Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Economics: Economic impoverishment of the Muslim world and the insufficient commitment by the affluent Muslim countries to tackle it.

Being trained as an economist, I tend to spend time looking at different kinds of data and indicators that reflect the economic conditions of countries. I particularly and naturally often get distracted to pay attention to Muslim countries. However the results are more than often dismal.

Much of the Muslim world today lives in dire poverty while much of Muslim world lives in unimaginable wealth. Though sense of Muslim Brotherhood has always traditionally been central and pivotal in Islam, because Muslims have drifted away from the traditions to adopt secularism, culturalism, nationalism and puritanism, this sense of Ummah has naturally died as everyone commonly feels their cultural or national identity stronger than the identify of their faith. Hence there is little concern for one “limb of the ummah” when the “other limb of the ummah” suffers, in absolute contradiction to the message and guidance delivered by the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him). What is even worse is that in many instances, there is no concern shown by Muslims for the people of their own ethnicity even. Instead in almost every Muslim country one can find, a minority proportion of population hoarding the wealth of the nation and refusing to share it with the impoverished. The worst rascals are always the ones who has the access and means to use their office to swindle public money.

I was reading an article in BBC where they were reporting on a Muslim widow with three kids in Afghanistan. She explained how her life became so miserable when her husband died, disabling her ability to feed herself and kids. However when some NGO donated a cow to her, she thereafter ever since has been able to sustain supporting her family. Indeed the economic impoverishment of Muslims around the globe cannot be remedified by giving each a cow. However this life story shows there are simple solutions that can be implemented to alleviate much hardships and poverty of many impoverished Muslims around the world. A cow will probably cost around US$500. What is US$500 to the Saud family that used to spend $6million per day in Switzerland whenever the late King Fahd went to Switzerland for treatment? What is US$500 to the Dubai royals who are spending more than US$200 million to build the largest luxury yacht? What is US$500 to Colonel Gaddafi who spends millions to finance IRA and other fringe groups?

I don’t believe these thoughts never cross their minds even once. Yet their indifferent attitude and continued indulgence in satisfying their insatiable lust to spend on themselves or their self-defined objectives blind them to the sorrow and agony of their fellow brethren.

What is US$500 to Osama Bin Laden, who I bet have had much more first hand experience encountering not just the reality of the poverty, impoverishment and agony of Afghanis but also the extent of it? What mission can any Muslim argue to be more important when he has a duty to save the lives of his brethren, who are dying at his feet from hunger and disease, using his abundant wealth?

When I was in university I had a friend from Chad who informed me of how Chad don’t even have a proper library and how the kids go to school with no paper, pen or pencil. How difficult will it be for any Muslim country to fund the establishment of a comprehensive library in Chad?

I have also heard from Palestinian friends and read in research papers during economics development classes of how Palestinians do not even have proper running water. Indeed what proportion of Muslim world has access to running water, electricity, food and shelter? More importantly where is the commitment by the affluent Muslim countries to do their part to help out?

Affluent Muslim countries love to showcase their sense of charity to impoverished nations to show otherwise. Dubai royal family always likes to display that they give out large amount of donations. Quwait government also love showcasing their development foundation. However they need to realize their relief aid amounts to an insignificant proportion of their GDP i.e. what they give out, from the abundance that Allah has given them, is insignificant.

Saudis also love showcasing their relief efforts which include funding schools and providing Qurans. From the experience and knowledge of everyone, we all know the intentions of Saudis to construct schools i.e. to spread their ideology of wahhabism. Indeed if only they realize their aid recipient countries such as Indonesia, have better technology, better paper and better printing and binding standards enough to print better and nicer copies of Quran than the Saudis themselves, they will see their foolishness in bothering to even send their copies of the Holy Quran to Indonesia.

Indeed affluent Muslim countries need to focus their current aid initiatives to high impact aid for recipient countries and commit a lot more to match their duties to give as Muslims. Token aid by affluent Muslim societies changes no real situation of no impoverished Muslim society.

What are the areas in which commitment by the affluent members/countries of the Ummah is urgently and pertinently required?

1) Emergency relief – A shameful section of the Ummah lives each day with no clean drinking water nor three meals. These areas need to be identified and continual emergency relief action need to be urgently set up. Sadly this role is played by non-Muslim organizations set up by non-Muslim countries, while leaders of our every affluent Muslim country contribute only his/her rhetoric for these distressed.

2) Basic amenities of life – A huge section of the Ummah lives with no basic amenities of life such as clean drinking water, electricity, heating or sanitation. Muslim relief organizations set up by affluent Muslim countries pride themselves whenever they undertake any such project. But least do these countries realize their relief efforts are a fraction of what they really need to commit and the change their contributions will bring about will be marginal until they commit as much as they are required to and responsible for.

3) Mass Employment – The above measures and subsequent measures cannot be undertaken without this one. Muslim aid countries need to develop sources of mass employment to employ unemployed labour force within the impoverished sections of the Ummah. Areas that which can yield mass employment opportunities when developed are agriculture, fishing and labour intensive industries. This creation of mass employment opportunities are an effective way to speedily bring out the impoverished sections of the Ummah from deprivation.

4) Universal Healthcare

Even within the affluent Muslim countries, healthcare remains not available or accessible to every Muslim but only to those who can privately afford it. In this the affluent Muslim countries including U.A.E etc, share the ranks of the most impoverished Muslim countries. They are equally incompetent in making healthcare services universally available to their native, resident and immigrant population. In this there is a room for collaborative effort since a coordinated and partnered development of universal healthcare throughout the Ummah through health insurance and effective planning can be more effective and yield economies of scale.

5) Universal Housing

Housing too remains not universal through the Muslim world. Islamic finance led real estate/housing developments ironically target only the affluent Muslims. I truly wonder what is Islamic about that kind of financial framework. Islamic finance need better models to facilitate mass housing projects across the Muslim world with the goal of achieving universal housing for the Ummah.

Muslim nations need to shrink their defense expenditures and re-allocate their resources to the earlier mentioned efforts. Affluent Muslim nations who are foolishly embarking on edification of their city landscapes need to better manage their resources intelligently and reallocate some resources to the earlier mentioned efforts. It is about time Muslim leaders allow their actions speak and their words shut.


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