country’s resources and provided training to local workers, which would contribute to the nation’s development effort. Today, the state-owned oil company Petroliam Nasional Berhad (PETRONAS) has become a global player and is providing training to other developing countries. Petronas is ranked as the 12th most profitable company in the world. By managing its own oil company, Malaysia was able to ensure that the value of the resources stayed in the country, rather than being sent overseas as profits. Malaysia has wisely invested in the high-tech sector and is today one of the major producers of electronics, computers and computer chips. In 1960 Malaysia’s per capita income was $784; today it is $10, 304.

Human Development

Muslim majority countries present a mixed picture of human development. According to the United Nations Human Development Report 2014, out of 49 nations that were marked by very high development in 2013, six (Brunei, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Kuwait) were Muslim majority. Out of 53 nations that were marked by high development, 13 were Muslim. These included Libya, Oman, Malaysia, Lebanon, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Iran, Azerbaijan, Jordan, Tunisia, Algeria, Bosnia and Albania. Out of 42 nations which had medium human development in 2013, 14 were Muslim. These included the Maldives, Turkmenistan, Indonesia, Egypt, Uzbekistan, Syria, Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, Morocco, Tajikistan, Bangladesh, Palestine and Equatorial Guinea. Out of 32 nations that had low human development, 11 were Muslim. These included Pakistan, Nigeria, Yemen, Comoros, Mauritania, Senegal, Sudan, Afghanistan, Djibouti, Gambia and Mali.

According to the United Nations Development Programme, 42 nations have performed better in terms of the Human Development Index from 1990 to 2012. Of the top 15 countries that have performed well, 8 are Muslim majority. These include Iran, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Tunisia, Turkey, Qatar, Algeria and Brunei. In 2009, Kazakhstan ranked first on UNESCO’s Education for All Development Index by achieving near-universal levels of primary education and gender parity.

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