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Islam and Modernity

By Farrukh Saleem

The Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) has fifty-six member states plus Palestine with ten other entities including the United Nations holding observer status.

Out of the fifty-six, Syria, Iran, Libya, Pakistan, Iraq, Tunisia, Algeria, Somalia, Maldives, Burkina-Faso, Uganda, Sudan, Gambia, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Cote d’Ivoire, Gabon, Mauritius, Lebanon, Guinea, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan are categorized as ‘Authoritarian Regimes’. That is a total of twenty-two or 40 percent of the OIC (Afghanistan has long been classified as a ‘Totalitarian Regime’).

Nearly 15 percent of OIC member states are ‘Traditional Monarchies’. They are: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, UAE, Brunei, Oman, Qatar and Morocco. Some nine OIC members pass as having ‘Restricted Democratic Practices’:  Malaysia, Jordan, Egypt, Cameroon, Senegal, Comoros, Yemen, Chad and Tajikistan.

Only 15 OIC members are considered to be “Democratic”: Indonesia, Turkey, Bangladesh, Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau, Niger, Mozambique, Mali, Kyrgyz, Togo, Benin, Guyana, Djibouti, Albania and Suriname. Any member state that fulfills just three objectively analyzed criteria (multi-candidate, multiparty, competitive elections) qualifies as a Democracy.

Thus at least 70 percent of OIC members are Authoritarian Regimes, Totalitarian Regimes or have Restricted Democratic Practices.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Freedom House, a nonpartisan, nonprofit, broad-based, democracy-related research think-tank, has since 1978 published Freedom in the World, an annual comparative assessment of the state of political rights and civil liberties in 192 countries and 18 related and disputed territories. The methodology of these surveys is based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with little or no culture-bound view of freedom. Each country is rated on a scale of 1 to 6 for political rights and civil liberties and given an overall rating: Free, Partly Free, or Not Free.

In the 2003 Freedom House survey at least thirty of the 56 OIC member states were classified as being ‘Not Free’; 53 percent of the total membership. The ‘Not Free’ countries are: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, UAE, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Afghanistan, Tunisia, Sudan, Gambia, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Algeria, Maldives, Mauritius, Somalia, Lebanon, Guinea, Kyrgyz, Tajikistan, Chad, Yemen and Cameroon.

Bangladesh, Indonesia, Turkey, Malaysia, Morocco, Kuwait, Jordan, Burkina Faso, Uganda, Azerbaijan, Cote d’Ivoire, Gabon, Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau, Comoros, Senegal, Niger, Mozambique, Nigeria and Togo are ‘Partially Free’. Only four OIC members were classified as ‘Free’. They are: Mali, Benin, Guyana and Suriname.

Conclusion: At least 93 percent of OIC members are either ‘Not Free’ or only ‘Partially Free’.

Economic performance

More than 1.3 billion people, one-fifth of humanity, live in the OIC states. Within the OIC are Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, UAE and Kuwait that between them possess 700 billion barrels of proven oil reserves. All the 1.3 billion put together have an annual GDP of less than $1.5 trillion.

There are only 290 million Americans and their annual GDP is $10.4 trillion. France is at $1.54 trillion, Germany $2 trillion, UK $1.52 trillion and Italy, long the sick man of Europe, $1.4 trillion.

Kuwait, UAE and Brunei are the only OIC members where per capita income exceeds $10,000 a year. At least fifty OIC members have per capita incomes of under $5,000 a year. Forty-five OIC members have per capita incomes of under $1,000 a year.


Of the 1.3 billion OIC Muslims more than 800 million continue to be absolutely illiterate. Of the 290 million Americans 227 are Nobel Laureates (India has 4).

Of the 1.3 billion Muslims less than 300,000 qualify as ‘scientists’. That converts to a ratio of 230 scientists per one million Muslims. The United States of America has 1.1 million scientists; Japan has 700,000.

Among them, fifty-six OIC countries have an average of ten universities each for a total of less than 600 universities for 1.3 billion people. India has 8,407 universities, the US has 5,758.

The arms trade

The planet’s poorest countries include Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Somalia, Nigeria, Pakistan and Mozambique. At least six of the poorest of the poor are OIC members.

The largest buyers of conventional weapons are Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, S Korea, China, India, Greece, Egypt, Japan, UAE, Israel, Finland, Pakistan, Kuwait and Singapore. Of the fifteen top buyers of conventional weapons six are OIC members.

The US, Russia, France, UK, Germany, Netherlands, Ukraine, Italy, China, Belarus, Spain, Israel, Canada, Australia and Sweden are the largest suppliers of weapons. Not one is part of OIC.

Is the Ummah listening?

We are trapped in a vicious cycle of illiteracy, poverty and violence. We continue to blame non-Muslims for all our failures. Salman Rushdie is convinced that America’s ‘war on terrorism’ is all about Islam. Rushdie says what we have is a

"paranoid Islam, which blames outsiders, ‘infidels’ for all the ills of Muslim societies, and whose proposed remedy is the closing of those societies to the rival project of modernity.... this is presently the fastest growing version of Islam in the world."

Rushdie goes to add that

"if Islam is to be reconciled with modernity ... the restoration of religion to the sphere of the personal, its depoliticization, is the nettle that all Muslim societies must grasp in order to become modern. The only aspect of modernity interesting to the terrorists is technology, which they see as a weapon that can be turned on its makers. If terrorism is to be defeated, the world of Islam must take on board the secularist-humanist principles on which the modern is based, and without which Muslim countries’ freedom will remain a distant dream."





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