Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 15 October 2019

‘Islamicity’ rankings ignore the realities

Trying to rank how "Islamic" a country is involves first asking some philosophical questions, writes Shelina Janmohamed

Ireland is the world’s most Islamic country, according to a study published this week by George Washington University. Tell that to Peter Robinson, the first minister of Northern Ireland, just across the border, who earlier this month was forced to apologise after calling Islam “evil”.

At number 27 on the list of most Islamic countries is Israel. Tell that to those under occupation in Palestine, as well as the Arab Israelis who face discrimination.

In the top 10 is my own United Kingdom. With continuing media and political hostility, an ever-increasing rise in attacks on Muslims and a controversy being generated by the minister for education that suggests that Muslim students must be specifically targeted for anti-extremism teaching (implying that all Muslim children go on to be terrorists), the UK’s high ranking simply does not sit right.

Malaysia is the Muslim country highest on the list, at 33, and the only other Muslim majority country in the top 50 is Kuwait. Saudi Arabia ranks number 91.

The Islamicity Index study conducted by Professor Hossein Askari and Dr Scheherazade S Rehman examined 208 countries and determined that those with the greatest economic and social success by the criteria they say are spelt out in the Quran were Ireland, Denmark, Luxembourg and New Zealand.

It is puzzling to even ask “how Islamic” a country is. We don’t ask “how Christian” or “how Jewish” a country is. It is asked at a time when Islam’s place in modernity is being challenged as incompatible, when Arabs and Muslims are attempting through the Arab Spring to assert self-determination and in many cases to find new forms of governance, when Muslim minority political and social participation is being stifled by the rise of far-right extremism and anti-Muslim sentiment, and where power and economics are slowly shifting away from the Western world towards the Muslim world and the East.

A cynic might say this is a way to legitimise western hegemony. And equally, it’s easy to see how the findings of such a study could be used to delegitimise Muslim claims of Islamophobia or poor treatment in countries rated high on the index.

Even if we did want to interrogate the “Islamicness” of a country, we would first have to address the huge philosophical question: “What is Islamic?” For example, one of the measures of governance in the study is that leaders should be elected. But some Muslims would argue that elections per se are not necessarily Islamic. And common sense should be included, too. When Musharraf was elected in Pakistan did the country suddenly become more “Islamic” compared to the previous day when he’d been in office after a military coup?

Of course, just because the results of a study feel counter-intuitive doesn’t mean we should ignore basic truths. It’s a fact that Muslim countries have fundamental problems that go against the spirit and laws of Islam – such as corruption and human rights abuses. And it’s also true that most Muslim nations are also developing countries and their economic foundations and levels of comfort don’t match those of the West.

“Islam is, and has been for centuries, the articulation of the universal love of Allah,” says Prof Askari. But I despair at an attempt to quantify and rank a moral code into a list of “Islamicity”. Of all the assessments made by the index, the attempt to live an Islamic life is not included. And that means it misses the fundamental point: Islam is a lived experience.

Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf and blogs at spirit21.co.uk

Updated: June 13, 2014 04:00 AM