What did hold back the Middle East?
The thesis of the long divergence revisited
Scientific Seminar with University of
Paris1 Panthéon Sorbonne, France
Abdul Azim Islahi
Islamic Economics Institute
King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah
Wednesday 12 March, 2014 (11 Jamad I, 1435)
The Middle East, beginning from the mid-seventh century C. E. nearly a thousand years, experienced remarkable progress, strong economy, high standard of living, and brilliant cultural and scientific activities. Then started a period of fall which continued for about four centuries. It is the same period when Europe made tremendous progress in the field of science and technology, politics and economics. The investigation into the causes of the rise of the West and decadence of the Middle East is a very pertinent theme. Although there are several studies related to the subject, still disagreement exists on the real causes of decline. The context of the present paper is a recently published book entitled The Long Divergence: How Islamic Law Held Back the Middle East by Timur Kuran.* The gist of the Long Divergence is that when the West gradually made the transition from medieval to modern economic institutions, corporations, banks, and big trading companies, which could assemble greater capital and survive longer, played the vital role in its development. Since certain provisions of Islamic Law seemingly result into fragmentation of assets, in the opinion of Kuran, they proved impediment in the way of accumulation of capital and continuation of corporations, hence responsible for the fall of the Middle East whose dominant population is follower of Islam. The present paper contends this thesis. It holds that in the Middle East the conditions were not ripe for the rise of such modern economic institutions. The thesis of the long divergence is amusing and a novel explanation but at the same time a partial and simplistic analysis which ignores the deep rooted causes of overall decline including economic. The fault of this thesis is obvious from the fact that under the full implementation of Islamic law, the region made enviable development for about a thousand years, as noted above. Again the twentieth century developments in the Middle East proved inaccuracy of this thesis. Now the Middle East has big corporations, banks, investment trusts, industries, commercial exhibitions, etc. at the same time increasing adherences to the Islamic Law. The paper adopts a holistic approach to explore the real causes of the fall of the Middle East.
* For a review on the book please refer to JKAU: Islamic Econ., Vol. 25 No. 2, pp: 253-261 (2012 A.D./1433 A.H.), or click the following link: http://iei.kau.edu.sa/Pages-VOL-25-02.aspx