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Is Israel more ‘Islamic'?
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 08 - 09 - 2015

Scholars at George Washington University have developed a multifaceted index to assess how countries around the world (as opposed to individuals) comply with core Islamic values. The Islamicity Index, as it is called, focuses on Islamic values espoused by the Quran, Sunnah and Hadith, such as justice, mercy, equality, compassion for those in need, respect for the law, encouragement of reading and education.
The scholars examined the constitutions, foundations of government, economic systems and treatment of citizens in 218 countries and ranked them in terms 113 Islamic principles grounded in the Quran and Sunnah.
The principles relate to justice, distribution of wealth, freedoms, the economy and other values that Islamic countries or countries with Muslim majorities should presumably adhere to. The chief conclusion of their study is that Arab and
Islamic countries as a whole perform quite poorly in terms of their application of Islamic doctrine and values.
Professor Hossein Askari, professor of international business and international affairs at George Washington University, said that countries with Muslim-majority populations are not the ones that rank the highest in terms of the compliance with the Quran and Sunnah in the management of their domestic affairs, but rather Ireland, Denmark and Luxembourg.
Of Islamic countries, Malaysia ranked 33 and Kuwait 48. Egypt ranked 128, Morocco 120, Tunisia 72, Yemen 180, Saudi 91, Qatar 111 and Syria 168. Israel, it is worth noting, came in at 27.
Professor Aksari explains that Islamic countries rank so poorly because they fail to comply with many principles of sound governance and use religion as a means for state control, remaining in power regardless of the will of the people, and legitimising themselves despite their failure to promote economic development, and despite Quranic provisions that hold that economic progress is good for society.
In order to better understand the index, it is important to bear in mind five points. First, it does not seek to gauge the religiosity of individuals in society but rather the extent to which governments officially and in practice observe the great values of the Islamic faith as embodied in the Quran and Sunnah.
This confronts us with the irony that the Imam Mohamed Abduh remarked on after an extended stay in Europe: “There I found Islam without Muslims while in Muslim countries I found Muslims without Islam.”
Justice and equality before the law and respect for human dignity are observed considerably more in many Western or Asian countries than they are in many countries that call themselves Islamic.
The conclusion is corroborated in my book, Muslims and Democracy, originally published in English and subsequently translated into Arabic. The book is based on a study that found that the majority of Muslims residing in the West believe that Western societies offer far greater opportunities to respect the values and doctrines of Islam than exist in their native countries.
Second, Divine Law is from God; legitimacy stems from the people. Sharia is the Divine Law that is found in the Quran and Sunnah. Legitimacy is voluntary acceptance by the people of a given ruling authority on earth.
When a ruler in an Arab state or country with a Muslim majority claims his legitimacy rests on his application of Sharia, as opposed to the will of the people, he is in fact exploiting religion while trampling on legitimacy.
The result is an authoritarian theocracy that is inherently opposed to Sharia that ordains shura (consultation), mubayaa (voluntary pledge of allegiance), and the promotion of good and prevention of evil (through wisdom and sound advice) in order to ensure the approval ¾ or at least acceptance ¾ of the ruled.
As for those who rule without Sharia and solely on the basis of human legitimacy, they have opted for secularism that is not appropriate to us, even if it suits others. In sum, we want neither a theocracy without legitimacy nor secularism without Sharia.
Striking the midpoint between the two is what will guarantee stability, continuity and progress, while avoiding the labyrinths that alienate us from our identity and pave the way to identity conflicts that we need to transcend in order to focus on more crucial concerns.
Yes, the history of Muslims tells of mistakes, just is it tells of a heritage that is rich with accomplishments and experiences that merit study and appreciation. It is important, here, to distinguish between errors in approach and human error. The mistakes of dictators in the name of Islam are not the fault of Islamic law, just as the acts of Bin Laden are not the fault of Islam, regardless of his claims to have been inspired by Islam.
We need to adhere to the Islamic method and examine why some have deviated from it, whether in the past or at the present time. Deviations do not diminish the value of the frame of reference.
Although some in our past or present may have abused the space for “human conjecture” in the method, it is our duty to rehabilitate the basic rules that apply to this space, so as to restore “legitimacy” to the hands of the people while granting that “law-making” is the preserve of God, as understood through the enormous quantity and qualitatively rich interpretive efforts of Muslim theologians, jurists and philosophers, including the liberal, socialist and leftist ones who have aired reservations that merit attention, study and discussion.
Third, although we were raised in the “light” (of the principles of our great faith) while others awoke in “darkness”, they moved ahead of us because the “intellect” there preceded the “transmission” here.
Our country must be more democratic, civilised, more respectful of freedom and equality, more faithful to the principles of rule of law, transparency and accountability, and more committed to the peaceful rotation of authority, to merit based on competence, and to ensuring plurality in decision-making centres with provisions to guarantee that none of us deviate from the legitimacy of Sharia.
Our greatest challenge then is to confront the diseases that have infested our society and that we are still unable to remedy: ignorance, poverty, despotism, corruption, extremism, negligence, terrorism and runaway population growth.
Fourth, while we might question the accuracy of some of the figures, or the final ranking of countries, in the Islamicity
Index, it is impossible to refute that there are specific reasons why some countries progress and others lag behind. We need to address these causes rather than simply falling back on general slogans.
The Ministry of Planning has drawn up a 2030 strategy for the future of Egypt. I have had the opportunity to read it and found it characterised by a considerable degree of restrained ambition. However, if it is to bear fruit, it must evolve from the vision of a ministry to the vision of an entire government.
Fifth, Israel is not more “Islamic”, contrary to the findings of the Islamicity study. But it is more committed than most of the countries with Muslim-majority populations to the universally recognised criteria of sound governance.
In spite of its racism and violations of human rights, Israel internally, within the bounds of Israeli citizens, is less corrupt, more open, more democratic, more law-abiding and more responsive to the aggregate of its citizens than many societies in its vicinity.
We Muslims cherish our religion but we do not abide by many of its great teachings. We are not underdeveloped because of our religion, but rather because we have deviated from its method, which we should be the first to appreciate and honour. This is the most important message of the study.
The writer is professor of political science at Cairo University.

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