The Muslim World

In “the Muslim world,” this paper includes all the 57 members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). The total population of these countries is 1.3 billion. This is about 21 percent of the world population of 6.2 billion. Since this figure of 1.3 billion also includes non-Muslims, the number of Muslims in these countries would be less than 1.3 billion. However, there are also Muslims in non-Muslim countries, especially in India and China where they live in large numbers. Moreover, the number of Muslims has been continually rising even in Europe, Canada, the United States and Africa. Therefore, if non-Muslims are excluded from the population of 1.3 billion in Muslim countries, and the number of Muslims in non- Muslim countries is then added, that constitutes the total Muslim population of the world. However, we do not have the precise figure for this total. There are a number of estimates ranging from 1.3 billion to 1.8 billion.

Justice in the Muslim World

There are a number of indicators that show the extent to which justice prevails in a given country. One of these is whether all the people in it, irrespective of their race, religion, color, sex or wealth, are able to meet their basic needs and to have access to all the utilities that are needed to make life comfortable. It may be possible to know this partly from the Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) adjusted GDP and its distribution among the people. The reason we have to take the PPP adjusted GDP is that the nominal GDP does not indicate the right picture. The PPP adjusted GDP of all the 57 Muslim countries adds up to only $3.9 trillion. This is only 8 percent of the PPP adjusted world GDP of 48.5 trillion. We can see from this that, while the Muslims constitute at least 21 percent of the world population, their share of PPP adjusted GDP is only 8 percent.

If this GDP were equitably distributed among all people, we could not complain. All that we could say is that, even though the Muslim world is poor relative to the rest of the world, there is at least justice in it. However, this is not the case. This can be known from the Gini index and the percentage of income or consumption enjoyed by the top and bottom 10 or 20 percent of the population. The paltry data that are available indicate that there are substantial inequalities of income, so much so that a small proportion of the population lives in excessive luxury while a substantially large proportion of the people are unable to satisfy even their basic needs. This condition does not reflect the teachings of Islam.

In addition to aggregate PPP adjusted GDP and its equitable distribution among the people, another indicator of justice is social equality. One of the admirable characteristics of a Muslim society is that when people stand for prayers in the mosques, there is perfect equality and absolutely no discrimination. The rich, the poor, the white, and the black all stand before God in the same rank. However, in present-day Muslim countries, this equality is not reflected in society. There is a great deal of social stratification in the Muslim world, including Pakistan. The general feeling of people living in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, is that it has one of the most statusconscious and stratified societies in the world.

There are a number of socio-economic, political, and historical reasons for this injustice and inequality. It is not possible to go into a discussion of all of these here. However, two of the most important of these are lack of proper education and access to finance.

Education is one of the major factors that affect the income and status of a person. This is particularly important for the poor because they do not have any assets to invest and derive income from. The only way they can rise is through education. However, education also remains unprovided in the Muslim world to a great extent. The rate of illiteracy is 32 percent. This means that 426 million people are illiterate. This is undoubtedly very distressing.

However, one feels a little relief to see that primary school enrolment is currently around 89 percent. While this is commendable, experience shows that this may not necessarily lead to a significant reduction in inequalities of income because primary school qualification does not significantly enhance a person’s ability to earn. Secondary school education is also necessary, though not sufficient. However, enrolment in secondary schools is only 44 percent. Just one Western country, the United States, has more than three times as many universities as all the Muslim countries put together. According to a survey of Shanghai Jiao Tong University, none of the universities in the Muslim-majority states are included in the Top 500 at world level.6 Another distressing fact is that, while 74 percent of the population has access to safe water, only 62 percent has access to sanitation facilities. Medical facilities available for the poor living in slums or rural areas are also highly inadequate. All these shortcomings put the poor at a serious disadvantage. They are unable not only to fulfill their basic needs but also to improve their own condition as well as that of their children. This adversely affects their future prospects.

One factor that will tend to perpetuate this condition is that government schools, to which most poor students go, have very low quality education. Private schools, which offer better education, have become so expensive that they are beyond the reach of the poor. Since it is generally higher education that enables bright students to rise, the children of poor parents may not be able to improve their prospects beyond the existing level. This problem will be compounded if the general tendency of favoritism and nepotism now prevailing in the Muslim world continues unabated.

The other major factor that stands in the way of the poor improving their condition significantly is the non-availability of finance for the establishment of small and micro enterprises. Justice demands that the benefit of resources mobilized by banks from a broad spectrum of depositors should also go to a similarly broad spectrum of borrowers. However, this is not the case in almost all countries around the world. For example, in Pakistan, 64.88 percent of the resources were provided to the commercial banks in the year 2006 by depositors having deposits of less than 10 million rupees. These depositors, 26.57 million in number, constituted 99.93 percent of all depositors. However, only one third of the advances went to customers borrowing less than 10 million rupees. Those borrowing less than one million, 97.12 percent of total borrowers got even less, i.e. 20.85 percent of the total advances. In sharp contrast with this, depositors of more than 10 million rupees, who constituted only 0.07 percent of all depositors, provided only one third of all the deposits. But the advances they were able to obtain amounted to as high as two-thirds of the total (See the table). What this implies is that less than 1 percent of the borrowers were able to get around two thirds of the total advances. Consequently, one may expect that inequalities of income and wealth will continue to rise, rather than decline, in the future, if this trend persists.

Distribution of Commercial Bank Deposits and Advances by Size in Pakistan



No. of Accounts

°/o Of





% of Total

Distribution of Deposits

Less than Rs. 0.1 million





Rs. 0.1-1 million





Rs. 1 million-10 million





More than Rs. 10 million










Distribution of Advances

Less than Rs. 0.1 million





Rs. 0.1 million-1 million





Rs. 1 million-10 million





More than Rs. 10 million










Another indicator of socio-economic justice is the Human Development Index (HDI), which has been prepared by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). This is not a comprehensive index because it is based on the restricted framework of development economics in the past when it gave emphasis to only a few economic variables. It includes only life expectancy at birth, literacy, and PPP adjusted per capita GNP. Only ten Muslim countries get a high score even on this restricted index.

These are primarily oil-producing countries except Malaysia and Albania. Twenty-eight countries get a medium score, and 12 get a low score.

A more comprehensive index would include a number of other indicators like justice, family integrity, social harmony, equitable distribution of income and wealth, and mental peace. These are some of the essential requirements for human well-being in addition to the three which the UNDP Human Development Index takes into account. It would be even better if the Index were also to include reward for merit and hard work, minimization of crime, tension and anomaly, democracy, freedom of expression, and an honest and effective judiciary. Even though data are not available for all these variables, they are, nevertheless, important and any effort to collect data on these would be highly rewarding. If all of these variables are included in the Index, then it would not be surprising if the Muslim countries do not score high even on it, even though they may score better on some of these variables Family integrity is still higher in the Muslim world than, say, in Europe or America.

The revival of Islam in the Muslim world gives a hope that conditions indicated by the comprehensive index may tend to improve gradually as compared with the sad situation that exists at present as a result of the centuries of decline and degeneration. This hope may, however, not see the light of day if our education system does not improve. Unfortunately, instead of putting greater stress on the kind of character that Islam wishes to inculcate in Muslims, there is a movement in some countries to secularize the education system in the same way as in the West. The news media and the film industry are also following the Western path of corrupting morals.

In addition, families have also started disintegrating in the Muslim world as has happened in the West. The rate of divorce is gradually rising. Two of the major reasons for this are rising sexual promiscuity and deprivation of women of the rights that Islam has given to them. When women were not educated or independent, they had no other choice but to patiently bear the ill-treatment meted out to them by their husbands and in-laws. However, now, when they are becoming educated and independent, the rate of divorce may tend to rise even in the Muslim world if sexual promiscuity gains momentum and women continue to be deprived of the rights that Islam has given to them.

M. Umer Chapra


Source: Essays on Muslims and the Challenges of Globalisation, Institute of Policy Studies, Islamabad. Republished with permission.
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