Muslims around the world have been deceived into believing that the West and Westerners are the enemies of Islam - modern-day Crusaders who vilify Islam and are on a mission to eradicate the faith and subjugate them. But the real enemies of Islam are those who misrepresent its teachings and hijack its mantle for their own gain - oppressive and corrupt Muslim rulers.
Some central teachings of Islam that are universally accepted include:
(i) rulers are to be selected by the community;
(ii) rulers must follow the rules laid down in the Koran and interpreted by the Prophet;
(iii) oppressive rulers and oppression must be confronted by all Muslims who are deemed as guilty as the oppressor if they do not do so;
(iv) Allah is the ultimate owner of all things and in particular natural resources (especially those that are depletable) that He has given
to humans in trust for the equitable benefit of all generations;
(v) poverty must be erased wherever it is found;
(vi) opulence is to be abhorred, especially if it exists alongside poverty; and
(vii) socio-economic justice (freedom, equitable opportunities, and provision of basic needs for all) is the moral compass of a thriving Muslim community.
Just cast a glance at the 57 Muslim states around the world and ask if the rulers meet any of these simple criteria? A few may come close on some, but it is altogether a sorry state of affairs that all Muslims must face - namely, their dismal predicament is primarily of their own making.
To put flesh on the skeleton, let's take a look at some Persian Gulf countries that have undoubtedly had the means (oil/natural gas) to do everything that Islam demands.
Of the eight countries on the Persian Gulf, three (Iran, Iraq and Kuwait) may claim representative governments but can hardly do so with a straight face.
Oppressive rule cannot be denied in any of these countries with the possible exception of Kuwait.
In every single one of the countries that is well endowed with oil/gas, rulers have used these resources in large part to enrich themselves and their cronies; those that have set up wealth funds to protect the interests of future generations (the United Arab Emirates Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia) have done so in ways that are opaque, with the rulers exercising ultimate control.
Poverty is to be found in every corner of these countries. Grotesque opulence accompanied by decadence is on display in each one, especially in the wealthiest among them. More importantly, there is socio-economic injustice everywhere. In fact, this is the Gulf of Injustice - without freedom and equitable opportunities and access to resources.
When non-Muslims point out these facts, rulers conveniently condemn the accusers as enemies of Islam. They go even further and exploit sectarian differences to garner domestic support and maintain their hold on power. It is the rulers who perpetuate these conditions, conditions that must be universally acknowledged by Muslims before positive change can ever come about.
This landscape is unlikely to change anytime soon. Rulers, no matter what they profess, will not nourish the effective institutions that are the foundation of successful and thriving communities. Simply put, effective institutions (especially the rule of law), both touted by Adam Smith and at the very center of the rules-based religion that is Islam, are precisely what is needed to bring about positive change, but if adopted would also sweep away all the corrupt and oppressive rulers in the region.
Finally, we must not forget that the "democratic" West, which preaches change and pluralistic governance, supports these same rulers (with Iran soon to join the band). Western companies, universities and highly placed individuals readily cooperate with corrupt rulers to enrich themselves and their constituencies. This collaborative colonialism is unlikely to give way anytime soon. Oppressive rulers are unlikely to change and go quietly into the sunset. Westerners will continue to follow their own national interests and support oppressive rulers. And Muslims will continue to wrongly put all the blame on Westerners as "Crusaders" bent on their subjugation.
Muslims should look in the mirror and face inescapable facts and remember the Prophetic saying that on the Day of Reckoning the oppressor, the oppressed, and the person(s) who stood by and observed the oppression will be called upon to answer: the oppressor for oppression, the oppressed for not resisting the oppression, and the bystander for not assisting the oppressed.
Hossein Askari is Professor of Business and International Affairs at the George Washington University.
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