Islamicity Indices

Islamicity Indices and Our Project

Background on Islam and Islamicity Indices

Islam is a rules-based religion. The Holy Quran provides the foundational rules. These rules were interpreted and put into practice by the Prophet Mohammad in the first Muslim community in Medina. The Prophet Mohammad shepherded and served the first Muslim community in Medina subject to the support and concurrence of the community. Under his guidance the Muslim community flourished with justice as its hallmark. Muslims are asked to study the Quran and the life of the Prophet Mohammad to internalize the rules prescribed by The Almighty and to follow them in order to develop just and flourishing communities. It is also clear from Islam’s scaffolding that the legitimacy of rulers and governments is earned by their being even more rule-compliant than what is required of individual Muslims.

To gauge the practice of Islam, our decision was to decide how to classify countries as Muslim and non-Muslim. We decided to use OIC as the benchmark for country classification. The OIC, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (or Organization of Islamic Cooperation), has 57 members. These are countries with large Muslim populations. Although a revision of membership criteria is under consideration, these 57 countries are generally considered Muslim countries. Do these countries reflect the human, social, economic and governance teachings of Islam? In other words, what is their degree of “Islamicity”? “Islamicity” Indices are designed to answer this question and to provide a roadmap to improving a country’s “Islamicity”.

When we simply used our eyes to look at the Muslim countries, we failed to see a high degree of compliance with the rules outlined in the Quran and practiced by the Prophet Mohammad. We did not look for how many times a day Muslims prayed or if they made the pilgrimage to Mecca. These and more are personal practices. Instead, we were looking for the manifestation of Quranic teachings in the country’s institutional scaffolding and in its social, economic and governance practice. We could not see the socio-economic outcomes that we would expect from rule-compliant Muslim countries. We realized that a benchmark or index was needed to assess the degree of rule compliance or “Islamicity,” to serve as an indicator of needed political, social, and economic reforms.

This was a difficult task that was best taken up in steps. The difficulties were many:

  1. What should be the characteristics of a truly rule-compliant Muslim community?
  2. Where could the data be found on these characteristics?
  3. How could diverse data be summed up (or what importance or weight should be assigned to each characteristic) in a single number or index?

The first stage of the analysis was to construct two socio-economic indices for all countries—both Muslim as well as non-Muslim. The first index was an overall index that included four broad facets of a Muslim community—economic and human development, laws and governance, human and political rights, and international relations (download here). The second index was a standalone economic and human development index (download here). We endeavored to incorporate what we gathered to be the least controversial characteristics or outcomes of a rule-compliant Muslim community. We also decided that we would afford equal importance to each of these characteristics, as we could not develop a sound basis for assigning differential importance and thus weights. These two papers and indices generated much interest and debate in Muslim countries and elsewhere. The Islamic Development Bank (IDB) organized two conferences focusing on developing a Shariah-based index of socio-economic development in 2014. In 2015, Malaysia, in a speech by the Prime Minister, adopted its own index to measure the country’s compliance with Islamic teachings, needed reforms, and progress; and The President of Iran referred to it at the inauguration of a symposium on the Quran.

Given our focus of assessing socio-economic development outcomes we did not include core personal Islamic beliefs, as these would bias the results against non-Muslim countries. These core beliefs are the acceptance of Islam’s fundamental axioms of Tawheed (unity), Nubuwwah (Prophethood), and Ma’ad (accountability). Tawheed is recognizing Allah as the One and Only Creator and Sustainer of the entire Creation. It implies the unity of creation and the rejection of any kind of discrimination or disunity. Nubuwwah refers to the Prophets and Messengers entrusted with divine revelations for the guidance of mankind. Ma’ad establishes accountability and justice, for humankind will be judged and rewarded in accordance to their rule compliance or non-compliance. Moreover, we omitted from these indices the requirement of self-purification. Self-purification is not only crucial for professing Tawheed but also to enable development. It requires present

consciousness and awareness of the self and its Creator. This ultimately leads to embodying Islamic virtues and compliance with the rules and principles prescribed by Allah.

In the second stage, we looked at the performance of groups of countries (OIC and others) along individual dimensions (no overall index), such as education or poverty eradication. By omitting an index we avoided the problems associated with appropriate index weights (download here). The sub-par performance of Muslim countries was again evident.

For the third stage of the analysis, we collaborated with others to develop an index that was possibly more acceptable to Muslim religious scholars—an index that is more in the spirit of Maqasid al-Shariah-namely, the objectives of Shariah. In addition to compliance with Islam’s core beliefs, this index incorporates: equitable distribution of income and wealth, safety and security, socio-economic justice, social capital, environmental sustainability, healthcare, education, institutional quality, economic development, financial development, and business environment. However, to our mind, Maqasid al-Shariah omits the overriding importance of justice in Islam. Shariah itself is an interpretation by a group of Muslim scholars (all men) some centuries ago and has been used by rulers and clerics in some societies as a means of control; Muslims need to rediscover their religion for themselves today from its fountainhead—the Holy Quran. The first paper on this Shariah-based index, covering a limited number of Muslim countries was published in 2015.

During the fourth stage of the analysis, we have collaborated to modify, improve, and update our original indices. The first result of this work has been published in a book: Islamicity Indices: The Seed For Change, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. We plan to continually improve these indices and update them annually by December 1 of each year.

In the fifth stage, we plan during 2016 to develop country specific indices (i.e. for individual countries) to measure performance of most Muslim countries over time (we hope starting from 2000) and to update these annually by December 1 of each year. We are planning to do this for Muslim countries in 2016 and to extend our coverage to OECD countries, if not in 2016 then in 2017, This will afford countries the benchmark to monitor their own performance—where were they, how far have they progressed, what are the areas of significant shortfall and what policies do they need to adopt to enhance their “Islamicity”. We hope that country specific indices will afford Muslims the means to challenge their efforts to achieve positive reforms and change in their countries.

In the sixth stage, we hope to develop a detailed benchmark of what we consider to be the socio-economic hallmark of Islam—justice.  This project will take around three years. When this project is completed, our quest will be to assess how each Muslim country stacks up against this benchmark—both in comparison to other countries (cross-sectional) and to its own performance over time (longitudinal).