Dont’t Blame Religion For Poor Economic Performance
Some people are of the opinion that religious commitment is negatively associated with economic prosperity. In other words, as a nation becomes more religious, there is a tendency for the nation to have lower economic growth, whereas a more secular country coupled with civil liberties and political rights may result in better economy.
Traditional values emphasize the importance of religion, respect to authority and traditional family values. African and South Asian countries such as Zimbabwe, Morocco, Bangladesh as well as Malaysia are considered to have high traditional values.
In contrast, secular-rational values have the opposite preferences to all of the traditional values. Ex-communist countries (e.g. Russia, Bulgaria and Ukraine), European (e.g. Germany, France and Switzerland) and some English speaking countries (e.g. Britain, Canada and Australia) are those with high secular-rational values.
There are few notable observations with regard to the findings on the relationship between religion and economic wealth.
First, data indicate that people in richer countries tend to be less religious than those in poorer countries. For example, Canada, Australia and Germany who are considered to be high in secular values are among the top wealthy countries in the world. In fact, it has been suggested that there is no situation where a country can be religious and highly successful socially at the same time.
Second, statistics also indicate that religious beliefs and practices have been on decline in most of developed countries but still remained high in developing countries. The countries that are less religious or more secular have better GDP, higher productivity and more innovation.
As a result, should religion be blamed for poor economic indicator? And can religion really flourish in a prosperous society?
In the Islamic context however, analyses on economic performance and religious beliefs found that Islam promotes economic growth. There are many passages in the Quran highlighting the importance of commercial and economic activity. In Islam, every man is required to seek material wealth as an act of worship, “But seek, with that (wealth) which Allah has bestowed on you, the home of the Hereafter, and forget not your portion of lawful enjoyment in this world, and do good as Allah has been good to you, and seek not mischief in the land” (Quran 28:77).
Worship is a broad concept in Islam and recognizes that mankind can be rewarded by performing both ritual acts and worldly activities. It has been suggested that the balance of responsibilities toward humanity, society and the environment in Islam is in fact completely compatible with the UN Global Compact principles and may represent an ideal framework for a socially responsible behaviour.
Thus it is inaccurate to denounce religion for poor economic performance in the Islamic view. Rather, what needs to be rectified is the proper context for an economic prosperity. In Islam, the economic wealth is defined on the basis of group solidarity, not solely as individual pursuit over material consumption. Hence, Islam put emphasis for a sharing economy via charities such as zakat, waqf and sadaqah.
We also need to understand that there are other problems that can hinder an economic progress such as religious myths, false ideologies, bad governance, corruption and so forth. Therefore, religion does not affect economic wealth directly. At the same time, economic wellbeing also comes with other factors as well such as job skills, educational attainment and/or female labor force participation, for example.
From a methodology point of view, there is also no clear evidence whether religion affects economic behavior or the other way around. In this context, it is not necessarily religiosity that causes poverty. Instead, it could be poverty that causes people to be more religious in the sense that people rely on religion as a coping mechanism in facing their hardship in life.
Muslims are strongly encouraged to get involved in business activity. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), who is considered as a role model in Muslim society, was involved in trading activities during most of his life. However, the Islamic law or sharia has clearly laid out the permissible (halal) and forbidden (haram) economic activities for Muslims society.