What makes a good Islamic country? Is it one where the people dress conservatively (or even severely in the case of women), adhere strictly to the rituals of Islam, where shariah laws apply?
Or is a good Islamic country one that keeps to the substantive teachings of Islam, more concerned with the content rather than the form of the religion? Where fairness, justice, honesty are the cornerstones of government policies and of its citizens' daily dealings.
How is a good Muslim judged? By the number of times he prays a day, by how assiduously he keeps to the rules? Or by how he lives the true meaning of his faith?
A study by Scheherazade S Rehman and Hossein Askari from George Washington University, published in the Global Economy Journal Vol 10 drew surprising conclusions.
The study examined if policies of Muslim countries (or Muslim majority countries) were founded on Islamic principles in comparison to non-Muslim countries. 208 countries were studied.
The criteria: economic opportunity, economic freedom, corruption, financial systems and human rights were used to measure the level of 'Islamicity' (based on an information website about Islam and Muslims).
The study found that most Islamic countries did not conduct themselves according to Islamic principles concerning economic, financial, political, legal, social and governance issues.
This is reflected in the governments in those countries but also the practices of the citizens in their daily dealings. Even at a social level it was found that many non-Muslim countries did much better in keeping to Islamic values.
The most ‘Islamic' country the study found was actually non-Muslim – New Zealand. Luxembourg came second. The top 37 countries in the study were all non-Muslim.
Imaddudin Abdulrahim, one of Indonesia's leading thinkers on Islamic monotheism claimed that Ames, a small city in Iowa, represents an exemplar of an Islamic state.
Yet Islam does not play a part in the day-to-day social, economic and political life of the city. The population does not observe Islamic rules on food or dress.
Imaddudin was not interested in form; he used parameters which reflect what he considered true Islam – trust, justice, fairness, freedom.
He found that people did not lock their doors when they went out and yet no one trespassed.
If you returned a broken egg to the grocer he accepted that it was broken when you bought it and replaced it without question.
People were honest in their dealings irrespective of the value of the transaction.
The government was fair and non-discriminatory. People were accepting of ethnic or religious differences.
He saw Islam beyond shariah and beyond its textual appearances. He was more concerned with the substantive elements of the religion.
Recently I enquired through a friend the possibility of getting a scholarship (from a certain university funded by a Muslim tycoon) for an Indian girl who had done very well in her exams but whose parents were poor and unable to send her to university. I was told in no uncertain terms that scholarships were only given to Muslims.
How does this reflect the true values of Islam?
When I was in Sudan I visited villages where artesian water was pumped out by equipment donated by Christian charities. I saw clinics and schools built and maintained by Christian foundations. Every village involved was however 100 percent Muslim!
Is there anywhere in any ‘Christian' country where Muslims are forbidden to build mosques? As long as they comply with the local building codes they have every right to do so and the law will protects their rights.
Yet this is not the case in many Muslim countries. No wonder so many non-Muslim countries score higher than Muslim ones based on Islamic principles.
It's no use spouting chapter and verse of the Quran if our deeds do not match the words we mouth.
We can follow all the rituals – fast, do the haj, pray five times a day, abstain from non-halal food, and cover ourselves. They all count for little if our deeds do not reflect the values of the religion.
If we are corrupt, if we discriminate against others because of ethnicity or religion, if we deny freedom of worship to others or even to one's own, are we living by the true values of Islam?
Are our economic policies geared to help those at the bottom of the ladder or do they benefit the top disproportionately? Is our political system fair?
Do we respect human rights? Have we an untainted legal system? Is our governance transparent and accountable? Are we tolerant of other religions and not impede their practice?
By any of the above criteria Malaysia has failed to live up to Islamic principles.
The authorities obstruct the building of non-Muslim places of worship – or even demolish them.
Christians are persecuted on dubious grounds. Our government discriminates on race and religion. Corruption is rife especially in high places.
The poor (the majority of whom are Malays) are left behind while the rich get richer. There is no respect for human rights and the political system is skewed.
On every count we fail to live up to Islamic values.
Lately radical Muslims have started to see ‘Christians under the bed' – an Islamic form of the infamous McCarthyism of the fifties in the US.
They imagine that Christians are out to proselytise their fellow believers. They don't believe that other Muslims can be more sophisticated than they and can make up their own minds what to believe in.
More than that, they demand Christians desist in doing whatever may remotely be a threat to them.
If these people were in charge in Sudan there would have been a lot of thirsty people and a lot of people without medicine and children without schooling.
I suppose they will now pass a fatwa that no Muslims must go to Christian hospitals. The Seventh Day Adventist Hospital in Penang has been servicing the people for a long time and a lot of Muslims use the hospital.
There are symbols of Christianity everywhere and there are Bible tracts for those who want to read them.
Going by recent events the hospital could be charged with proselytising. If so I think they would have failed miserably - I doubt a single Muslim patient has converted.
You go to a hospital because you are sick and because you think it gives good service. You send your children to a school because you think it gives your children the best education, you drink because you are thirsty, you don't care who paid for the pump that brought the water out.
Religion does not come into the reckoning for most people in this way.
Conversely you provide care irrespective of that person's religion or give scholarships because the person is poor and deserving, irrespective of her skin colour or her religion.
If Malaysia lives up to the real values of Islam and not its superficiality, the country would be much better off.
Radical Muslims should be careful that the Christians they imagine lurking under their beds may turn out to be better Muslims than themselves.
But then maybe that's the crux of the problem, they are being exposed for what they are, faux Muslims.
YIN EE KIONG writes from Indonesia.