Modern maladies of Muslims

Muslim women in the state of Assam protest against India’s new citizenship law in February 2020. Biju Boro/AFP/Getty Images

By M Haider Choudhury

According to a study conducted in 2015, there are about 1.8 billion Muslims worldwide, making up one fourth of the whole humanity. Also, Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world, and the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) consists of 57 countries. These statistics might be heart-warming for many. But a microscopic look inwards will lay bare many rots among the followers of arguably the most scientific and modern religion. Most of these maladies are self-inflicted, and, contrary to what many believe, not caused by any external ‘enemies.’

How Grim is the Picture?

Compared to followers of two other Abrahamic religions, i.e., Christianity and Judaism, Muslims’ contribution toward the core components of modernization, such as arts, science, technological innovations, engineering, medicine, economy, education, social sciences, media, etc. is minuscule. One might argue how works of Muslim scholars and polymaths from Islamic golden age (roughly between 8th and 14th centuries) have expedited human civilization. However, let’s not forget that ruminating on past glories won’t help present flaws.

To put things into perspective, just compare the number of Muslim Nobel laureates vis-à-vis that of the recipients from the Jewish community (as of 2019, only 14.7 million people follow Judaism). According to Jewish Virtual Library, out of 900 individuals and organizations who have been awarded the Nobel Prize between 1901 and 2020, at least 208 (23.11%) are Jewish. In contrast, 12 Muslims (1.33%) have so far been awarded the prize, of whom just three for sciences and two for literature; the rest got it for peace.

According to World Bank data, the OIC states contributed about US$ 6.4 trillion to the world’s GDP in 2016, a meagre 8.51 percent. If we talk of Islamic ideals in terms of economy, law and governance, human and political rights and international relations, no Muslim-majority country comes in the top 40 of the 2019 Islamicity index. Surprisingly, it is New Zealand, where Muslims represent only 1.3% of its population, which topped the list overall, followed by Sweden, Iceland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Denmark and Ireland. The top Muslim-majority country is the UAE, which ranked 44th. It is a well-known fact that Muslim world makes news largely for wrong reasons: violation of women’s and minorities’ rights, poverty, illiteracy, refugees, civil wars, absence of democracy and accountability, terrorism and corruption.

Why is it so bad?

The heyday of Islamic civilization didn’t end recently. In fact, its decline started with the destruction of Baghdad and dar-al-hiqmah (the House of Wisdom) by Mongals led by Hulagu Khan, and despite many sporadic glimmers, they cannot recover the lost laurels, at least intellectually, even after seven centuries. If we talk of today, Islamic society is of course being dragged behind by many external factors like the colonial legacy, rise of Islamophobia worldwide and conflicts between superpowers for control over natural resources, of which Muslims often have to bear the collateral damages. However, most of the Muslim problems are of their own making.
The sorry state of Muslims is largely because of lack of visionary leadership, wrong policies, misplaced priorities of ulama and crumbling personal and social values. Muslim world unfortunately cannot adept itself with modern art of democratic governance, the core principles of which include accountability, equality, pluralism and human rights. According to the 2018 EIU Democracy Index, which measures the state of democracy (pluralism, civil liberties and political culture) in 167 countries, the only Muslim-majority country that features in the top 50, is Malaysia (43rd). Most governments in Muslim world are run by autocrats and demagogues, who use religion, nationalism and institutions to linger in power.

Secondly, Muslims are divided into innumerable sects or schools, such as Shia, Sunni, Hanafi, Hanbali, Salafi, etc., and the ulama have so far failed to bring them together. Instead, along with political class they often fan such differences to reap their vested interests. Also, Muslims don’t go for higher studies in sciences, humanities and other secular disciplines, the main reason why they remain passive consumers, rather than producers of technologies. Most oil-rich Islamic countries are flooded with luxury cars, arms and mobile phones, which are made in China, Japan, Europe or America.

Other reasons for backwardness of Muslims are: laidback attitude, lack of honesty, intolerance toward dissents, unwillingness to introspect and course correct, and reluctance to accept changes. In 1515, Sultan Selim I, the Ottoman ruler, issued an edict banning the use of the newly-invented printing press as some Islamic scholars then thought it is disrespectful to the Qur’an and knowledge. As a result, for the next 270 years the Muslim world did not use the printing press, while the technology became widely used in Europe, and this is how they missed the bus of renaissance and modernity. A more recent and closer-to-home example of the clerics’ negative attitude toward modernity is how Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, the founder of Aligarh Muslim University, had been vilified for promoting Western education.
How to Answer the Mess?

In the Holy Qur’an, Allah says, “surely Allah does not change the condition of a people until they change their own condition” (13:11). Muslims have to try to change their ‘condition’ with education, patience, tolerance and wisdom, which are the most liberating and empowering weapons available. Surely there are xenophobes who don’t stop for anything short of annihilation of Muslims, but Muslims can’t afford to be angry and violent. They need to mend the bridge which connects themselves with followers of other faiths and cultures, a bridge that is being bruised by centuries of misunderstanding, extremism, conspiracy theories and prejudice. Muslims must inculcate the ability to tolerate and coexist with those who disagree with them. Ulama, scholars of secular disciplines and leaders should come together to lead youths to unity, peace and prosperity.

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  1. Beautifully explained and with amazing accuracy! The story about that Ottoman ruler is absolutely true! I resonate with each and every word the author has written! This type of criticism is necessary to come from within the community!

  2. Very narrow and very typical orientalist-laid take on a Complex History of Islamic civilization. Sorry to use such words but the article demands such words as it has totally ignored the BASIC AND REAL reasons for the current state of Muslims and evaporation of Golden Age Of Islamic civilization. The CRITICAL STUDY of Islamic history and of Muslims will reveal the TRUE PICTURE. I can’t touch such a lengthy topic in short comment.

    Secondly, using N Prize winning as a standard is very unfair and very Nescient to be honest. It’s not difficult to understand that the prize is ideologically biased. And it’s DOESN’T CONSTITUTE AN OBJECTIVE STANDARD TO MEASURE THE INTELLECTUAL CONTRIBUTION OF ANY GROUP OF PEOPLE. It cannot be justified to be an objective standard.

    Thirdly, sects among Muslims is not a new phenomenon. They were always sects, even in the Golden Age of Islam. It’s an ahistorical claim. And by the way, Hanafi, Shaafi, Hanbali and Maaliki ARE NOT SECTS. THEY’RE SCHOOLS OF JURISPRUDENCE. It’s a basic category error, to class them as sects and a reason for Muslims downfall. Its a historical fallacy. I hope author corrects on it.

    Finally, for Muslims to become successful again they must be REFORMED in accordance with Principles of Islam and not the other way around. Many so called educated Muslims call for reforming Islam IN ACCORDANCE WITH LIBERAL values which is nonsense as liberalism is an UNPROVEN, UNPROVABLE AND UNSUBSTANTIATED belief system. Islam Is the absolute truth and thus IT CONSTITUTES A DIVINE OBJECTIVE STANDARD AND CRITERIA for rectification, Reformation and modification of Human and especially Muslim society for success in ALL FRONTS OF LIFE AND NOT JUST TECHNOLOGICAL/SCIENTIFIC front..

    • Sir,
      Nobody is calling for reform in Islam. Everyone is calling for reform in Muslims to embrace modern education. To get rid of social malices that are not in accordance with Islam. You must be knowing that caste in now creeping into Muslim societies.. We are seeing so much animosity between Sunni and Shia and Ahmadiya. These issues need to be addressed. We’re Muslims following faith when we were shutting doors for Sir Syed Ahmad Khan? Was it being Muslim to ban printing press? Please try to understand this too brother. You can’t bring back any Golden Islamic age now.. Its time to educate and uplift our community

      • Many so called educated and enlightened Muslims DO CALL FOR REFORM in Islam, in accordance with the man-made, false and desire-ridden ideologies. An increasing number of “educated” Muslim women are foolishly and unthinkingly embracing feminism and thinking that Islam must be made feminist too! A shocking attempt to distort Islam!!. Feminism is a false, un-biological, un-natural, unrealistic and completely absurd system of ideas. It’s so unfortunate that Muslim women are falling prey to such a belief system. And so many liberal “Muslim” Have already written books advancing their own distorted version of Islam. So bad.

        Yes, muslim need education and upliftment BUT in accordance with the divine truth, Islam. We don’t need an education that would make Muslims hostile to Islam (as is happening in so many cases). Islam is a divine holistic package for humanity , for them to succeed IN ALL AREAS AND DIMENSIONS OF LIFE AND NOT JUST SCIENTIFIC/TECHNOLOGICAL dimension.

    • @lalit aka hindu gutter rat,

      Animals will remain animals, just like Hindu will remain ugly, smelly superstitious, low IQ, hate filled terrorists belonging to the brahmin death cult. If Evolution was true, Hindu would not exist.

    • lalit aka lying Hindu sewer rat,

      Your hindu day dreaming nonsense is funny, and as usual pathetic. Lying monkey worshipping idiots always trying to take credit for things which they have nothing to do with. Your insecurity is laughable.

      “Hindu executives” don’t run the USA. Kamala Harris’ mother was a Brahmin(she was not practicing as she married a non-Hindu), but she identifies as an African-American Baptist Christian who was sworn in on the Bible to become VP. She does NOT practice the criminal ideology of Hinduism. Her father was Jamaican, a black man, who the majority of vile Hindus hate due to their worship of white skin and racism.

  3. Muslims need to stop taking dowry from women, allow women to study, attend mosques,
    muslim men should stop drinking . stop wasting time in non beneficial activities.
    Introspect with Quran and hadith. People should be united . Hatred removed from hearts and tongues. More sincerity in work . Less time for material things and more time for spiritual bliss.

    remove hate comments from this site.


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