KUALA LUMPUR, June 11 — Malaysia is behind Israel and Singapore in a ranking measuring the “Islamicity” of countries in which no Muslim country managed to break into the top 25 of the ladder.
But the Southeast Asian nation is also the best-ranked among Muslim countries in the world, coming in at 33rd; the next highest-placed was Kuwait (42nd) while Saudi Arabia — the birthplace of Islam — was 91st.
No Arab nation breached the top 50.
Ireland came in at the head of the index, followed by Denmark, Luxembourg and Sweden. Singapore was 8th and Israel 27th.
Dubbed the “Overall Islamicity Index” and conducted by Hossein Askari, a professor of International Business and International Affairs at George Washington University, the survey applied the ideals of Islam in the areas of a society’s economic achievements, governance, human and political rights, and international relations.
“We must emphasise that many countries that profess Islam and are called Islamic are unjust, corrupt, and underdeveloped and are in fact not ‘Islamic’ by any stretch of the imagination,” Askari said during an interview with BBC World.
According to the scholar, this was due to the use of Islam as an instrument of power and politics in Muslim countries.
“If a country, society, or community displays characteristics such as unelected, corrupt, oppressive, and unjust rulers, inequality before the law, unequal opportunities for human development, absence of freedom of choice (including that of religion), opulence alongside poverty, force, and aggression as the instruments of conflict resolution as opposed to dialogue and reconciliation, and, above all, the prevalence of injustice of any kind, it is prima facie evidence that it is not an Islamic community,” he said.
Askari's conclusions regarding the use of Islam as a political instrument is observable in Malaysia, where the two largest Muslim political parties and staunch rivals — Umno and PAS — are engaged in a religious auction to court the support of the majority Malay-Muslim electorate.
Each has vied with the other to be “more Islamic” in the eyes of the public and inculcated a “siege mentality” in the Malay community that has strained race relations in multi-racial and multi-cultural Malaysia.
Putrajaya has also been accused of persecuting Malaysia's religious minorities in a bid to appeal to its traditionally rural Malay-Muslim voter base.
Among others, it has outlawed Shiah — the second-largest denomination in Islam — and pursued the Catholic Church over the use of “Allah”, the Arabic word for God, in a Christian newsletter.
Umno and PAS are also now engaged in apparent attempts to introduce hudud, the Islamic penal code that prescribes stoning and the amputation of limbs as among its punishments, in the country.
While prevalent over the decades, the use of religion as a political platform accelerated after Election 2008 when the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) lost its customary parliamentary supermajority in a so-called “political tsunami”.
The shift has also seen the rise of Malay-Muslim pressure groups such as Perkasa and Isma, who are increasingly vocal in their demands for the government to prioritise the community over all others in Malaysia.
Muslims make up 61.3 per cent of the Malaysian population, followed by Buddhists at 19.8 per cent, and Christians at 9.2 per cent, according to the latest census data from 2010.