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Published: Sunday March 1, 2015 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Sunday March 1, 2015 MYT 7:35:47 AM

Measuring Islamicity yet again

A Syariah Index funded by taxpayers’ money remains unused and unknown to the public while a new study has been launched.

FOR some five years during the premiership of Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the Malaysian Govern­ment spent millions on a major effort to develop the Maqasid al-Shariah Index to measure the “Islamicity” of a country, both in terms of governance and society.

A team of over 10 international Islamic scholars from diverse parts of the Muslim world, representing all schools of law in Islam, worked with ratings and indexing experts from the Gallup Poll to develop the methodology and measurable indicators for what is supposed to be a rigorous index that can be used to measure how Islamic a country is on the basis of how well it has delivered on the goals of Syariah – to protect and promote life, religion, intellect, family and property.

It seems there was much debate among the scholars on how best to go forward with this huge project. None of them believed that a focus on hudud law and punishments was the way to go to measure how Islamic a country is. But all agreed that nothing but justice can be objective of Islamic law. They developed documents to define the essential features of syariah-compliance governance and embarked on a rigorous exercise over several years to define in scientific, measurable ways what each objective of Syariah should be.

What does protecting and promoting life, religion, family, intellect, and property mean today, and in accordance with Islamic principles? And what are the indicators and ratings indexes that should be used to measure if OIC governments have delivered on the objectives of Syariah to deliver justice, to do good, to advance life and society for all?

For example, in developing the index on protecting life, they looked at data to indicate a govern­ment’s achievement on providing food, housing, healthcare, infrastructure, and other basic needs. The focus was on deliverables to advance the life of citizens.

Except for one public presentation at the International Institute for Advanced Islamic Studies last year, nothing more has been heard of this study, which was led by Imam Feisal Rauf from the Cordoba Institute, and included two Malaysian experts. A book on its methodology and findings was supposed to be published by the end of last year, but until today there is no news of the publication. Malaysia, not surprisingly, came out well among the OIC countries measured by this Index.

But now another study has been launched by the current Prime Minister to develop yet another Syariah Index based on the maqasid principles. Why? Has anyone examined the Maqasid Index already developed with millions of ringgit of taxpayers’ money? Why is there a need to launch yet another project to develop a similar index? Do they even know this Maqasid Index was initiated, completed and funded by the same Prime Minister’s Office, just by the last office holder?

The methodology of this new Syariah Index project is already under question. Looking at the survey questionnaire sent out to Umno members, this new project seems like an approval rating exercise.

The 13-page questionnaire made up of 146 questions covers six issues – Islamic law, politics, economics, education, health, culture, infrastructure and environment, and social. For each issue, a list of questions is prepared to measure how well the government has done under the five categories: religion, life, intellect, family and property. Respondents are asked to rate on a scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree.

For example, to measure whether Islamic laws in Malaysia have protected life, it asked three questions: whether zakat, wakaf institutions, Jakim and the state religious departments uphold Islam; whether government “shelter centres” for syariah criminals are effective and whether distribution of zakat is effective.

On protecting intellect, it asked if laws to prevent alcohol consumption are effective, if the quality of human resources is adequate and if information on Islamic law is easily obtainable.

In its measurement on social issues, it asked questions on the effectiveness of enforcement agencies’ efforts to prevent Christianisation activities, the system to determine the qualification of religious preachers, the process of inculcating understanding of fardu ain and fardu kifayah in society, and the adequacy of programmes in mosques throughout the country!

And it goes on and on in this random mode of haphazard and arbitrary leading questions being asked of respondents. They were in fact asked to rate if the Malaysian Government has done enough to measure how Syariah-compliant Malaysia is.

I am not sure if the research team has any clue how serious and rigorous a process for deve­loping an index that is meant for global use should be. What is the purpose of setting up yet more committees and spending more money to duplicate what has been done just a few years ago by the very same office of the Prime Minister?

Perhaps the team can start by examining the Maqasid Index book manuscript, titled Islamic Government and Rule of Law Index. Have they consulted the experts from the previous team? Why the need for a new team and a new Index? What is the budget for this new initiative?

They could also read the academic papers available online written by two professors at George Washington University, Hossein Askari and Scheherazade Rehman, who have developed the “Islamicity Index” and the “Economic Islamicity Index” and who are now working on their own Maqasid Index. They are also working with the Islamic Development Bank to develop a Syariah-based index of socio-economic development.

Their Islamicity Index mea­sured economic and human development, laws and governance, human and political rights, and international relations in accordance with a set of Islamic principles. For example, for economic and human development, they developed 12 fundamental Islamic economic principles that included indicators on equal economic participation, economic equity, personal property rights and sanctity of contracts, poverty prevention and reduction, etc.

Compare this to some of the indicators on economic achievements in the Malaysian Syariah Index survey: “numbers of Islamic insurance consumers are increasing” (how is a respondent supposed to know that?), “financial institutions practising syariah-­compliant finance principles expand” and “prostitution and LGBT phenomena is not a concern in Malaysia (?)” It is hard to fathom the methodology and logic behind these questions and what they are really trying to measure.

As with so many things to do with religion in this country, much suspicion has been aroused as to whether this effort to ­develop yet another Syariah Index on the heel of one just completed, unused and unknown to the public, is yet another effort to lull Muslims into believing how Syariah-compliant this government is.

Never mind if in the end, it is the Muslims that they proclaim they want to protect and serve who will become the biggest losers in this race to prove who is more Islamic than the other. In Kelantan, we see a state government desperate to implement the Hudud law even while any right-minded citizen would think that it should be focusing its attention on helping the rakyat to rebuild their lives and property and repair the massive damage to infrastructure and goods caused by the devastating floods.

When you have nothing much to showcase for your achievements, press the Islam button and hey presto, the rakyat will be pleased – so they think.

At the federal level, a government that has lost popular support in two successive elections and that is desperate to prevent further regression, again and again turns to race and religion to create a siege mentality that the Malays cannot survive without the dominant ruling party in power.

This is all a charade. The sooner we wake up to the games politicians play with religion in order to stay in power or to win power, the more strategic we can be to bring about the real change that we the rakyat are desperate for.

> Zainah Anwar is the internationally acclaimed co-founder and former executive director of Sisters in Islam (SIS Forum) and the co-­founder and director of Musawah, a global movement for equality and justice in the Muslim family. She is a former member of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam). The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

Tags / Keywords: Religion, Opinion, Columnists, Islamicity, Syariah

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