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ORGANIZATION OF THE ISLAMIC CONFERENCE

The Islamic theory of international relations centers around the Qur’anic concept of ummah, the community of believers that spans all Muslims of various nations and races. Especially with the rise of modern nationstates, Islamic thinkers have debated whether the concept of a nation conflicts with the universality and unity of the Islamic community. Muhammad Iqbal asserted that Islam furnishes a model for human unity and that nationalism can coexist with it as long as Muslims believe in tawhid (the unity of God). Other scholars reject this view; thus `Ali Muhammad Naqavi writes, “Nationalism and Islam have two opposite ideologies, schools and ideas and independent goals and programs” (Islam and Nationalism, Tehran, 1984).

None the less, the modern world order has resulted in the suppression of two traditional vehicles of Islamic unity-empires with an integral clerical establishment, and conquest by jihad. Seeking a viable modern response to Western political and economic dominance, nineteenth-century reformers-notably Jamal al-Din alAfghan! (1839-1897), Muhammad `Abduh (1849-1905), and Muhammad Rashid Rlda (1865-1935)—developed the political theory of Pan-Islamism. The PanIslamist movement and its leading journal Al-manar began promoting the idea of Muslim congresses in 1898, but the first general Islamic conference was not held until 1926, with meetings in Cairo and Mecca. These meetings concerned themselves primarily with responses to Kemal Ataturk’s abolition of the caliphate; a third congress in 1931 addressed the protection of Palestinian Muslims and the holy places of Jerusalem.

Saudi Arabia and the Muslim regions of the Indian subcontinent led attempts to establish an international Islamic body in the 1940s and 1950s, in the face of opposition from secularist regimes in Egypt, Turkey, and Iran. The first International Islamic Economic Conference met in Karachi in 1949, and the second in Tehran in 1950. A conference of Muslim religious scholars was held in 1952 in Karachi at the initiative of the grand mufti of Palestine, Amin al-Husayn!, who advocated Islamic unity: “Modern scientific research and discoveries have shortened distances. In these circumstances even the most powerful nations of the world cannot remain in isolation.” Al-Husayn! noted the unity of the Western and Communist blocs and lamented, “Only the Muslims in the face of so many difficulties and problems have so far failed to form themselves into an ummah.”

Why had Muslims failed to translate their dream of an Islamic ummah into reality? There was no dearth of able thinkers and dynamic leaders, yet they had been unable to create a permanent international organization founded on Islamic ideology. Secularists, socialists, and regional nationalists were not yet prepared to rise above their differences and forge unity on the basis of their shared beliefs.

The movement for Pan-Islamic unity, however, was not without some results. Its tenacious adherence to the concept of a united world of Islam ultimately triumphed in the 1960s, when new and more vigorous attempts to develop bonds among Muslim countries emerged. The Saudi crown prince, later King Faysal, led this new effort, motivated by his desire to contain Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Arab nationalism. He toured Pakistan, Iran, Jordan, Sudan, Turkey, Morocco, Guinea, Mali, and Tunisia advocating an Islamic ummah. In 1962 Saudi Arabia also established a philanthropic organization, the Muslim World League (Rabitat al-`Alam al-Islam!) to combat socialism and secularism. [See Muslim World League.]

The situation changed dramatically after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War in which Israel crushed Egypt, Jordan, and Syria and occupied large Arab territories. The entire Muslim world was shocked, especially by the occupation of Muslim holy places in Jerusalem-among them al-Agsa Mosque, the third holiest site of Islam. Amin al-Husayn! and King Faysal called for an Islamic summit conference, supported by other national leaders including Tunku Abdul Rahman of Malaysia. In their changed circumstances, Nasser and other former opponents could no longer ignore the initiatives of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and their allies. Finally, after an arsonist set fire to part of al-Agsa Mosque, the first Islamic summit was held in Rabat on 22-25 September 1969.

The leaders who assembled in Rabat were convinced that their peoples formed an indivisible ummah and were determined to exert united efforts to defend their legitimate interests. This resolve gave birth to the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), formally proclaimed in May 1971. The OIC expresses the determination of Islamic nations to “preserve Islamic social and economic values” and reaffirms their commitment to the United Nations Charter. Its primary goals are to promote Islamic solidarity among member states; to consolidate cooperation among member states in economic, social, cultural, scientific, and other vital fields of activity, and to carry out consultations among member states in international organizations; to endeavor to eliminate racial segregation, discrimination, and colonialism in all its forms; and to support international peace and security founded on justice.

The highest policy-making function of the OIC consists in meetings of heads of state. These summit conferences enable the leaders of the Islamic world periodically to review both internal conditions and external political developments from an Islamic perspective. The next level of policy-making is the annual Conference of Foreign Ministers to consider international developments and their impact on the Islamic states with a view to defining common positions on global political and economic issues. The ministers have focused on such issues as the question of Palestine, the occupation of Afghanistan, the Iran-Iraq war, and the situation in South Africa, seeking equitable solutions to these problems.

The third and permanent component of the OIC’s institutional structure comprises the General Secretariat based in Jeddah and OIC agencies and centers in a number of countries. The head of the Secretariat, the secretary-general, is elected for a four-year nonrenewable term by the Conference of Foreign Ministers; there are also four assistant secretaries and various other officials.

One important institution that has developed within the framework of the OIC is the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO), modeled on UNESCO. The need to advance education, particularly in science and technology, in contemporary Muslim countries can hardly be exaggerated. ISESCO has undertaken an ambitious program founded on two complementary objectives: to strengthen cooperation among member states in the fields of educational, scientific, and cultural research and to make Islamic culture the pivot of educational curricula at all levels; and to support genuine Islamic culture and to protect the independence of Islamic thought against cultural invasion, distortion, and debasement.

The OIC has been more successful in such cultural programs than in political matters, where Muslim countries are still far from achieving the cohesion and unity embodied in the OIC Charter. The Iran-Iraq war has perhaps been the most frustrating problem for the OIC among numerous regional and ethnic disputes. Despite such obstacles, however, the OIC in general provides a valuable forum in which Muslim countries are gathered for the first time in an official organizational setting. This is no small achievement after centuries of division and conflict within the ummah.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Ahsan, `Abdullah al-. OIC: The Organization of the Islamic Conference. Herndon, Va., 1988. A detailed study of the origins, structure, and membership of the OIC.

Choudhury, Golam W. Islam and the Contemporary World. London, 1990. Chapters 5 and 6 explore the development of Pan-Islam and the structure and organization of the OIC.

Moinuddin, Hasan. The Charter of the Islamic Conference: The Legal and Economic Framework. Oxford, 1987. A detailed, constitutional study of the OIC.

Structure and Activities

The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC; Ar., Munazzamat al-Mu’tamar al-Islami) extends its influence in the social, economic, and political spheres throughout the Islamic world. It reaches beyond Muslim nations as a forum in which they can coordinate their interactions with the rest of the world. To serve the OIC’s many purposes, an elaborate organizational structure has been developed over the quarter-century of its existence.

Membership. The OIC currently has So members, including Palestine, four Central Asian republics, and Albania. Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have observer status and the Turkish Cypriot community and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) regularly attend meetings as observers. The MNLF applied unsuccessfully to join the OIC in 1987; the grounds for refusal were apparently that it was not a state. In addition, a number of intergovernmental organizations, such as the United Nations, the Organization of African Unity (OAU), and the Arab League, regularly send high-level observers. Observer status has also been granted to a number of nongovernmental organizations, but these normally have an Islamic flavor-for instance, the Muslim World League, the Tripoli-based Islamic Call Society, the World Muslim Congress, and the World Assembly of Muslim Youth.

Structure. The highest policy-making organ of the OIC is the meeting of heads of State, the summit. There have been six Islamic summits: Rabat (1969), Lahore (1974), Td’if/Mecca (1981), Casablanca (1984), Kuwait (1987), and Dakar (1991). The summits review conditions in the Muslim world and consider international political developments. The second policy-making organ is the annual Conference of Foreign Ministers, which also reviews conditions in the Muslim world but tends to concentrate on international political, economic, social, and cultural questions.

In addition, there are three Standing Committees for Information and Cultural Affairs, Scientific and Technological Cooperation, and Economic and Commercial Cooperation. The main functions of these committees are to monitor the implementation of resolutions passed by the OIC, to study means of strengthening cooperation among Muslim states, to draw up programs and submit proposals designed to increase member states’ capacity in the fields indicated, and to study agenda items and submit draft resolutions before summit meetings and meetings of foreign ministers.

The Secretariat is based in Jeddah. It is headed by a secretary-general elected for a four-year renewable term by the Conference of Foreign Ministers. The present incumbent, Hamid Al Gabid of Niger, took office in January 1989. In accordance with an amendment to the Charter agreed at the Dakar summit in 1991, the secretary-general’s term was extended for a second fouryear term. The Secretariat has four assistant secretariesgeneral for Political Affairs; Jerusalem, Palestine, and Muslim minorities; Cultural and Social Affairs and the Islamic Solidarity Fund; and Economic, Administrative, and Financial Affairs.

OIC funding comes from contributions from member states. Originally it was agreed that the basis for assessing contributions should be per capita income. In practice, many states fail to make due payments, and the OIC is perennially short of funds. Indeed, the Secretary-General was reported in 1986 to be prepared to tell the 1987 summit that if members were not prepared to pay up, he and his staff would happily close the organization down and return to their former occupations. Hitherto, Saudi Arabia has bailed out the OIC when it is particularly short of funds, and it seems likely that this will continue. The Saudis have also given a former royal palace to house the Secretariat.

Agencies and Affiliates. The OIC has given birth to many subsidiary and affiliated bodies. Some, such as the Islamic Development Bank, are effective, others are less so, and some have yet to be established. Since the organization suffers from an acute shortage of funds, the development of new agencies, particularly the Islamic Court of justice, may well be slow, but those already operating are unlikely to be allowed to die.

Among the specialized committees of the OIC is the Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Committee, which was established in 1975 and is based in Morocco. Its fourteen members meet twice a year under the chairmanship of King Hasan. It is charged with working for the liberation of Jerusalem, drawing the world’s attention to the rights of Muslims and to Israeli defiance of UN resolutions, and implementing OIC resolutions relating to Jerusalem and the Palestine question. Allied to this committee is the Al-Quds Fund, established in 1976. Its objectives are to fight against the “israelization” of Jerusalem and to support the Palestinian struggle for liberation. Its income is derived from voluntary donations.

Important among the subsidiary organs of the OIC is the Islamic Solidarity Fund, created in 1974 to provide funds to meet the needs of Islamic unity, Islamic causes, and the enhancement of Islamic culture, values, and universities. The funds available have been used for a wide variety of charitable and relief purposes.

Economically oriented subsidiary organs have also been active. For instance, the Statistical, Economic, and Social Research and Training Center for the Islamic Countries was established in Ankara in 1978. It collects data and formulates economic policies, such as the “Ankara Economic Plan” adopted at the Td’if summit of January 1981. It also publishes the, journal of Economic Cooperation among Islamic Countries. The Islamic Center for Vocational and Technical Training and Research, set up in Dhaka in 1977, is charged with the development of skilled manpower in Muslim countries; the Islamic Center for Development of Trade, based in Casablanca since 1983, encourages regular commercial contacts and investments among member states.

Perhaps the most important of the institutions within the OIC framework is the Islamic Development Bank. Established in Jeddah in 1974 to encourage economic development and social progress in member states and in Muslim communities elsewhere, it has been one of the fastest-growing aid agencies in the Third World. In July 1992, the bank agreed to double its subscribed capital from $2.9 billion to $5.8 billion. Less prominent but also noteworthy have been the International Islamic News Agency and the Islamic States Broadcasting Organization. The former, created in 1979 and based in Jeddah, issues daily news bulletins in Arabic, English, and French (the official languages of the OIC). The latter was established as a personal initiative of King Faysal in 1975 as a means of propagating Islam though radio and television. It makes and sells its own religious programs for the Muslim world and maintains a library of radio and television programs made in various Muslim countries. Copies are either lent or given to broadcasting organizations in all member states. The Islamic Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, headquartered in Rabat, has since 1982 promoted cooperation among Muslim states in the cultural and educational fields.

Attitudes of Member States. Despite the high moral tone of the declaration issued by the first summit conference in 1969 following the fire at the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, and of the OIC Charter, the organization has been predominantly a political one. During the early discussions on the drafting of the Charter, there was considerable argument about its proper aims. One faction argued that it should be entirely political, aimed at dealing with the problems of Jerusalem and Palestine. A second faction argued for something much wider and more nebulous and wished to emphasize closer cooperation in economic, cultural, social, scientific, and technological matters. Although the second faction was successful as far as the Charter went, the political side has in fact prevailed in practice. However, the plethora of nonpolitical subsidiary organizations established by the OIC is due in part to the strength of the nonpolitical group, whose members have generally taken the lead in proposing their establishment, in providing funding, and in giving the main impetus for their activities.

The attitudes of member states toward the OIC thus vary considerably. Saudi Arabia almost certainly sees it as a vehicle to bring influence to bear and as an institution in which it can reasonably hope to wield influence more actively and more widely than could be the case in other forums. In this, Saudi Arabia has been successful in that it has been able to use the nonpolitical aspirations of other members and the prospect of additional funding to further its own political objectives, sometimes in the face of more radical opposition. One example is the way in which Saudi Arabia used the OIC to legitimize its imposition of quotas on the number of Iranian pilgrims attending the 1988 hajj. Members agreed at the January 1988 meeting of foreign ministers in Amman to limit the number of pilgrims from member states to a maximum of 1,000 pilgrims per one million population. The ostensible reason was a Saudi plea for reduced numbers because of major construction works in the Haramayn (holy places of Mecca and Medina). An equally striking example is the way in which Saudi Arabia led the campaign for the suspension of Egypt following the Camp David Accords; it later was able to force through the readmission of Egypt in 1984 in the face of strong opposition.

Saudi Arabia has, throughout the history of the organization, been a major contributor to funding for all purposes. This, coupled with the early Saudi success in ensuring an institutional framework for the organization and in making Jeddah the location of that framework pending the liberation of Jerusalem, has meant that Saudi Arabia has played a dominant role in the OIC. (Since 1975 when the Islamic Development Bank began operation, its president has been a Saudi.) Although this role has been reduced to some extent over the years by internecine strife, the wider interests of the larger membership, and the insistence of non-Arab members (the majority of members) on broader concerns, the develop ment of the OIC can be seen as one of the success stories of Saudi foreign policy.

Pakistan’s attitude is probably a combination of two strands. On the one hand, Pakistan has felt itself surrounded by potential enemies and therefore vulnerable. On the other hand, there is no doubt that the devotion of Pakistani elites to Islam is genuine: it therefore sees the OIC as a means of strengthening ties with other Muslim states and also as a vehicle through which to seek reassurance. A case in point is the manner in which Pakistan orchestrated pressure on the Soviet Union over Afghanistan through the OIC.

Arab members generally are more overtly political than others and have seized upon the organization as yet another means of publicizing their views on the ArabIsrael dispute and gaining support for their policies. Because of the common religious and cultural tradition and the importance of Jerusalem in Islam, the Arab states have been able to islamize the dispute in terms of rhetoric. However, there is little sign that non-Arab members are prepared to take any effective action.

Nigeria unexpectedly became a full member of the OIC in January 1986. It seems likely that the government’s reasons were wholly domestic-an attempt to buy off its Muslim constituency-and that there were no foreign policy considerations. There is evidence that the government was lured into joining the OIC by influential Nigerian Muslims who persuaded it that there would be no political repercussions. There was, however, a serious Christian backlash, not surprising for a country in which Muslim/Christian tension is never far below the surface. After several unsuccessful attempts to find a compromise solution, Nigeria’s membership is effectively in limbo, and although Nigeria continues to be represented in OIC deliberations, it takes little part in them. Zanzibar briefly acceded to the OIC in December 1992, ostensibly to gain access to Islamic Development Bank funds. However, the Tanzanian government deemed the accession unconstitutional and Zanzibar withdrew from the OIC in August 1993.

Iran’s position is ambivalent. Before the revolution Iran probably shared the same perceptions as did Saudi Arabia, though it would have seen its role and influence as more significant. Since the revolution, Iran has consistently denounced the OIC as a front to further Saudi foreign-policy aims, the most notable case being the OIC endorsement of the hajj quota system in 1988. Iran also perceived the organization as biased in favor of Iraq, with which it fought a bloody war for eight years.

Yet at the Dakar summit in 1991, President Hashemi Rafsanjani used the occasion to promote Iran-at least rhetorically-as the chief guardian of the Palestinian jihad.

Iraq probably saw the OIC as a means to further its attempts to exert influence in the Arab and Third Worlds, and as a useful instrument in reducing its isolation. Throughout the conflict with Iran, Iraq sought to influence OIC deliberations and the activities of the Islamic Peace Committee in favor of the Iraqi version of events. However, the Iraqis boycotted the 1991 summit meeting, which came after their disastrous defeat in the war following the invasion of Kuwait. Although King Fahd of Saudi Arabia also stayed away from the meeting, the Iraqi government denounced the OIC as a Saudi institution sympathetic to Kuwait’s wish to maintain sanctions against Iraq.

The poorer member states have undoubtedly seen the OIC as an additional channel through which to lobby for financial assistance, for extending the free flow of labor, and thus for maintaining and if possible increasing the flow of remittances from emigre workers, particularly in the Arabian Peninsula. As a result, despite routine grumbles about what they see as concentration on Arab issues, they are willing to acquiesce in the status quo in return for the benefits available.

The OIC is far from “fundamentalist” in attitude and tone (using the term as it is generally understood today). The member states are represented by their governments, not by religious leaders, and the organization does not have the establishment of a universal Islamic community or ummah as an eventual aim. Its relations with the outside world are based on cooperation, not confrontation, and during the Cold War it was much closer to the West than to the Soviet bloc. Nor is there any discernible fundamentalist influence within the Secretariat, whose officials are professional diplomats from member states. Nevertheless, the rise in Islamist challenges to the political establishments of several member states-Algeria, Tunisia, and Egypt, among others-has led to concern in certain official quarters over the “enemies within” and to anger at Iran for allegedly supporting them.

Activities. An examination of resolutions passed by the OIC over the years shows that the organization has become a natural forum in which to raise issues affecting the Muslim world or particular Muslim countries, and it has successfully engineered a broad consensus on a number of matters. However, it has been selective on the specific issues on which it seeks to take action beyond the passage of resolutions. In the political sphere, it has regularly called for Israeli withdrawal from Arab territories, recognition of the rights of the Palestinians and of the Palestine Liberation Organization as their sole legitimate representative, and the restoration of Jerusalem to Arab rule. It has also worked actively, though without much practical effect (through the Islamic Peace Committee established in 1 98 1 , initially chaired by the Secretary-General and later by President Jawara of Gambia), to try to bring an end to the conflict. It was also influential in coordinating international opposition to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The annual resolution on this issue at the UN General Assembly was drafted by the Afghanistan Committee.

In other disputes, the secretary-general offered to mediate in the Somali civil war and denounced the Indian government’s inability to protect Muslims in the wake of the destruction of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya in late 1992. Both acts, however, had no discernible effect. The Bosnian crisis has agitated Muslim opinion throughout the world, with Malaysia, Pakistan, and Iran particularly urging more decisive support, perhaps even military assistance, for the Bosnian Muslims. At a special meeting in Jeddah in December 1992, the OIC gave the Security Council a deadline of 15 January 1993 to take further measures in support of the Muslims or, failing that, unspecified Muslim collective action would be taken. At the Karachi Foreign Ministers’ meeting in May 1993, a concrete plan for action once again failed to materialize. In July 1993, an emergency meeting of foreign ministers offered to contribute several thousand troops to the United Nations peacekeeping effort in the former Yugoslavia.

In the cultural field, the OIC has been active in support of education for Muslim communities throughout the world and, through the Islamic Solidarity Fund, has helped to establish Islamic universities in Malaysia, Niger, Uganda, and Bangladesh. It has also given support to publications on Islam in both Muslim and Western countries.

Assistance is also given to Muslim communities which have been affected by civil and other wars and natural disasters, largely in cooperation with UN agencies, particularly the UN High Commission for Refugees. Much of this aid has been concentrated in the Sahel region of Africa, though other deserving cases are also given help.

The OIC has also been active in support of Muslim minorities throughout the world, particularly those that are repressed or discriminated against. Thus it is active in support of the Muslim minorities in Bulgaria and the Philippines. Here as well, it is selective in the causes it actively supports, and although there have been contacts with China, it gives little practical support to the Muslim communities there, preferring to remain on reasonable terms with the regime.

Conclusions. Despite its wide range of activities, the OIC remains an essentially political organization to which the nearest analogue is probably the British Commonwealth. The differences of interest and emphasis between member states are likely to prevent a greater degree of solidarity than that existing today, and critics will continue to denounce it as a conservative, Saudicontrolled institution or an ineffective “talking shop”or indeed both. Differences of interest among member states were particularly apparent during the Gulf crisis of 1990-1991. However, most members like members of the Commonwealth, see advantage in belonging to an organization, however loosely knit it may be, which facilitates a cohesive stance on certain issues without inhibiting disagreement and the pursuit of narrow national interests, and through which support for national policies on international issues can be sought.

Although the OIC has been in existence for only about a quarter-century, it has served to focus the attention of the Muslim world on the more important political, social, and economic issues of the day. It has developed a degree of muscle in all three fields, it has served to draw attention to the main concerns of a sizable proportion of the world’s population, and it is taken seriously by other international organizations. Although writing before the momentous events in world politics associated with the end of the Cold War, a commentator on the 1981 summit in Mecca pointed to the OIC’s importance in the following words:

As an international organisation, the Islamic conference seems at least as dynamic as others for which the OIC has expressed strong support (e.g., the Non-Aligned Movement, the OAU and the Arab League). Strong support for the principles of the United Nations along with the appearance of the Secretary-General of the UN at the summit is proof positive that the OIC does not see itself as a restricted sectarian group but rather as an organisation with an important role to play in modern world politics.

 

 

Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/islamic-conference/
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  • writerPosted On: June 17, 2017
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