Is Islam the Reason the Muslim World Is “Backwards”? Latin America Begs to Differ

The perennial question: Why does the Muslim world “lag behind”?

The perennial answer: Because of Islam!

We expect this kind of analysis from the likes of Orientalists, neoconservatives, and Barack Obama. But unfortunately, some Muslims also share such sentiments. From the beginning of the colonial period, self-hating Muslims have agreed with their colonial masters that Islam is the problem and the only way forward is to shed Islam.

Of course, the self-hating Muslims don’t come out and say, “Islam is the problem,” literally. They will, instead, say things like, “Islam needs to reform,” or, “We need to revisit classical fiqh and apply new ijtihad as needed,” or, “Classical scholarship had misogynistic elements.”

This is the not-so-subtle approach of Muslim modernists, who oftentimes will be classically trained themselves and will wear all the trappings of traditional scholars. Not all modernists wear suits and ties, like Adnan Ibrahim.

Some wear more traditional garb…

Two arch-reformers: Jamal al-Din al-Afgani and Muhammad Abduh

By wielding religious authority and using religious language, these modernists are better able to influence the average Muslim, who generally has a deep respect for ulama and sacred knowledge. The colonial powers, of course, recognized this and took advantage by deputizing some of these scholars to advocate for European interests. This dynamic is still used in full force to this day.

Now let’s think more deeply about this question of “lagging behind.”

Who stands to benefit when Muslims view their bad economic position in the world as a function of their own religious tradition?


Well, if that question is too difficult, let’s look at other regions of the world that are lagging behind.

In the news recently is Venezuela.

Why do countries like Venezuela lag behind? According to Western liberal commentators, like the NYTimes and, recently, Donald Trump, the answer is simple:

That Mr. Maduro [President of Venezuela] must go has been obvious for some time. Since he succeeded the leftist strongman Hugo Chávez in 2013, his mismanagement, cronyism and corruption, exacerbated by the drop in the price of oil, Venezuela’s dominant source of revenue, have brought the country to ruin. Hyperinflation has rendered wages virtually worthless, people are dying of starvation and lack of medical care, and millions have fled to neighboring countries.

See? Western powers only have the best interests of Venezuela’s people at heart. These poor Venezuelans are starving to death! They have no medicine! They’re experiencing hyperinflation! WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING! We have to support “regime change”! Perhaps, we need to invade! That is the only humanitarian option at this point!

Of course, no mention of the fact that the starvation, the lack of medicine, the hyperinflation, etc., are the direct result of years of sanctions on Venezuela. Gee, isn’t it amazing how when you put severe economic sanctions on a country, that country will suffer economically? Then, conveniently, you can blame whatever political faction you want to get rid of for the economic hardship in order to justify supporting a military coup or even a ground invasion. This is the circular reasoning the NYTimes and other Western media outlets trot out without a shred of self-awareness.

Poor Venezuela is not the only victim of this tactic. Many other Latin American countries have been brought to their knees by way of American “humanitarianism.” America, the savior of the world, has to save these backwards countries from their own incompetence. It’s the only way.

TruthDig reports:

A survey of The New York Times archives shows the Times editorial board has supported 10 out of 12 American-backed coups in Latin America, with two editorials—those involving the 1983 Grenada invasion and the 2009 Honduras coup—ranging from ambiguous to reluctant opposition.

The reason the CIA and U.S. military and its corporate partisans historically target governments in Latin America is because those governments are hostile to U.S. capital and strategic interests, not because they are undemocratic. So while the points the Times makes about illiberalism may sometimes be true, they’re mostly a non sequitur when analyzing the reality of what’s unfolding.

So, in short, this is how America does things. First priority is American economic interests. Who is going to play ball? Who is going to let America and American corporations have their way and enjoy the world’s economic resources for pennies on the dollar? Most countries will quickly open their doors because who doesn’t love America?

“The West is so superior in every way. Freedom, democracy, human rights. Please teach us your ways. Just dont shoot!”

But of course, there will always be the troublemakers who just can’t get with the program. So what does America do? Impose crippling sanctions. Brutal sanctions that end up starving the population to death. Who can forget Madeleine Albright saying 500,000 Iraqi children starving to death was “worth it”?

Then, the American media dutifully reports on the human misery and says, “See! These poor people are dying! We have to do something for those poor starving children!”

Of course, the human misery that is suffered due to the tyranny of American-friendly dictators is not commented upon or seen as a reason for action.

So, the Muslim world is not unique in its “backwardness.” Not at all. Many regions outside of North America and Western Europe are economically stunted in the same way. So why does Islam get all the blame? Why does the Islamic tradition and traditional Islamic scholarship get the blame? Why does Muslim male authority get the blame? This makes no sense.

We have to recognize what is really happening. A hostage situation. All these countries have the gun to their heads. After a while, Stockholm Syndrome sets in (i.e., a psychological phenomenon where the hostage starts to feel affection and affinity for the kidnapper).

Whenever someone starts running his mouth about the Muslim world lagging behind and how that is a function of Islam, just point him to all these other non-Muslim countries. What explains their plight? Is it just that a handful of countries in the West figured out the magic formula for not starving to death and wallowing in squalor and the other 90% of the world’s population is utterly clueless? Is that what the NYTimes and Donald Trump want us to believe?

Or is there something else at play?


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But what of those who say, “We are to blame. We have the man power, resources and Allah سبحانه وتعالى to help us. We refuse to follow our religion and enjoin good and forbid evil and this is the resulting humiliation. When will we point the finger at ourselves and start solving the problem?”


another question is what is meant by “LAGGING behind”? the so-called “development”? higher standard of living? how can someone say that staying ahead is necessary for muslims?


You rightfully got Gomaa and Bin Bayyah there but you missed out the worst in the West – Hamza Yusuf, Akram Nadwi, etc.


A couple of more names of people and their groups to stay away from for you guys; Tariq Ramadan, Imran Hossein, Yasir Qadhi and Gamal al Banna (Muslim brotherhood). I don’t consider Imran Hossein a modernist but rather a heretic much like Hamza Yusuf. I find them to be quite good storytellers and fiction writers and not in the least bit worthy of speaking in public.


Fiqh and Shariah are not the same thing.
The understanding of classical scholars is not correct on each and every issue out there. Following the jurisdiction of a classical scholar just because they are classical is an illogical approach,devoid of reason. Following the jurisdiction of a modern scholar just because they are modern is an equally illogical approach,devoid of reason.


The main reason why Muslim countries ”lag” behind is actually due to Western colonization that took place in the past. In recent times USA is a major force to blame.

Independent Thinker

Actually, you guys got it all backwards.

Islam USED to be much more moderate, liberal, tolerant and progressive! That is why in the Middle Ages, while fanatic Christians tortured and slaughtered each other in Dark Ages Europe, the Muslim Middle East (and Muslim Iberia and India) were the centers of Enlightened civilization and progress in mathematics, science, technology, medicine, astronomy, trade, etc. and Jews and Christians were tolerated and enjoyed much better lives in these lands than Jews and Muslims did in Europe.

What happened next? (Northern-) Europeans finally got tired of fighting over religious nonsense and all the destruction and bloodshed and embraced secularism (made religion a private, personal issue, separating it from politics), and logic, reason, science, technology and progress. They leapfrogged ahead of the rest of the world in technology, which allowed them to conquer the world.

When the Brits discovered oil in the Middle East, they knew they had to find a way to co-opt Islam in order to keep a stranglehold on those countries. That’s why they supported the retrograde Wahhabi Saud family and created Saudi Arabia, and that’s why they later brought the Ayatollah regime to power in Iran. The Shah, installed as a puppet in 1941 after the Brits invaded and occupied the country and kidnapped his father, had never forgotten his father and once he gained a bit of power, he cut his puppet strings and demanded fair prices for Iran’s oil in an era of rampant dollar inflation. He was making Iran too modern, too rich, and now too strong. Time to bring in the religious nuts to turn everyone’s attention away from nationalism and economic growth and toward religious nonsense, chaos, hate and bloodshed!

These despots keep everyone oppressed with their fanatic versions of Islam and the terror of cruel and unusual punishments for everything under the sun, while they hog all the nation’s wealth for themselves, leaving the citizens poor, and as the countries themselves fall ever more behind economically and technologically. Of course the bloody Brits get the lions share of the profits.

More recently, the Zionazis and their Saudi and Emirati puppets created the Taliban, al Qaeda, ISIS, etc., etc., etc. to use poor Muslims as cannon-fodder to bankrupt the Soviet Union and then to destroy the secular, half-way-progressive Muslim countries, and at the same time turn the whole world against Muslims by committing inexcusable crimes against women, gays, religious minorities (Bahai, Yazidis, Christians, etc.) and innocent civilians all over the world as well as starting a region-wide civil war of Muslims against Muslims (Wahhabi/Salafi against Shia and moderate Sunnis).

Which Middle Eastern countries did relatively well, modernizing and gaining a modicum of development, wealth and power? Precisely those which were most secular – Attaturk’s Turkey, Reza Shah’s Iran, Nasser’s Egypt, Baathist Iraq and Syria, Qaddafi’s Libya, not to mention Malaysia and Indonesia.

But the only countries that truly caught up with the West are the East Asian countries – led by Japan, with Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, China and now Vietnam following its example. And these are extremely secular, non-religious cultures. They also have the lowest crime rates in the world and the most educated, productive people, so clearly god and religion are not necessary, and least of all religious fanaticism, which only impoverishes and destroys humanity.

Incidentally, the future for Israel looks bleak, due to the population explosion of know-nothing, good-for-nothing fanatic religious Jews while the secular, educated, progressive, productive Jews have smaller families and despair at the increasingly religious and fascist direction of their country. More and more of them are getting out – even to Spain and Germany, lands of the Inquisition and Holocaust!

There’s a book you might want to look into – “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers” by Paul Kennedy. In the year 1500, there were 4 centers of civilization in the world – Europe, the Ottoman Turkey, Mogul India and Imperial China. At that time, they were roughly equal in terms of wealth, power and technology. But of these, it was Europe that leapfrogged the others and took over the whole world. Why? Because the other three regions were highly centralized, authoritarian powers with strict state ideologies (Islam, or Confucianism in the case of China). Such strict orthodoxy restricts people’s thinking, creativity and ability to innovate and develop science and technology. Europe, by putting aside Christian ideology at that time, freed minds and energies that led to explosive progress and growth.

I want to see Muslim countries develop and become modern, rich, strong and free. But they’re not going to get there by obsessing over gays, women’s clothing and behavior, torturing and killing heretics, apostates, religious minorities, etc., etc., etc. None of that nonsense matters. What matters is science, technology, trade and development. Every Muslim country should be sending their best students to Japan, Korea and China to learn how they did it. That’s what Japan did back in the 1800s – sent their best students to learn the best practices of the most advanced countries of that time – Germany, France, Britain and the US. At the very least, they should stop doing the bidding of the Zionazis – stop hating, attacking and destroying other Muslim countries, regardless of whatever political or religious differences you might have.

I don’t have all the answers. But I mean well, and I think most people will see that. To any that I’ve inadvertently offended, I apologize in advance.


Nice write-up. A great read of a comment.


“I want Muslim countries to do well, but they have to allow LGBT and other haram things”

This is the definition of doing well? We may get a success in this world but that would cost us our akhirah? You’re not really in favour of Muslims if you want us to disobey our Creator.

At the end of the day, Allah has all powers on all affairs and he test us with different circumstances (let it be in wealth or poverty). You sound like a non-Muslim or secularist who has no sense in the afterlife. This is has nothing to do with you so just stay out of our business

Clear Thinker

I’m surprised you never even bother to touch upon how those developed countries became highly dependant on the West’s economy through debt and interests after they were colonised.

Simply grouping the whole of Muslim world is disingenuous. What about Saudi? Qatar? Even when back then when they were more orthodoxy and centralised they prospered. And they also have one of the lowest crime rates in the world so it does not mean we have to abandon Islam to become prosperous.

You also didn’t bother to speak about why the prosperity haven’t reached to Latin America when they are also secular like their North American counterparts.

What do you mean by centralise power? In terms of economy Islam does allow decentralised economy and free trade but if it comes to government, countries like China and Singapore can be described as authoritarian by some but they are amongst leading in the world’s wealth.

If governments don’t put regulations on certain trade then it can lead to situations like in USA (first in economy) where they often trapped people in debt through interest loans for the rest of their lives and don’t have access to health services.

You’re just proving this article’s point by painting the Muslim world as incompetent due to Islam when in actuality they just don’t want to stand up to West so they just continue to exploit their own population.


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