Confronting Corruption in the Muslim World

Amid increasing calls to enforce a misunderstood concept of sharia by the clergy in Pakistan and other Muslim countries like Indonesia, reports such as Transparency International's should give those proponents pause.
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As a "Muslimerican" of Pakistani descent I woke up to a double whammy last fall when Transparency International released its 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index, a ranking of all countries based on level of corruption. Pakistan fell eight steps down on the ranking to number 143. And only four out of the 48 Muslim majority countries made it above 50 on the overall ranking.

But why should the Muslim world care about this?

Powerful extremists in the Muslim world are becoming increasingly enamored with a flawed understanding of sharia law, calling for strict punishments for alcoholism, adultery, or sometimes even for exercising basic freedoms.

But if Muslim nations really want to find moral high ground, they should first fight the corruption that put most of them at the bottom of the index.

So how badly did the Muslim nations do? The index uses a scale of one to ten, with ten being highly clean and one being highly corrupt. Pakistan's score dropped from 2.5 in 2009 to 2.3. The top five most populated Muslim countries (Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, and Egypt) scored in the miserable range of 2.3 to 3.1.

The only four Muslim majority countries that ranked in the top 50 were Qatar, The United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Bahrain -- with only one, Qatar, in the top 20. The other 46 countries ranked in the top 50 were so-called infidels.

Amid increasing calls to enforce a misunderstood concept of sharia law by the clergy in Pakistan and other Muslim countries like Indonesia, reports such as Transparency International's should give those proponents pause.

Muslim nations intent on legislating morality through force should instead consider a story from their own Islamic tradition. According to a famous account from the early Islamic period, a man asked Prophet Muhammad for advice regarding the three vices he suffered from: falsehood, alcoholism, and fornication. Despite his utmost efforts, he could not rid himself of them.

Prophet Muhammad said that if he promised to first give up falsehood, he would guarantee that his other two vices would also be eliminated. When the prophet inquired about his progress a few days later, the man gave an interesting report. He told the prophet that he has been about to indulge in consumption of liquor but postponed the idea because he would have had to lie to his fellow Muslims in order to conceal the act. A few days later he was tempted by fornication but eschewed for the same reasons. He had indeed removed all three vices by giving up falsehood.

And falsehood is the prime indicator being measured by the Transparency International report.

My own country of descent, Pakistan, has become a poster child for human rights abuses, many in the name of much-abused sharia laws related to blasphemy, adultery, or apostasy. Pakistan's blasphemy law was passed in 1984, and six years later the stakes were raised when a federal sharia court ruled that "the penalty for contempt of the Holy prophet ... is death and nothing else." A component was later added to target, by name, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, a minority Muslim group that believes Mirza Ghulam Ahmad to be the messiah of the latter days.

In this climate, one has to ask: Where are the laws against falsehood?

When Pakistan's parliament is plagued with leaders with fake degrees, and a billionaire president sits at the helm (who has been dubbed "Mr. 10 percent" for his alleged taking of kickbacks as a minister controlling government contracts during the term of Benazir Bhutto), who can even implement such laws?

Presenting poverty, war, or illiteracy as reasons for this high corruption within Muslim countries would be a cop-out. It could be argued that Muslims in the seventh century were ravaged with more poverty, constant war, and significant illiteracy. But they had honest leadership who showed them how to walk the walk.

Perhaps the Muslim governments of today could learn a thing or two about giving up falsehood from countries like Denmark, New Zealand, and Singapore -- all sharing the first spot, each scoring a whopping 9.3 out of 10.

But why should the Muslim world try to learn from these so-called infidels?

Because of what Prophet Muhammad said "A word of wisdom is the lost property of a Muslim. He should seize it wherever he finds it."

A version of this article previously appeared in the Christian Science Monitor.

Faheem Younus is an adjunct faculty member for religion/history at the Community Colleges of Baltimore County and a clinical associate professor at the University of Maryland. He can be reached at

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