WHEN addressing Kedah civil servants at Wisma Darul Aman last month, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad expressed regret that Muslims are involved in corruption when Islam prohibits it.
He said: “We often emphasise the demands of the religion to engage in mandatory practices and refrain from prohibited activities. Unfortunately, we are unaware of or choose not to take seriously how sinful we are if we are involved in corruption and abuse of power for self-interest. So much so that integrity, for us, is not a demand of Islam and we are not embarrassed when committing it (corruption) and, even if we do, it is not seen as something despicable.”
It is interesting to note the trend in fighting corruption in Muslim and Muslim-majority countries. The 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) clearly shows there is no Muslim country ranked in the top 20 (of being least corrupt) of the 180 countries surveyed. However, United Arab Emirates (UAE) took 23rd place with a score of 70/100 topping the table as the “cleanest” country among Muslim countries. Qatar, meanwhile, came in second place, but ranked 62 in the world with a score of 33/100.
Based on the 2018 CPI, Brunei ranked 31st with a score of 63/100. In 2017, Brunei was ranked 62nd with a score of 32/100. Jordan ranked 58th (49/100), Saudi Arabia 58th (49/100), while Bahrain scored 39 and ranked 99th.
Malaysia is the 7th least corrupt among Muslim countries, but has moved up to 61, one notch higher from the previous year retaining the score of 47/100. Indonesia was in 89th position (38/100).
The rankings and scores of other Muslim countries are: Turkey 81 (40/100), Egypt 105 (35/100), Kosovo 93 (37/100), Pakistan 117 (33/100), Yemen 176 (14/100), Iraq 168 (18/100), Sudan 172 (16/100), Afghanistan 172 (16/100), Syria 178 (13/100) and Somalia 180 (13/100).
Worldwide, Denmark is in top spot with 88 points, while New Zealand ranked second with 87 points. Finland, Singapore, Sweden and Switzerland shared the third spot with 85 points. Among the criteria to determine rankings are a robust rule of law, independent oversight institutions and a broad societal consensus against the misuse of public office and resources for private interests.
The 19th century Egyptian scholar and jurist, Muhammad Abduh, once said: “I went to the West and saw Islam, but no Muslims; I got back to the East and saw Muslims, but not Islam.” About 200 years later, corruption still remains the main problem in many Muslim-majority governments in the Middle East, North Africa and Asia.
Most of the core values of western countries, such as transparency, integrity, accountability, freedom, human rights, and justice, are universal values and do not conflict with Islam or any religion and are important constituents of Islamic teachings.
A study of 208 countries and territories by Professor Hussain Askari of George Washington University entitled, “How Islamic are the Islamic Countries”, showed that most countries that apply Islamic principles in their daily lives are not the ones that are traditionally Muslim.
The study found that the top countries in both economic achievement and social values are New Zealand, Ireland, Denmark and Luxembourg. Among the traditional Muslim-majority countries, Malaysia was in 33rd place, Saudi Arabia 91st and Somalia 199th, falling at the bottom of the list. This is a complete failure of a model Muslim society, that upholds good values and ethics, and integrity.
Muslim countries, Malaysia included, have to ratify and improve this corruption perception. We should learn from Denmark and New Zealand strategies to fight corruption.They have leaders with integrity, practise good governance, transparency and accountability in the public sector. They also have independent oversight committees to monitor the procurement process. The public, on the other hand, must give full support to the anti-corruption agencies.
For Muslims, from the religious and spiritual standpoint, there is added concern of accountability to God for acts of corruption. In fact, there is a strong emphasis in Islam against corruption. Being a good Muslim is not just about praying, fasting, reading the Quran or giving to charity, but is also about having integrity and high ethical standards and being accountable to God.
A Muslim’s faith should be true and sincere. Hussain said that we listen to religious lessons and sermons more than people of other faiths, but we are still not the best of nations. In the last 60 years, we have listened to 3,000 Friday sermons. We must practise what we preach or hear being preached. And surely in Islam, corruption is a sin.
Above all, the best way to prevent corruption is to restore strong ethical and moral values based on Islamic principles and adopt an Islamic administration model.
Since the UAE and Qatar governments are seen to be the cleanest and most trustworthy of all Muslim countries, they should share their best practices to improve the CPI score and reduce corruption in other Muslim countries.
There are things that money cannot buy, such as dignity, integrity, good behaviour, morals, respect, and trust. However, based on the social bond theory, humans can easily be influenced by money, position and wealth. If we do not take real steps to practise our religion sincerely, including rejecting corruption, it will be our downfall and truly the God whom we worship and honour will hold us accountable in His judgment.
The writer is president of the Malaysian Association of Certified Fraud Examiners