Some may criticize our approach because it does not conform to the Maqasid Shariah (the goal of Shariah—religion, life, lineage, intellect and wealth). The foremost Shariah requirement is a commitment to one’s Islamic beliefs. The acceptance of Islam’s fundamental axioms of Tawheed (unity), Nubuwwah (Prophethood), and Ma’ad (accountability) requires manifestation through commensurate action. Tawheed is recognizing Allah as the One and Only Creator and Sustainer of the entire Creation. It also implies the Unity of creation and refusal of any kind of discrimination and disunity. Nubuwwah refers to the Prophets and Messengers entrusted with divine revelations for the guidance of mankind. Ma’ad establishes accountability and justice, for mankind will be judged and rewarded in accordance to their rule compliance or non-compliance. From the Islamic perspective, self-purification is not only crucial for professing Tawheed but also to enable development because 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. We believe that we have summarized the principal teachings of Islam from its indisputable fountainhead—The Holy Quran—and its accurate and indisputable implementation by the Prophet. But we have excluded some of the individual, or personal, requirements of Muslims.
Related to the objection above, there are a number of duties that are required of true Muslim—shahadah (only One God and Mohammad is His Messenger), salat (daily prayer), hajj (pilgrimage), zakat (donating 2.5% of wealth each year to the poor and needy), and sawm (fasting in the month of Ramadan). We have excluded these elements for a number of reasons. Our goal is not to assess how rule-compliant individual Muslims are in their own self-purification and in their own oneness with the Almighty. Again, while Muslims must adhere to these ‘mechanical’ requirements of the religion, these requirements with the exception of zakat do not directly impact the outward characteristics and observable of societies that they inhabit and belong to. We want to determine to what degree Muslim societies have adopted and practiced the principle teachings, or in other words the philosophy and the rules, of Islam that affect society? Recalling the quote from Mohammad Abduh, our goal is not to see Muslims but to search and see Islam. Moreover, if we had included the five pillars, there would be a strong bias against non-Muslim countries (or more accurately countries with a low percentage of declared Muslims) in the index value, which may or may not exhibit the outward characteristics of a rule-abiding Muslim society. In the extreme, if were include the percentage of the population who profess Islam as the variable to represent these duties of a Muslim, then we would at the outset be climbing up the wrong tree.
Some could argue that the principle Islamic teachings that we have summarized do not fully and accurately represent the characteristics, or the many dimensions, of a rule-abiding Muslim community. Of course we don’t claim to have all the answers and to have correctly deduced the all-important teachings in Islam from the Quran and the practice of the Prophet. We are forever open to challenge and criticism. We invite other teachings to be added, some to be deleted, and new indices or benchmarks developed. We think that these are elements that can be deduced from the Quran and the life of the Prophet and generally represent the views of Muslim scholars as the most important teachings of Islam but with the important exception of setting aside some personal obligations of Muslims.
Even those that accept our presentation of foundational Islamic teachings may object to the breakdown (the elements) of what they mean in practice (see the table below). For example, a person may agree with us that economic justice is an essential principle in Islam but may disagree that this in turn means avoiding extreme income inequalities.
Even if there is agreement on the teachings and their elements, there may be objections to the information and data that we have chosen to represent these elements in the index.
It should be noted that while there is clearly some overlap among the principal teachings, especially when it comes to economic principles, not only in content but also in terms of cause and effect, they still serve to highlight the areas of economic, social and political success or deficiency among the Islamic countries. It should also be noted that it is problematic to precisely capture each of the dimensions of Islamic principles (and categories) with various variables serving as proxies that do not overlap. The proxies are not ideal indicators of the Islamic principles in question but they represent the measures that are readily available but may clearly overlap. It is hoped that time will at least allow improvements in having better proxies.
There is also a general problem with all indices, namely the importance or weights given to each element in the index in order to come up with an index. Of course, the more disaggregated the index, the less important is this problem. In our case, the International Relations Islamicity Index has less weighting issues than does the Economic Islamicity Index (that has many more diverse elements to be combined), which in turn has less elements than the overall index that also incorporates many dissimilar elements (economics, human and political rights, legal and governance, and international relations). We, like many others took the least controversial approach, and adopted equal importance or weights for each of our elements within each of the four Islamicity indices (see the Link “Elements”).
This should not be seen as a static exercise. These are indices whose construction can be improved. In cases where the missing information is limited, we have estimated the information from other sources, but in cases where it is extensive we have had to drop the country from consideration altogether. The availability of information (largely indices of characteristics such as freedom, poverty level, etc.) should increase with time, resulting in more accurate comparisons and in the inclusion of more countries. And of course, as the information is updated, the index should be updated. At this time, information is unavailable for a number of smaller countries. We have reported results for countries where we have information for at least 41 of the 52 indicators.
A number of Muslim scholars have developed other indices since our earlier work. Many of these are based on Maqasid al-Shariah. The essential justification for these indices is that they are based on the goals of Shariah and can be more readily justified that those based on individuals drawing out the principles directly from the Quran and the life of the Prophet. While we encourage diversity of approaches and competing indices, we worry that the entire project could be high jacked by “official” attempts to manipulate the results to suit rulers, governments and clerics. For instance, while freedom and freedom of choice are essential in Islamic thought, official indices may focus narrowly on the economic dimensions (Economic Islamicity); and even then the official approach may downplay the importance of equal opportunity for all to develop but instead emphasize the number of mosques, the percentage of Muslims in the population, the number of pilgrims performing Hajj, the role of charities, and the like. To our mind, in a rule-abiding Muslim community there must be political and individual freedom, no poverty alongside wealth, accountability of rulers and governments, and socio-economic justice.
While the tendency may be to focus on the overall Islamicity Index, we encourage the examination of each of the four indices and their sub-elements. It is these sub-elements that provide more indisputable evidence and would be most useful for developing policies and practices to address shortfalls.