New Zealand has been named the country that most fits Islamic ideals for the second year in a row, but the area of everyday finance is still difficult for Muslims, says a financial commentator.
In the 2019 Islamicity index, released earlier this year, New Zealand is ranked first overall, followed by Sweden, Iceland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Denmark and Ireland. The top Muslim-majority country is United Arab Emirates (UAE) at 44.
New Zealand ranks 3rd in terms of its economy, 4th for legal and governance, 5th for human and political rights, and 8th for international relations.
According to Islam, the use of money for the purpose of making money is forbidden, meaning the concept of interest is not allowed. Wealth must be generated from legitimate trade and asset-based investment, and investors are also required to invest in things with social and ethical benefit.
Financial commentator Janine Starks said that despite the high ranking, the New Zealand system was not helpful to Muslims in terms of their everyday personal finance needs.
“Basic mortgages, insurance and savings accounts are non compliant and mean they need to make decisions against the protocols of their faith,” Starks said.
“Many KiwiSaver funds are ethical but not to the standard required, as even things like companies in the alcohol sector are banned.”
Amanah Ethical was the only KiwiSaver provider which purified its investments.
Anjum Rahman, a founding member of the Islamic Women’s Council New Zealand, was not surprised New Zealand had the highest ranking.
”In terms of basic Islamic values – integrity, consensus, and all of those things – New Zealand has done really, really well, and it was not surprising to me when I heard about it in terms of religious freedoms, human rights, all of those things that are so important,” Rahman said.
She said the index challenged the notions that Islam was incompatible with the West, and that Muslims could not thrive in Western environments.
“Of course we want to do some things our own way but that doesn’t make us any less part of this country, and I think our dreams and aspirations for it are similar to most people’s here.”
Speaking truth to power was a fundamental aspect of Islam, she said, and not all Muslim-majority countries allowed that. Some governments did not translate Islamic values to the political and social realm as they should.
“So in that sense in terms of New Zealand, we’ve always felt like we’ve been able to live the life that we want to lead here, I think most of the Muslim community would say that.
“Of course it was marred by the Christchurch attacks, and of course we have our share of racism, Islamophobia, bigotry, so it’s not to say that it’s perfect, but it’s a scale and on a relative scale it’s doing well.”
There were a number of areas that were incompatible with Islam, particularly around financial matters.
“In terms of alcohol and gambling, that rugby, racing and beer part of the culture, we won’t fit into that – well, maybe the rugby.
Islamicity Foundation founder economist Hossein Askari was born in Iran and has lived most of his life in the United States. He has a PhD in economics from MIT, taught at US universities, and been on the executive board of International Monetary Fund.
The index was a way to bring about change in the Muslim world, he said.
“What has happened is even from the beginning the corrupt rulers and corrupt clerics banded together, they hijacked this religion, and they used it for their own enrichment, for their own wealth, for their own power.
“When you look at Muslim countries, and I say this openly, they’re despicable. There’s no freedom, there’s enormous inequality – look at Saudi Arabia, the inequality there is phenomenal.”
He combined with experts in the Quran to come up with the most important teachings of Islam, and then put numbers on those aspects to create the Islamicity Index.
“I think my index shows which countries would look like a Muslim country that did the things that Islam says you should do,” he said.
“I’m leaving out the praying and all that kind of stuff. And if you look at that list, the Muslim countries do miserably.
The thing they do worst at is in political and human rights. Islam is very, very clear, God gave mankind freedom. If God gave us that freedom, what right has a political dictator to take that away?”
Fundamental to Islam was Sharia, which meant ‘the way’, Askari said.
“Islam tries to give you a path, if you choose to take it, of becoming a better person and creating a better society.”
At 75 years old, he dreams of coming to New Zealand, a place he has not yet visited. He calls it a gentle country, “except on the rugby field”.