Piety and Redistributive Preferences in the Muslim World

Article excerpt


This article tests two competing theories of the relationship between piety and redistributive preferences in the Muslim world. The first, drawn from the new political economy of religion, holds that more pious individuals of any faith should oppose redistributive economic policies. The second, drawn from Islamic scripture, holds that pious Muslims should favor more redistributive economic policies. Employing survey data from twenty-five countries, the authors find that there is no clear relationship between piety and redistributive preferences among Muslims. The authors find that more pious Muslims are less likely to favor government efforts to eliminate income inequality, but they find only inconsistent evidence that more pious Muslims support governments taking responsibility for the well-being of the poor. The findings offer little evidence to suggest that either scriptural or organizational factors unique to Islam create distinct economic policy preferences.


Islam, redistribution, preferences, religion and politics

A new literature on the economics of religion argues that more religious individuals are less likely to support government redistribution. In some accounts, religious participation offers social insurance against negative income shocks (Chen 2008; Chen and Lind 2005). Alternatively, religious belief may offer psychic insurance against adverse life events (Scheve and Stasavage 2006). Motivating these studies are several casual observations about religion and political economy: Christian Democratic parties in Europe tend to advocate conservative economic policies, the Republican Party in the United States courts both religious and economic conservatives, and religious conservatives frequently support conservative economic policies.

The theory and evidence in these studies, though, come primarily from Christians in advanced industrial democracies. Scholars of the Muslim world have proposed very different perspectives of the relationship between religion and redistributive preferences. Studies have documented how mass Muslim organizations capitalize on economic grievances to stress redistribution and economic reform. These arguments focus on two pathways: Islam's scriptural injunction that Muslims must pay a tax (zakat) that helps the poor and unfortunate, and Islamic social organizations' role in mobilizing the poor and providing a substitute for state welfare. Islamic scriptural injunctions that mandate redistribution, and the apparently wide appeal of Islamic organizations as welfare organizations, suggest that the new political economy of religion's predictions about the link between piety and redistributive preferences may not apply to Muslim societies. Rather, they suggest that as a consequence of both scriptural and organizational influences unique to the Muslim world, more pious Muslims are likely to demand redistributive state intervention in the economy (see, e.g., Davis and Robinson 2006).

We use survey data-in concert with qualitative insights from countries as diverse as Algeria, Egypt, Turkey, and Indonesia-to test these two competing arguments against one another. We find little evidence that piety has a systematic impact on redistributive preferences among Muslims. We do find that higher levels of religiosity correspond to lower support for government efforts to minimize income inequality, but we also find that they have no effect on beliefs that governments should take responsibility for the poor. Across countries, we find variation in the extent to which piety is associated with redistributive preferences. These findings provide little evidence to suggest that either scriptural or organizational factors unique to Islam create distinct economic policy preferences among pious Muslims, demonstrating that arguments derived from Christians in advanced industrial economies are largely appropriate in the Muslim world. While our focus is exploring religiosity and redistributive preferences among Muslims rather than on comparing Muslims to non-Muslims, our results suggest that pious Muslims do not have distinctly different economic policy views than non-Muslims. …


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