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Examining Muslim societies

Our surfer says lack of learning and inquiry led to the Muslim downfall.

india Updated: Oct 13, 2006 13:52 IST

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There was a time when Islamic civilisation was considered to be the most advanced, tolerant and progressive civilisation in the world. This was mainly because of their accomplishments in practically all the disciplines of knowledge. After 16th century AD, the situation changed drastically. Learning and inquiry was no more the motto of the Muslims with the result that today they occupy the lowest position in the ladder of the world. They are educationally backward, scientifically marginal, politically insignificant and economically poor. This is the present status of the entire Ummah amongst the comity of nations.

Some years back, a well-known economist, Dr Kenneth David, presented World Bank Survey of 1980, on the educational and economic status of religious societies of the world in his book entitled "The Cultural Environment of International Business". UNDP in 1996 also presented an exhaustive status report of UN member counties.

HDI/per capita income of Muslim nations
Population (in millions)HDIIncome

(Per Capita)


(Population 210m)


(150 m)

(1300 m)

(I billion, Muslims, 140 m)


(70 m)


(65 m)
Iran(70 m)106$1,600
S. Arabia (22 m)73


(25 m)


(30 m)

(120 m)

(6 m)

(30 m)


(24 m)

(2.5 m)


(10 m)

(15 m)

(30 m)

Since then Human Development Index reports are being issued every year for about one hundred and seventy countries. These important documents are highly revealing since they describe living conditions of all the religious societies i.e. Christians, Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, tribal religions and Muslims as well as non-religious communist society.

According to these studies, Christian society is the most advanced society of the world with regard to education, health and economic wealth whereas Muslim society is the most backward on these counts. Based on the reports by David and UNDP, disparities of the status of Muslim and Christian societies are being given in the present paper.

According to David, literacy of Christian world in 1980 was on an average 90 per cent and about 15 countries had a literacy of 100 per cent. On the other hand, average literacy in the Muslim countries was less than 40 per cent and none had 100 per cent literacy. More or less the same situation continued afterwards and in 2001 UNDP reported an average of 60 percent literacy in Islamic countries and between 95 to 100 per cent in the Western nations of Christians. Among the literates of the Christian world, hardly 2 per cent of the population did not complete school education whereas 50 per cent of the so-called literates of the Muslim societies never attended modern schools.

In the Christian society literacy implies education of at least primary level whereas in Muslim society a person who could read and write is considered to be literate. If the criterion of the Christian world is taken into account then hardly 10 per cent population of the Muslim countries can claim to be literate. The importance of education in the Christian countries can be judged by the fact that around 40 per cent get higher education including specialisation in various disciplines of science. This is less than 2 per cent in Muslim countries.

Even the standard of higher education of the meagre 2 per cent is lower in Muslim countries when compared with the Christian world. As a matter of fact, many of the highly educated Muslims get specialised knowledge of science, engineering and medicine in the Christian West. This is in contrast with the situation prevailing during Middle Ages when Christians used to travel to Muslim Spain for getting higher education in medicine, mathematics, physics, chemistry, astronomy, etc.

Education is directly related with the economy of any society; higher the education, better the economic growth. According to Kenneth half of the Muslim population (about 1.3 billion), had the per capita GDP of $200, whereas very few Muslim countries including oil-producing nations had the per capita income of $1,000 or more. As compared to this, more than half of the Christian population had an income (per capita GDP) of $7,000, and the average was around $3,000.

This was all about the status of the Muslim and the Christian world in 80s. After 1980, world's economic order was raised to great heights. According to UNDP report of 1999, economy of European countries advanced to the extent that their per capita income was raised to about $25,000 and the rest of the Christian countries saw a rise up to $10,000. In comparison with this rise of economic status of the western countries, Muslim countries lagged far behind and their average per capita GDP advanced to hardly a thousand dollars. Only few oil producing countries could manage an average per capita GNP of $5,000 or more.

But they constitute hardly ten per cent of the entire Muslim population. It may be stated here that as per the report in OIL AND GAS GENERAL (1998), out of 18 oil-producing countries, 10 are Muslim nations, producing 40 per cent of the world's total petrol production. In spite of this God's gift, Muslim society is economically much weaker than the Christian society.

The reports suggest that after 1980 Muslim countries could not compete with the western world in the field of economic growth. The main reason for this unfortunate situation was their rivalries amongst themselves resulting in very high expenditure on their respective defence budgets. For instance, Saudi Arabia's per capita income in 1980 was $7,690, which dropped to $7,040 in 1996 mainly because of the Iraq-Kuwait conflict. Likewise, income of Iran, Iraq and Libya (all oil producing countries) also dropped considerably. As against this dismal position, per capita income of Germany advanced from $9,580 in 1980 to $28,870 in 1996.

Per capita incomes of Britain, France and Australia, etc. similarly improved tremendously.

After the Second World War, almost all the countries of the world have been busy in increasing their military capabilities. Muslim nations, inspite of the poverty of their people are also involved in this mad race for military might. They have large trained armies, which are estimated to be 100 million. This is one third of the total world armed forces. After the World War II, there has not been any major Christian-Muslim armed conflict, except the recent Iraq and Afghanistan crises but there have been several bloody wars amongst Muslim nations themselves in which millions have lost their lives.

Muslim nations spend 10-30 per cent of their GDP towards purchasing sophisticated and deadly arms and ammunitions from the West. On the other hand, western nations spend about 10 per cent of their wealth on their arms procurement, which is carried out within the Christian world.

According to Kenneth, there are several factors for the backwardness of the Muslim society. First and foremost is their illiteracy in general and women illiteracy in particular. Another major reason of Muslim fall is the fact that hardly 16 per cent of population is involved in industrial production. It is important to note that 60 per cent of Christian population is engaged in industry. High population growth is another major factor for Muslim backwardness because this rapid population rise neutralises whatever economic development takes place in Muslim societies.

Human Development Index prepared by UNDP gives a very dismal picture of the status of literacy, health and economy of Muslim nations. In the first 25 best countries listed under HDI (2002), no Muslim country figured in the list. Barring few small oil producing Muslim nations, majority of the Islamic world lies in the middle and low categories of human development, a clear indication that the Islamic nations need to increase their focus on human development. Latest data (2002) about the Human Development Index (HDI) and per capita GDP of some of the important and large populated Muslim countries are shown in the table on this page.

First Published: Oct 13, 2006 13:12 IST