Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding

Opinion Editorials, April 2011


Al-Jazeerah History


Mission & Name  

Conflict Terminology  


Gaza Holocaust  

Gulf War  




News Photos  

Opinion Editorials

US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)




The Islamic World in the New Century

By Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu,

A Book review By Shaher Awawdeh

Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, April 4, 2011


The book provides a narrative and analytical account of a multiplicity of aspects of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which is second largest intergovernmental organization after the UN and headquartered in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Authored by the OIC chief, the book provides reliable knowledge for readers and students of Muslim world politics by an insider authority.
It is important to note that the author is OIC’s first democratically elected Secretary General of an organization that groups 57 states where mostly elections and democracy are scarce commodities. Ihsanoglu, who was elected in 2004 as OIC chief, is regarded an early bird reformer when viewed against the backdrop of the recent transformation towards democracy sweeping the entire Middle East.
While a good part of the book looks at the evolution of the OIC since its inception in 1969, the focus of Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu’s work is overwhelmingly devoted to recent developments related to OIC’s reform and restructuring process, which has characterized the Organization’s work during the second half of the past decade.  The first two chapters of the book are dedicated to the development and consolidation of the OIC. Although the OIC was institutionally established in the aftermath of the arson in Al-Aqsa Mosque in 1969, Ihsanoglu traced, in a chronological fashion, major attempts made by Muslim leaders and intellectuals since 1920s to revive Islamic cooperation and solidarity, which was the direct casualty of the abolition of the Caliphate in 1924. The guiding force for these attempts, unsurprisingly, was the feeling of belonging to the Muslim Ummah, a concept identified by Ihsanoglu as “the worldwide community of faith”[1]. It is noteworthy that connecting the establishment of the OIC to earlier attempts of creating Islamic cooperation mechanisms is often overlooked by most students of the OIC.   
In its second chapter, the book discussed the evolving of the OIC as a full-fledged organization. Ihsanoglu argues that the OIC was aspired to be more than a diplomatic forum where member states articulate their concerns and air their grievances. The OIC, nevertheless, was meant to foster meaningful socioeconomic and cultural change in the Muslim world. In the words of Ihsanoglu, it was established to foster “joint Islamic action, which aims to establish co-operation, if not common action, on priorities identified by Member States”[2].
Undoubtedly, the grand goals and aspirations mentioned above are difficult to attain without a competent organization. In an ideal situation, these expectations, though ambitious, should not be unattainable for the OIC given its membership which spans over four continents with diversified cultural, economic and population potentials.  Nevertheless, life is full of disappointments. The OIC, sadly enough, has its own inherent weaknesses as maintained by Ihsanoglu who admittedly argued that these weaknesses include, but are not limited to, conflicting national interests of member states, institutional and legal handicaps in addition to financial difficulties. In an organization composed of fifty-seven Member States with different political and ideological orientations, and various priorities and interests, the author confirms that “achieving these goals is likely to be hampered”.[3]  
How to go about this? Ihsanoglu, as a veteran OIC official, cited a number of tasks to be embarked on such as carrying out necessary institutional reform and budget increase. Equally important, OIC’s Charter, the Organization’s DNA, should be redrafted.
Reforming the OIC and empowering it to shoulder its responsibilities, which is the core theme of this book, became more feasible, as maintained by Ihsanoglu, because of the availability of a number of factors such as the democratically elected OIC leadership; blessings and support of top Muslim leaders; the inclusion of the Muslim intelligentsia in identifying challenges and suggesting solutions. The adoption of the OIC Ten-Year Programme of Action by an Extraordinary Islamic Summit in 2005 put the reform process on the march.
In an obvious hopeful tone, Ihsanoglu asserted that when the OIC enjoys the support of its Member States and gets the necessary resources, it could carry out the programme of development and moderation. He suggested that moderation and modernization (two key concepts in Ihsanoglu’s thesis about OIC reform), when combined with sustainable development, are capable of transforming the Muslim world, once again, to a land of prosperity, progress and security.
With painstaking attention to numerous parts of the transformation scheme the OIC embarked on under his general secretariatship, Ihsanoglu enumerated a number of landmarks in the large-scale reform process. Prime in these landmarks were the revision of the Charter; establishing the OIC Executive Committee as a more effective decision-taking mechanism; restructuring several OIC organs; empowering the OIC to respond to the frequently-occurring disasters in the Muslim world and finally creating a poverty alleviation fund.     
The reform process enabled the OIC, as argued by the author, to set out on addressing virgin areas never explored before by the OIC such as promoting good governance in Member States, protecting the rights of women and reinvigorating science and innovation in the Muslim world. The economic sphere was also deemed a priority as explained by Ihsanoglu. The promotion of intra-OIC trade; mega projects such as the Dakar-Port Sudan rail link to connect the east and west coasts of the African continent; the Cotton Programme which aims at furthering cooperation amongst OIC cotton-producing member states are just a few examples of efforts in the economic domain.
An objective account of the OIC today would reveal that some of the new reforms thrashed out by Ihsanoglu were not in vain. The institutional restructuring helped the Organization to be transformed from a mere “paralyzed ghost”, as once described to me by a friend, into an increasingly active and visible institution. It has become a strategic partner to the United Nations, the EU and several regional groupings in various initiatives including development projects, conflict prevention and conflict resolution processes such as in Afghanistan and Iraq. However, at the level of other topics addressed by the reform process such as promoting human rights and good governance and the rights of women as well as combating Islamophobia and projecting the true favorable image of Islam, the author admittedly argues that this is a long process, which needs bigger amount of cooperation by OIC member states.
Ihsanoglu was not discouraged by the conventional wisdom that often deters incumbents from speaking their minds when addressing the handicaps of their respective organizations while in office. In this book, a reader would find criticism side by side with praise of the OIC by its own incumbent chief. Obviously, the book is intended mostly for readers from outside the Muslim world. Yet, I believe the book is a must read, good and rich reference for students of the contemporary politics of the Muslim world.

[1] P.13
[2] P. 37
[3] P.51

Book review
By Shaher Awawdeh, Ph.D
The Islamic World in the new century
The Organization of the Islamic Conference, 1969-2009
By Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu (London: Hurst & Company 2010)




Opinions expressed in various sections are the sole responsibility of their authors and they may not represent Al-Jazeerah & &