Islam and Industrial development

By 16 December 2010 Opini Mahasiswa No Comments

Whilst the Western world has managed to achieve phenomenal development since the industrial revolution the Muslim world on the other hand lags far behind. The Muslim world is represented by an underdeveloped infrastructure, poverty, unemployment and nothing in the way of technological development. At the same time the Muslim world possesses some of the worlds largest reserves of key mineral resources. The Muslim world single handedly possesses 74% of the world’s oil reserves – the world’s most important commodity.

The economies of the Muslim world are characterised by imports rather than exports, in some of the most basic commodities, Pakistan imports food staples although it produces over $30 billion in agricultural products annually. The Middle East, though rich in oil, imports large amounts of refined products every year due to its lack of oil refineries.

Many Muslim nations are characterised with economies geared around single commodities therefore lacking the diversification that would lead to a wide skills base. The oil rich Middle East and the mineral rich African nations are characterised with such economies.

The Muslim world has attempted export led growth strategies with disastrous consequences. The concentration on exports through single commodities has led to most of the population remaining unemployed and in poverty.

Muslim history and industrial development

Contrast this with Islamic economic history which is steeped in industrial development. The dominance of the desert and scant water resources in the Middle East led to many agricultural developments. The early industrial use of tidal power, wind power and petroleum led to the earliest large factory complexes (tiraz).[1] Water came to be an important commodity due to the climatic conditions and this created the motive to make the best use of the few rivers and streams that straddled the Middle East.

Muslim engineers perfected the use of watermills and invented horizontal-wheeled and vertical-wheeled water mills. This led to the emergence of a variety of industrial mills including gristmills, hullers, paper mills, sawmills, ship mills, stamp mills, steel mills, sugar mills, tide mills, and windmills. By the 11th century, every province throughout the Islamic world had these industrial mills in operation, from al-Andalus and North Africa to the Middle East and Central Asia.

Muslim engineer’s perfected water turbines and made an earth shattering break through in the 12th century. Al-Jazari through his works managed to invent the crankshaft, and created rotary motion through the use of rods and cylinders. He was the first to incorporate it into a machine. The British Empire used this understanding and utilized steam and then coal to drive pistons and then eventually to generate rotary (motion) to move machines. This eventually led to the development of automobiles due primarily to the development of the combustion engine; this is where the burning of fuel in an engine acts on the pistons causing the movement of the solid parts, eventually moving the automobile.

As many lands came under the fold of the Islamic civilisation, urbanisation led to a number of developments. The Arabian desert had scant water springs making most of the region uninhabitable; this was overcome by Muslim engineers developing canals from the Euphrates and Tigris. The swamps around Baghdad were drained, freeing the city of Malaria. Muslim engineers perfected the waterwheel and constructed elaborate underground water channels called qanats. This led to the development of advanced domestic water systems with sewers, public baths, drinking fountains, piped drinking water supplies and widespread private and public toilets and bathing facilities.

Such advances made it possible for many industrial tasks that were previously driven by manual labour in the ancient Islamic world to be mechanized and be driven by machines instead. This shows Islam is not at odds with science as presented by some. Historically Islam was the catalyst that drove Muslim interest in science.

Islam and the motivation for industrial development

Allah سبحانه وتعالى very clearly outlined the aims of the Khilafah state. Internally Allah سبحانه وتعالى obliged the implementation of the Shari’ah rules of Islam, whilst externally dawah and the propagation of Islam is the aim. Islam obliged the Ameer to take care of the affairs of the Ummah as he would be held accountable.

The Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم: “Each one of you is a Shepard and will be held accountable for his flock.” [Bukhari]

Throughout numerous ayah’s of the Qur’an Allah سبحانه وتعالى obliged the Ummah to propagate Islam to the wider world, take mankind from the darkness to the light while in other verses Allah سبحانه وتعالى characterised the Muslim Ummah as the best Ummah due to having such characteristics.

الَر كِتَابٌ أَنزَلْنَاهُ إِلَيْكَ لِتُخْرِجَ النَّاسَ مِنَ الظُّلُمَاتِ إِلَى النُّورِ بِإِذْنِ رَبِّهِمْ إِلَى صِرَاطِ الْعَزِيزِ الْحَمِيدِ

“Alif. Lam. Ra. This is a book which we have revealed to you, [O Muhammad], that you might bring mankind out of darkness into the light by the permission of their Lord – to the path of the Exalted in Might, the Praiseworthy.” [Ibrahim, 14:1]

The propagation of Islam is achieved through projecting an image of strength globally, so that those who have designs on the Ummah should consider the existence of its deterrent force so powerful as to render success in an attack too doubtful to be worthwhile. Also Allah سبحانه وتعالى mentioned in the Qur’an.

وَأَعِدُّواْ لَهُم مَّا اسْتَطَعْتُم مِّن قُوَّةٍ وَمِن رِّبَاطِ الْخَيْلِ تُرْهِبُونَ بِهِ عَدْوَّ اللّهِ وَعَدُوَّكُمْ وَآخَرِينَ مِن دُونِهِمْ لاَ تَعْلَمُونَهُمُ اللّهُ يَعْلَمُهُمْ وَمَا تُنفِقُواْ مِن شَيْءٍ فِي سَبِيلِ اللّهِ يُوَفَّ إِلَيْكُمْ وَأَنتُمْ لاَ تُظْلَمُونَ

“And prepare against them what force you can and horses tied at the frontier, to frighten thereby the enemy of Allah and your enemy and others besides them, whom you do not know (but) Allah knows them; and whatever thing you will spend in Allah’s way, it will be paid back to you fully and you shall not be dealt with unjustly.” [Al-Anfal: 60].

All of this makes it essential for the Khilafah to field an advanced military and have a strong manufacturing base which not only acts as a deterrent but generates economic activity.

Industrialisation and economic growth

The Industrial revolution is considered by historians as a major turning point in global history, rapid change at the time to almost every aspect of European society was influenced in some way by the industrial revolution. Industry on its own became an important pillar of economic life. Until the mid 1700’s industry was limited to manual labour in factories. Then the British Empire began using steam to drive pistons up and down and then eventually to generate rotary (motion) to move machines, which sparked the industrial revolution, as mechanical factories started to gradually replace the manual ones. Production increased twenty fold and the mechanised factory became one of the pillars of economic life.

Industrialisation allowed previously labour intensive tasks to be replaced by machines that could mass produce at a rapid rate compared to manual labourer. The need to fuel industry led to the development of iron-making techniques and the increased use of refined coal. The need to transport coal from the mining fields to refining plants led to the development of railways. The development of railways eventually led to the development of the combustion engine. In this way the European landscape changed from being driven by agriculture to manufacturing, the aristocracy found their influence wane and replaced by the merchants and industrialists.

Whilst the initial development and rise of Europe was driven by the industrial revolution, today the consumption driven models of economic growth dominate the economic scene and have proven to be unsustainable. The consumption driven economies of the Western world driven by debt and the need to live and spend beyond ones means has created a situation where the economic crash has become the normal state of affairs. Since the first depression of the 1870’s Western economies have experienced the regular crash, depression, recession, bust and disaster. The Western world has moved away from industrial led development and is today driven by large service sectors – which itself are dominated by finance. The global credit crunch crisis has proven to all that capitalist economic growth is unsustainable.

An industrial vision for the Muslim world

Industrial development has 3 common characteristics and some geographic specific characteristics.

1. To industrialise, raw materials and minerals are necessary. It is primarily heavy industry that will convert minerals into useful materials. The need to refine, coke and extract the right minerals from crude oil, coal and iron leads to the development of refineries and heavy industries.

2. The refineries, complexes and plants are then needed that convert raw materials into steel and cement as well as materials that will be turned into finished products.

3. Technical knowledge is then needed with regards to the processes to achieve this. For this the Western world invests billions into research and development to ensure they remain on the cutting edge of technological development.

There is a fourth issue and most probably the most important that allows all of the above to occur – namely the motive. Industrialisation requires the masses to contribute extensively to the process, it needs to be funded and may require great sacrifice to kick start the process. Colonialism and superiority is what drove the British Empire to industrialise, whilst civil war and independence led to US industrialisation, whilst the aims of communism allowed the Soviet Union to become a super power.

The Muslim world attempted socialism in the 1950’s, aside from a few large projects the Islamic world remained where it was prior to the experiment. The export led strategies of South East Asia were attempted in Indonesia, the Sub Continent and many of the African nations and further indebted these nations causing much misery and poverty. Today the Muslim economies are largely commodity and service based without hardly any established industry. We see that whilst the Western Capitalist world has predominantly service based economies, this was achieved after the establishment of an industrial base.

The Muslim world today does not lack the mineral resources necessary to industrialise, in fact the Muslim world has been blessed with large reserves of some of the world’s most important minerals. The Muslim world today possesses 74% of the worlds oil reserves, more than the rest of the world combined, it pumps out 42% of the worlds oil, has 54% of the worlds natural gas reserves, pumps 30% of the worlds gas and possesses the worlds largest oil and gas field.

The Muslim lands in no way lack the raw materials necessary to industrialise. Across the Muslim world there has been some industrial development however the lack of a comprehensive direction for the Muslim economies has resulted in very little in the way of industrial development relative to the raw materials.

Today the path to industrialise is not monopolized by the West, in the last 100 years a number of nations have been able to industrialise very rapidly due to the blueprint to industrialise being available for all. It took Britain nearly 100 years to industrialise, it took Germany and the US nearly 60 years to industrialise. It took Japan nearly 50 years, whilst today China has managed to industrialise in less than 30 years, India is still industrialising.

The Islamic world can very easily catch up with the technological developments of the developed world by making better use of the resources present in the Islamic lands. Any lack of technical knowledge can be overcome by purchasing the technology from abroad rather than waiting years to attain the technical expertise.

The Islamic model of economic development creates a stable economy and economic growth as Islamic economic development is built upon the real economy through the production of goods and services. By removing the role of dubious financial asset markets in the economy, there remains the real economy where trade, investment, salaries and wealth is generated and circulated. This creates the much needed stability absent in free market economies as speculation has been effectively removed.

The importance of industrial development

The capitalist models of industrial development via the exploitation of comparative advantage, export led growth and consumption driven economies have all been shown to be unsustainable, They have been discredited and are in decline.

The development of industry is critical for a number of reasons. A manufacturing industry is critical for ones global standing as it deters any foreign aggressor who may have designs on a nation. For this reason all of the world’s powers developed military industries in order to achieve such aims. A nations defence capabilities also give global power projection capabilities. Military industries are also important because they are at the heart of technological innovation. Common items such as the internet, the Teflon non-stick frying pan, plasma TV, Radio, personal computers and aeroplanes were all developed from military industries.

Hence having an industrial base allows a nation to have an independent economy as it is able to produce most of its key goods, it also stimulates the economy and economic activity. Having an industrially driven economy does not mean having a closed economy, however industrial development allows for independent domestic development.

Industrial development provides a strong foundation for wealth creation and has a number of much wider impacts absent with other models. Industrial development:
Ÿ Allows for the development of national infrastructure, the need for roads, transport and big projects such as the creation of dams creates employment and stimulates other developments such as the construction of housing and offices, retail complexes and railways, trams, motorways and canals.
Ÿ Industrial development stimulates wealth creation. Each stage of industry, mining, refining, manufacturing and sales adds value and creates wealth for the economy.
Ÿ Industrial development allows for the creation of consumer industries. Technology from heavy industry generally trickles down to industries which are considered the lower end of the industrial ladder such as textiles, plastics and food production. The creation of such sectors means more jobs are created.
Ÿ Industrial development allows for the development of military industries which are at the cutting edge of technological development. An industrial base allows for the mass production of arms, missiles, ships and weapons of mass destruction,. thereby creating a strong deterrent for any nation that has designs on domination of another nation. Military industries also require a large labour force.
Ÿ Industrial development allows a nation to become self sufficient whereby wealth is generated domestically with little or no reliance from abroad. It also means jobs generally are not lost as jobs will always be created as goods are all made domestically.
Ÿ Industrial development allows for the export of goods which bring in additional revenue for any state.
Ÿ Industrial development fundamentally leads to scientific and technological development as engineers, scientists and specialists look for better, and more efficient ways to refine, extract and manufacture goods.


Islam has very clearly laid out the path the Islamic world needs to tread. It made the dawah – propagation of Islam the basis of the Islamic foreign policy. The Muslim world needs to abandon models of development advocated by the West who themselves never developed upon such models. The Muslim world has all the resources necessary and a large population to achieve such aims. Whilst the American century is coming to the end, the 21st century may very likely be a new Islamic century inshallah. (Adnan Khan)

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