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Muslim World: The Economies of the ummah

WHAT is the combined size of the economies of all Muslim countries? Which are the largest and most dynamic? What are some of the defining economic characteristics of Muslim countries?
These are some of the questions for which, surprisingly — or perhaps tellingly — there are few readily available answers. Indeed, while many of us have an idea of the total Muslim population of the world, most of us are not even sure how many countries the Muslim world consists of — and there are differing numbers in cyberspace on even this most basic of questions.

Let us start with the last question first. While many in the media in Pakistan cite the number of Muslim countries as 57 or 58, quoting the website of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), using the list of member countries of the OIC can lead to a misleading result in that in addition to Muslim-majority countries, it includes others with significant Muslim minority populations as well. Hence, Nigeria and Mozambique are listed as members of the OIC, but are not Muslim-majority countries.

The most authentic list comes from the seminal 2010 study by the Pew Research centre, which lists Muslim-majority countries at 49. Including the Muslim population of countries that have a large Muslim minority cohort, such as India and Nigeria among others, the combined total of adherents to Islam is around 1.62 billion, or roughly 23pc of the world population.

Muslim countries account for 21.7pc of the world’s land mass, with the largest Muslim country in terms of geographic size being Kazakhstan. It is followed by Algeria, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia.

Nearly 22pc of the Muslim population of the world resides in the Arab countries, while almost 1.3 billion Muslims are residents of the remaining Muslim-majority countries.

The most populous Muslim-majority countries are Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangladesh with nearly 36pc of the total Muslim population of the world residing in them. The smallest Muslim country in the world is the island nation of Maldives, with a total population of 338,442.

The aggregate size of the economies of all Muslim countries put together is around $5.7 trillion — or 8.1pc of the world total. The largest economy in the Islamic world is Indonesia with a size of $846 billion, followed by Turkey ($775bn) and Saudi Arabia ($577bn). Iran is the only other Muslim country with a GDP larger than $500bn.

While Pakistan is the second largest Muslim country in terms of population, it ranks eighth within the Islamic world in terms of size of the economy.

The oil-producing countries of the Islamic world account for the bulk of the combined size of the economy of the ummah, with a share of 73pc. Excluding the contribution of oil to the economies of Muslim-majority countries, the non-oil GDP of the Islamic world is a paltry 4pc of the world GDP (my estimate).

The largest non-oil producing economy of the Islamic world is Turkey, followed by Malaysia and Pakistan. While Indonesia has a fairly diversified economy, oil is a significant part of its GDP.

Since 1980, the fastest-growing economies in the Muslim world have been Qatar (the size of whose economy has increased 22 times over this period), Oman (12 times), Malaysia (11.5 times), Turkey (11.3 times) , Indonesia (10.8 times) and Egypt (10.3 times). Pakistan has also been a relatively strong performer, with the size of its economy growing 8.9 times since 1980. By comparison, the world GDP grew by 6.4 times over this period.

Overall, the combined per capita income of Muslim countries amounts to $4,185, which is approximately 40pc of the world’s. Compared to all developed (high income) countries, the per capita income of the Muslim world amounts to 11pc of the former’s level. Obviously, there are wide variations between, and within, the different Muslim countries on this score.

The wealthiest Muslim countries in terms of per capita income (current US dollars) are Qatar, Kuwait and Brunei Darussalam. Their respective per capita incomes as of 2012 were $90,524, $56,514 and $41,127. Pakistan ranks 30th in per capita terms within the Muslim world.

Within the Muslim world, the largest exporters are Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Indonesia and Turkey, exporting goods and services worth $376bn, $264bn, $213bn and $185bn respectively. The largest non-oil exporters are Malaysia and Turkey.

By far the most technologically advanced Muslim-majority country is Malaysia, which exports nearly $60bn worth of high-technology goods each year. Far behind in terms of technological content of exports are Indonesia, Kazakhstan and Turkey.

In terms of literacy, the most educated Muslim-majority countries are the Central Asian ‘stans’ — Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan — with nearly universal adult literacy. At least nine Muslim-majority countries have adult literacy levels greater than 90pc, while Pakistan languishes at the near-bottom on this score.

According to the World Development Indicators, Afghanistan ranks right at the top in the Muslim world in terms of health spending as a percentage of GDP. Twenty-five Muslim countries spend 5pc of GDP or more on health services — more than twice the level of Pakistan. Pakistan ranks seventh from the bottom within the Muslim world on this front.

Finally, in terms of science and technology, only one Muslim country invests more than 1pc of GDP on research and development (R&D) — Tunisia. Turkey ranks second, while Pakistan ranks a surprising fourth in the list of countries with recent data — reflecting both data limitations as well as the poor state of R&D in the rest of the Muslim world.

The writer is a former economic adviser to government, and currently heads a macroeconomic consultancy based in Islamabad.

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