That material prosperity and religious belief are intertwined would seem to have been an abiding leitmotif of most major faiths and ideologies. One prophetic tradition, for instance, presents this very idea, thus: “if poverty is left unchecked, then it may well lead to disbelief!” And when Marx calls religion “the sigh of the oppressed, the heart of the heartless, the soul of the soulless, and the opium of the people”, he too makes the link, albeit for altogether different reasons. And then there’ s Weber’s ‘Protestant work ethic” which, according to him, is how Christian Europe turned work into dogma, and how, some say, the West got so far ahead of the rest.
Now comes empirical research to corroborate these views in ways that give religion in general an all new resonance in an otherwise secular world; and perhaps for Islam, in particular, an all new role in the economic lives of its adherents. A recent survey conducted by the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom found that the weaker the economic conditions of a country the more intolerant its religious policies are likely to be—and vice versa. Thus, countries with poor economic records like Burma, Iraq, Bangladesh, Mauritania, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Vietnam, etc., also happen to have equally poor human rights records. Citizens of such countries are denied the right to live out their consciences, believe as they see fit, and practice their faiths in harmony with the national good. Not all countries admittedly fit this profile: some, like Saudi Arabia have relatively sound economies with high levels of religiosity—but with poor human rights records. This, researchers stress, is not proof that such a mix works, but rather, that economic performance in this case is quite unrelated to internal modes of production.