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Promoting economic freedom in Muslim-majority countries is key to prosperity


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IEA releases 'Islamic Foundations of a Free Society'

A new book released by the IEA and written by a range of Islamic scholars provides a comprehensive overview of the compatibility of Islam and a free society.

Muslim majority lands were once the most advanced in the region in the areas of tolerance, freedom, science, medicine and more. Today they are shown as laggards in most international indices covering economic freedom, human development and human rights.

The authors contend that promoting a liberal understanding of Islam does not mean ignoring Islamic tradition of philosophy, thinking and jurisprudence. Deep institutional reform that is conducive with economic liberty and a free economy is needed in order to create the employment and economic growth that is so much needed in Middle East and North African countries.

History shows that when Muslim empires pursued decentralised administrations, they provided a large space for civil society to develop effective non-state welfare institutions. A revival of the innovationist, pro-freedom school of thought will help pave the way to an open, civil and free society in the Muslim world, which will in turn improve development, productivity and further prosperity.

Key points

  • Muslim majority lands were once the most advanced in the region in the areas of tolerance, freedom, science, medicine and more. Today they are shown

  • Different times and different challenges have given birth to a new generation of Islamic reformists in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries who have been able to use modern social science frameworks to analyse and challenge received thinking.

  • Promoting economic freedom in Muslim-majority countries is key to encouraging development and improving the lives of hundreds of millions of people.

  • Despite the fact that Islam favours entrepreneurial and business activity, Muslim-majority countries do not generally rank high in international indices of economic freedom and competitiveness.

  • Large, intrusive governments, interventionism, rigid legal frameworks and high taxes have had a negative impact on the economic performance of a number of Muslim countries.

  • Particular interpretations of Islam and a large centralised state apparatus have adversely affected the way in which Muslims understand economic freedom. But this should not overshadow the work of early Muslim thinkers.

  • Promoting a liberal understanding of Islam does not mean ignoring a rich Islamic tradition of philosophy, thinking and jurisprudence or the tenets of the religion. The spirt of the intellectual Islamic tradition can be celebrated while opening up to new ideas.

  • The problem of the economy in the Middle East is not the incompatibility between the tenets of Islam and the principles of a free economy, but the deviation from the liberal tradition of early Islam. The leadership of the Arab world has been left with the unenviable task of building the foundation necessary for vibrant, modern and competitive economies. The roots of many of the problems in Middle Eastern and North African countries, it should be noted, can be traced back to the times of the various empires – including the British Empire.

  • An economically revived Muslim world should rediscover the tradition of free trade throughout the whole Muslim world and beyond.

  • Greater autonomy for women rises with increases in general prosperity – to improve the position of women a more general environment of economic freedom is needed.

Commenting on the book, Linda Whetstone, editor and IEA trustee said:

“This book aims to inform those in the West who view Islam with fear and suspicion, while encouraging Muslims to remember and learn from their history of rich and pluralistic Islamic civilisations.

“The economic failure of Muslim countries is caused by the deviations from the liberal tradition of early Islam. Islam not only wants freedom of the individual from theocracy, but also from control by the state. Islam emphasises the role and responsibility of the individual.”

Note to editors:

For media enquiries please contact Nerissa Chesterfield, Communications Officer: [email protected] 020 7799 8920 or 07791 390 268

The full report, Islamic Foundations of a Free Society, edited by Nouh El Harmouzi & Linda Whetstone can be downloaded here.

About the authors

Mustafa Acar is Professor of Economics at N. Erbakan University, Konya, Turkey. He has published extensively in national and international academic journals, authored 14 books, translated 12 books and contributed 37 chapters in edited books.

Souad Adnane is a Fulbright alumna. She is a co-founder and active member of the Arab Center for Scientific Research and Humane Studies, a classical liberal think tank based in Morocco.

Azhar Aslam is a founder member of Islamic Network for Liberty and chief executive of EO Vision 21 Foundation, a Pakistani-based NGO.

Hasan Yucel Basdemir is Associate Professor of Islamic Philosophy at the Yildirim Beyazit University in Ankara, Turkey. He is also a Board Member of the Association for Liberal Thinking in Turkey.

Kathya Berrada is a research associate at the Arab Center for Scientific Research and Humane Studies, a Moroccan-based think tank.

Nouh El Harmouzi is an editor of, the Arabic-language news and analysis website, and teaches part-time at Ibn Toufail University in Kenitra, Morocco.

Maszlee Malik is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences at the International Islamic University Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur.

Youcef Maouchi is the director of the Institute for Economic Studies, Europe. Previously he was a teaching and a research fellow at Aix-Marseille Universite and a regular lecturer on Islamic Finance at the Legal and Commercial Cooperation with the Arab World programme at the Aix-Marseille Law School.

Hicham El Moussaoui is Assistant Professor in Economics at Sultan Moulay Slimane University, Morocco. He joined the Atlas Foundation for Economic Research in 2008.

M.A. Muqtedar Khan is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Delaware. He is also a fellow of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.

Bican Sahin is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Hacettepe University, Ankara. He is also the President of the Freedom Research Association, a classical liberal think tank based in Ankara.

Linda Whetstone is chairman of Network for a Free Society and a board member of the Atlas Network, Institute of Economic Affairs, the Mont Pelerin Society and the Istanbul Network for Liberty.

Atilla Yayla is Professor of Social and Political Theory at Halic University, Istanbul, Turkey. He was founder of the Association for Liberal Thinking, the first classical liberal intellectual movement in the Islamic World.

The mission of the Institute of Economic Affairs is to improve understanding of the fundamental institutions of a free society by analysing and expounding the role of markets in solving economic and social problems.

The IEA is a registered educational charity and independent of all political parties. There is a need to bring prosperity and greater welfare to Muslim societies. This will only happen if Muslims reflect on the golden age in their history when freedom and co-existence with other communities, including a pluralistic intellectual climate, existed if they draw the right lessons from it.

This book explains the basic elements of a free society and their compatibility with Islamic traditions and thought. Gives clear understanding of the consistency of free society values with Islamic Sharia.