Why is the Muslim Majority So Poor?

Question: Islam greatly encourages giving money to the poor, and Zakah is a pillar of Islam. Charity is mentioned in the Quran and in the Sunnah. So why is it that many Muslim countries have a rich elite minority, but the majority of people are very poor?

Imam Yaser Qadhi

I think this has a lot to do with modern capitalism more than anything else in my opinion, but to answer the question fully you really need a person who is specialized in modern economics.

I will just give some basic guidelines and principles, and that’s that in our religion Allah the Almighty clearly wants the wealth to be transferred from the wealthy to the poor.

Allah says in the Quran that He doesn’t want money to be transferred only amongst the rich amongst you. This is one of the main principles of our religion.

The rich shouldn’t just get richer and richer. What we see now is a rise of a super elite and a super rich everyday.

The number of billionaires now in the world is in the millions. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. This is I think is a manifestation of not just capitalism but also globalization.

So I think instead of blaming Islam for this, I think this is just a product of the modern world. Also I think that forgetting the fact that many countries in fact are quite wealthy and that many Muslim countries are quite wealthy.

I would say that quite a lot of Muslim countries their gross national output and their per-capita income would rival if not be above the medium of the world today.

I think also that this shows that there are still a lot of opportunities for those who have money and who are wealthy to help and participate in alleviating some of the problems of poverty, but I don’t think it’s fair to blame Islam for this.

Dr. Ingrid Mattson

Part of the question implies a misleading impression. You got to understand how much this is related to this old Orientalist idea of the rich idol (sheikh) who is kind of sucking the wealth and blood of the poor people.

There is a bit of racism in a lot of these images and some inaccuracy. For example, look at Thomas Friedman’s book “The Lexus and the Olive Tree”.

Now that title itself implies that somehow “What’s wrong with these Arabs that they would have a Lexus?!” I wonder what he drives, I don’t know, but how many Americans drives Lexus, as if there is something wrong with people who are not white to have nice things.

And if you look actually at these countries, a country like Saudi Arabia, yes there are super elite people. Don’t judge any country by the royalty of that country.

The royalty and movie stars always live a life of complete excess, that has nothing to do with normal people. But there is universal health care, there is universal education.

If you compare any Saudi there what they get back from the society and from the wealthy… I would be the last one to say it’s a perfect country, but if we take it as the country that’s considered the worst in terms of popular opinion, the people in that country live very well.

They have homes that are provided by the government if they need them. They have healthcare, which is still not true in this country. They all have free education. They are not burdened by a huge education loan or prohibited from studying.

So yes there are some wealthy people, and they often spend in excess. But there are also some very wealthy people who continually give and really give an awful lot. So I would say first compare the facts.

I remember seeing somewhere that in terms of the percent of foreign aid that is given by Saudi Arabia for example is something like five percent, which is much more than the 2 percent of the United States.

So let’s be a little bit fair, and certainly there’s a lot of work to be done in many countries, a systematic readjustment of the economic system is necessary, and along with that the political system.

But it’s not true that there’s simply neglect of the poor