Corruption in Muslim Countries

And do not cheat the balance.
Qur’an, 55:9
And do not cheat the balance. Qur’an, 55:9

A tragic flaw of endemic corruption permeates the fifty-seven (57) Muslim-majority countries. In all these countries located in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, Muslims view themselves as spiritual communities devoted to One God, eager to go to Hajj, fast in the month of Ramadhan, say daily prayers, deliver and consume Friday sermons on lessons of the Qur’an, and heart-inspiring stories of the Prophet’s Sunnah. But most of these communities are currently the most corrupt in the human species.

Regrettably, omnipresent corruption has corroded Muslim communities and cultures across the world. Ingesting bribery, laundering money, selling fraudulent goods, gaining advantage through nepotism, breaching trust, stealing public property, and engaging in similar corrupt behaviors are common among government officials, businesses, political parties, clergy, and even among the ordinary folks living in Muslim countries. In moments of truth, Muslims would themselves admit that the true Islam is being practiced in Sweden and Denmark, presently the most honest and upright countries in the world.

Dismal Record

Out of 176 countries ranked for corruption, the bottom ten (10) is Muslim-majority countries, including Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, and Yemen. One could argue that these war-torn countries have been broken apart through invasion, occupation, and deliberate destruction of their communal integrity. The blame for corruption could be shifted to the United States, the prime aggressor in tearing up Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Afghanistan. Surely, war can devastate the moral fabric of societies as the people face death, mutilation, starvation, disease, and depression. Survival by any means necessary breeds immoral behaviors, including corruption.

Corruption, emanating from nepotism, favoritism, greed and necessity, is normal if not instinctive to the human species. The way out of corruption is an undertaking; it is an effort that requires good governance and unyielding commitment of all citizens.

However, the foreign-imposed wars do not explain the endemic corruption prevailing in other Muslim countries. For example, the ten countries with the largest Muslim populations are relatively peaceful, though some of them face domestic terrorism. Indonesia, Pakistan, and Bangladesh constitute about 30% of the world’s Muslim population. On the corruption index, Indonesia ranks 90, Pakistan places 116, and Bangladesh sits at 145. Egypt, the largest Arabic-speaking country with renowned Muslim scholars pioneering Islamic law, is more corrupt than Indonesia, earning a low grade of 108. Nigeria, the largest Muslim-majority country in sub-Saharan Africa, does better than Bangladesh, but ranks 136, sharing the corruption index with Lebanon (@136), Kyrgyzstan (@136), and Mauritania (@142). Iran, a theocracy, where Islam has been the prime mover of social and economic revolution, fares no better in corruption as it earns a low grade of 131 while its declared rival, Israel, is far more honest at 28.

Blaming the West

Many Muslims blame the West for their misfortunes including the debasement of Islamic consciousness. They argue that Muslim communities were exemplary in morality and virtue before the West colonized them. This argument is valid to an extent. Colonization did disfigure Islamic communities introducing value-confusion, racialism, and damaging the pride that Muslims had about their glorious civilization. However, it would be hard to contend that Muslim nations have embraced corruption and continue to practice it at an extensive level under the Western influence.

Presently, in addition to Sweden and Denmark, the countries that show minimal corruption are mostly in the West. The colonial powers, including the United Kingdom (@10), the Netherlands (@8), and France (@23), receive impressive grades on the corruption perceptions index. Australia and New Zealand, far removed from Europe, and once peopled by convicts and other exiles, rank in the top twenty countries. In view of these numbers, Muslim countries must answer a simple question why the former colonial powers have exterminated bribery and extortion in their own systems and why Muslim countries, now free from colonialism for decades, continue to engage in corruption under their own sovereignty.

Annoyed with the West, particularly the United States, some leading Muslim countries, including Iran, Turkey, and Pakistan, are building new alliances with Russia and China. Geopolitical realities might dictate that they do so. However, Muslim countries inclined toward Russia should know that Russia ranks abysmally at the corruption index, earning the low grade of 131. China does better than Russia but stands at 79, sharing the grade with India (@79).

But there is Hope

Muslims and non-Muslims need to pause before jumping to any hasty conclusions. Corruption, much like terrorism, has nothing to do with Islam. Islam does not teach, foster, or endorse corruption. All versions of Shariah in all sects, including Sunni, Shia, and Wahhabi, prohibit corruption since corruption (as sickness of the communal soul) negates religion.

There are Muslim countries, though very few, which are honest, honorable, and where corruption is low. The United Arab Emirates, a pro-Western prosperous nation of natives and immigrants, ranks the highest in the Muslim world, placing 24 in the global index. Qatar, another country of natives and immigrants in the Gulf, is not far behind, standing at 31. Malaysia (@55) and Jordan (@57) are much better than many non-Muslim countries. Saudi Arabia, where the Qur’an was revealed in the seventh century, should do better than being at 62.

Each Muslim country needs to engage in effective jihad against corruption. Policymakers, legislators, and rulers need to cleanse their own lives and simultaneously establish a legal system with appropriate incentives and penalties to exterminate corruption. Corruption, emanating from nepotism, favoritism, greed and necessity, is normal if not instinctive to the human species. The way out of corruption is an undertaking; it is an effort that requires good governance and unyielding commitment of all citizens.

Ali Khan is the author of Shariah and Sufism (2017) and Flexibility under Islamic Law (2015).

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