Viewing the situation in much of the Muslim world suggests that while teachings on ibadat (ritual worship) – prayer, fasting, zakat, hajj – have been faithfully conveyed by our Imams down the ages. Instruction on the other category of Islamic law – mu’amalat, meaning civil transactions and social interactions – has generally been given less attention.

This has led to shortcomings in the Muslim world to the extent sometimes of the abrogation of our duty to provide exemplary moral examples as beacons to humanity. Mu’amalat focuses on relations between people (hablum minannass) rather than only on man’s relationship with his Creator (hablum minAllah).  It can be considered in rather broad terms of encompassing the fields of Islamic banking, finance and economics, national governance, and the justice system, and even good manners (adab) between people.

Indications that Muslim countries are lagging behind Islamically in these fields are provided by Scheherazade Rehman and Hossein Askari in their publication, “How Islamic are Islamic Countries”.

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They rated 208 Muslim and non-Muslims countries based on Qur’anic teachings and the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (s)  and found in the societal fields mentioned that New Zealand was overall the best, while 37 non-Muslim countries scored better than the top-rated Muslim country, Malaysia.

My own research published as “A New Islamic Index of Wellbeing for Rating Muslim Countries”, found that for Islamically-significant social interaction indicators, such as adult literacy, females attending secondary school, maternal and infant mortality rates, and corruption perceptions, the Muslim world fared worse than the global average. This research further showed that Muslim countries doing best in traditional ibadah indicators – West African countries and Afghanistan – displayed poor social interactions.

It deserves further study whether this is due to a mistaken view that all that matters to get to heaven is to be regular in prayers and fasting, while good dealings with fellow Muslims and others, and concern for weaker societal members (women, infants, the poor), is of lesser consequence.

This view is also suggested by Transparency International’s 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index which shows that ten of the world’s 15 most corrupt countries are Muslim countries. Such is against the Prophet’s (s) clear teaching that “cursed is the one who bribes and the one who takes a bribe” (Hadith, Abu Daud #1595). How wonderful though it is when the spirit of sincerity and trustworthiness spreads throughout a society.

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While God instructed that the most honourable among you is the one with the most taqwa (God-consciousness; Quran, al-Hujarat 49:13), the Prophet (s) also instructed that the best of you are those who are best to their families (Hadith, Tirmidhi #3263) and to their wives (Hadith, Tirmidhi #278).

Although ibadah actions are unlikely to show change over time, mu’amalat laws are more susceptible to the influence of socio-cultural and even technological changes. They therefore need the application of fresh ijtihad (independent reasoning) from time to time to ensure the law continues to promote justice and social equity.

Reforms of mu’amalat laws did not always keep place with societal developments resulting in some anachronisms, such as the division of the world into darul Islam and darul-harb (abode of war), whereas today non-Muslim countries which have peaceful relations with Muslim countries may be termed darul-‘ahd (abode of treaty). In many formerly colonised Muslim countries, application of the shari‘ah is often restricted only to personal and family law, while other aspects were replaced by Western codes.

This probably reflects that the application of ijtihad fell by the wayside since these legal fields were appropriated by the colonial power and Muslim jurisprudents were often not provided a role in ensuring mu’amalat laws kept pace with contemporary developments.

Australian Muslims need to be cognisant of these issues since they are simultaneously members of the worldwide Muslim community of believers (Ummah), as well as the pluralistic, multicultural Australian society.

Alhamdulillah, today there is much progress in mu’amalat fields, such as the rapid expansion of Islamic finance and the halal industry worldwide, and the raising of the role, education and dignity of women.

What is further required is strengthening and sustaining improvement in relations with non-Muslims, especially those who are fellow citizens and neighbours. The Prophet (s) said, “He is not a believer until his neighbour is safe from injurious behaviour on his part” (Hadith, Tirmidhi #1292).

Allah the Most High in Quran,Sura al-Nisa, verse 36, also ordered believers to do good to kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, close neighbours and neighbours who are strangers, and the wayfarer you meet.

Indeed the latter was a prime reason that drew this author while receiving superb hospitality as a non-Muslim travelling through Indonesia in the 1970s, to eventually accept Islam as being the Truth from the Almighty.