WORLD Factbook by the Central Intelligence Agency cites 22.74% of the world population as Muslims. This makes Muslims the world’s second largest religious group after Christians (33.39%).
Despite their numbers and the natural resources they have been blessedwith, many Muslim countries today are still in a state of structural underdevelopment and are suffering from dysfunctional economies.
This is evident by the annual fact data and indicators that reflect the socio-economic status of Muslim countries – as published in the Human Development Report released by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) – hardly show any significant change compared to non-Muslim nations
In fact, most Muslim countries are ranked low in the UNDP’s Human Development Index, while the Corruption Perception Index also observes the issue of corruption persists in Muslim countries.
What are the root causes of this backwardness of the Muslims all around the globe in all fields of life – economic, political, education, cultural and so on?
In surah al-A’raaf, verse 96, Allah proclaims: “If the people of the towns had but believed and been God conscious, We should indeed have opened out to them (All kinds of) blessings from heaven and earth; but they rejected (the truth), and We brought them to book for their misdeeds.”
The above verse puts forth two different scenarios that can befall a society. On the one hand, barakah (concept of blessings) awaits a group (ahl al-qura) if they are rule-compliant and constantly abide by laws prescribed by Allah. On the other hand, the consequence for rejecting divine rules awaits those who stray from the path.
The term barakah is an incentive system which induces one to follow the path of proper conduct underlined by the religion.
Iqbal and Mirakhor (2011) explain that it refers to “an invisible but material” blessing whose result can be observed by any believer who engages in righteous conduct.
In an economic context, it refers to an imperceptible and invisible increase in resources by the will of Allah (Akram Khan, 1995). It is an incentive structure and a kind of built-in mechanism for increasing the resources which Allah guarantees the rule-compliant society.
In normal circumstances, the law of increase works quantitatively. For instance, an increase in one production factor can be quantitatively assumed to contribute to a certain level of increment in productivity.
However, the law of increase in the barakah concept seems to work qualitatively, and in some cases, it makes apparently inadequate resources suffice man’s needs.
Thus in Islam, man is required to seek barakah by being involved in quantitative laws of nature and also seeking God’s bounty for a qualitative increase in resources, for He provides guidance as follows: “And say, my Lord, let me land at a blessed landing place, and You are the best to accommodate (us).” (surah al-Mu’minun: verse 29)
The conditions of faith (iman) and god-consciousness (taqwa) for Allah’s blessing bring definite change in human behaviour. They induce people to be moderate, just and caring for others.
This will produce a society that lives within an economic system envisioned by Islam. In such a system, the society is able to reduce waste and extravagance; and smaller quantities of resources suffice for larger intended benefit (Akram Khan, 1995).
As such, the concept, as expounded by Iqbal and Mirakhor, establishes a positive correlation between the system of conduct and prosperity.
The converse of the concept also holds true, that unrighteous conduct will rob its holder of its barakah.
This applies not only to individuals, but also the community as a whole. Hence, by comparing the implications of the above surah with that of the realities of the socio-economic political condition of Muslim societies, one may gauge how far the Muslims are from achieving barakah.
Poverty is the perpetual bane in many Muslim countries, and still associated with reduced access to education, health services, safe water and sanitation; and social security. As a result, they have low literacy rates, low immunisation rates, and high infant and maternal mortality rates.
During the Prophet’s time in Medina, though, the god-conscious society was proven to produce the aspired results. However, this was not sustained as Muslims started to deviate from the original teachings of Islam and subscribe to rules other than those of the Almighty in their socio-economic-politico activities.
As a result, they lag behind in many spheres of development, and efforts to uphold the well-being of the community are normally constrained by a lack of political accountability whereas – as claimed by M. Umer Chapra in his book, Muslim Civilization: The Causes of Decline and the Need for Reform – a strong political accountability is necessary in any process of development.
Indeed, the Quran makes clear that the well-being of a society depends on the degree of Allah’s blessings.
Full compliance to His rules guarantees holistic growth and development in all fields of life – political, social, economic education and so on.
The reward for such compliance is stated in surah Al-Sajdah, verse 17: Now no person knows what delights of the eye are kept hidden (in reserve) for them - as a reward for their (good) deeds.
The absence of the two prerequisite conditions for barakah in the al-A’raaf verse is notably attributed to the above evidences of backwardness of Muslims all around the globe socially, economically and politically.
The conditions – namely iman and taqwa are still elusive, and therefore need further improvements.
Only compliance with the rules of Allah and being conscious of His presence are the keys to achieve the development envisioned by the Quran.Muhammad Hisyam Mohamad The STAR Home Opinion Columnist 1 September 2015