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The Role and Challenges of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Addressing Muslim World Issues

Despite the drama escalating to genocide in Palestine, the lack of concrete effort by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which can be considered the only organized structure of Muslim states, presents an interesting example of the indifference of Muslim countries to the calamity occurring.

The Emergence of the Idea

The policy of Islamism implemented by Abdulhamid II and the institution of the caliphate, though symbolic, began to be influential in various parts of the world. However, at that time, there were only two truly independent Muslim states: the Ottoman Empire and Iran.

Thus, the caliphate institution mainly targeted Muslim communities under colonial administrations. The political and economic weakness of the Ottoman Empire was a significant barrier to strengthening these relations.

One of the most important aspects of the policy of Islamism was built on the unity of Islam and the brotherhood of Muslims. The Ottoman Empire, aiming to benefit from the power of the caliphate, entered World War I by issuing a “jihad fatwa,” calling Muslim communities under occupation and colonial administration from Egypt to India, from Africa to Turkestan, to jihad. However, the effect of this fatwa was very limited.

The second major blow to the already limited ideal of Islamic Unity was Turkey’s abolition of the caliphate on March 3, 1924. Subsequent attempts to revive the caliphate did not receive enough support from Muslim communities and states.

To discuss the unity of the Islamic world and the matter of the caliphate, “Islamic Congresses” were held in Cairo and then Mecca in 1926, attended by various Muslim countries. The congress in Mecca decided to establish an organization named “Mü’temerü’l-âlemi’l-İslami.” Although it was decided to convene annually during the Hajj, the first meeting could only be held in Jerusalem in 1931.

The congress in Jerusalem aimed to draw the Muslim world’s attention to the Palestine issue. The British, who held Palestine at that time, had stated they would not allow speeches that could endanger their security or interfere in the internal affairs of friendly states. Mufti al-Husseini had assured them on this matter.

The congress faced opposition from Turkey and Egypt due to concerns that the caliphate issue would be brought up, despite the fact that the last caliph, Abdülmecid Efendi, was still alive but not invited. However, it was seen that the administrations of Jordan, Iraq, and Kuwait supported the congress.

The congress’s decision to establish Al-Aqsa University in Jerusalem, a central office, and affiliated branches to publish sermons, conferences, books, and magazines, and produce films in accordance with Islamic morals was significant. However, the intended university could not be established due to a lack of necessary funding. The congress’s only significant activity was ending the war between the Saudis and Yemeni ruler Imam Yahya.

The congress’s focus on Jerusalem and its Arab-centric activities led to its inactivity. It faded into history after el-Husseini left Palestine in 1937.

After World War II, as many Muslim communities gradually gained independence, a “bipolar world” emerged. This era was also marked by newly independent third-world countries feeling the need to organize to address their issues.

During these years, the process of establishing a Jewish state in Palestine was progressing step by step, culminating in the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, following a defeat of the forces from Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq in the 1948 war.

The Mü’temerü’l-âlemi’l-İslami, established at the congress in Mecca, met in Karachi in 1949 and 1951 but did not convene again until 1962. In 1962, it met in Baghdad, and in 1964, in Mogadishu. Meanwhile, in 1962, Saudi Arabia established the “Râbıtatü’l-âlemi’l-İslami” with a focus on “propagating Islam.”

Establishment and Organization

After the abolition of the caliphate, all attempts for unity and solidarity among Muslims were either short-lived or limited. The idea of an endeavor that would encompass all Muslim countries was proposed at the 1965 meeting of Râbıtatü’l-âlemi’l-İslami in Mecca, with Nigerian Prime Minister Ahmed Bello being the proponent.

Saudi King Faisal and Moroccan King Hassan II supported this proposal. Faisal promoted the idea of an “Islamic unity” on the international stage to enable Muslim countries to act together, even holding discussions with various Muslim country leaders.

As these developments were unfolding, the Arabs entered into another war with Israel in 1967. This “Six-Day War” resulted in a significant defeat for Egypt, Syria, and Jordan against Israel.

Two years later, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, under Israeli occupation, was set on fire by Denis Michael Rohan, a radical Australian Christian believed to be acting to hasten the second coming of Christ, causing damage to the walls. Rohan, diagnosed as “mentally ill,” was sent to Australia for psychiatric treatment.

Following this incident, King Hussein of Jordan called for an extraordinary meeting of the Arab League, established in 1945. The meeting in Cairo decided to convene an Islamic summit that would include Muslim countries from Asia and Africa.

At the summit held in Rabat, it was decided to establish a secretariat in Jeddah to coordinate and promote cooperation among Islamic countries. The secretariat’s headquarters would remain in Jeddah until Jerusalem was liberated.

In 1972, the third Foreign Ministers’ Summit convened in Jeddah, where the organization’s founding document was adopted, officially launching the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The document detailed the organization’s primary goals, including promoting solidarity and cooperation among member states, enhancing economic, social, cultural, and scientific collaboration, eliminating racial discrimination, inequality, colonialism, contributing to world peace, and collectively protecting holy sites.

Additionally, it emphasized working towards and supporting the independence and rights of Muslim peoples, including supporting the Palestinian people’s struggle.

While undertaking these efforts, member states agreed to respect each other’s territorial integrity and independence, refrain from intervening in internal affairs, and resolve disputes peacefully without resorting to violence.

The highest decision-making body of the organization is the Islamic Summit, attended by heads of state and government, which was decided to be held every three years, though the frequency of these meetings has varied. Extraordinary meetings have also been convened.

The second most important body is the Conference of Foreign Ministers, which meets annually and can convene extraordinarily upon the request of two-thirds of the member countries. The OIC’s permanent organ is the General Secretariat, headquartered in Jeddah.

The Secretary-General is elected by the foreign ministers of member countries for a four-year term. The Secretary facilitates communication and cooperation among member states and monitors the implementation of decisions. Secretaries-General have been selected from Guinea, Malaysia, Egypt, Morocco, Niger, Pakistan, Senegal, Tunisia, and Saudi Arabia.

Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu from Turkey served as Secretary-General from 2004 to 2014. The current Secretary-General is Hüseyin İbrahim Taha from Chad, with his term extending until 2025.

Although Turkey closely followed the organization’s establishment and sent representatives, it formally applied for membership during the foreign ministers’ meeting in Istanbul in 1976, which was approved. However, membership required approval by the Turkish Grand National Assembly, which has not been fulfilled to date.

This situation is influenced by the fundamental principle of secularism in the Republic of Turkey. Many politicians and military personnel of that era opposed membership in the OIC, criticizing Turkey’s membership without legislative approval. Nonetheless, Turkey has assumed a significant role in the organization following full membership.

What Purpose Does It Serve?

Today, the organization has 57 members, with the TRNC (under the name Turkish Cypriot State), Bosnia-Herzegovina, Thailand, the Central African Republic, and Russia holding observer status.

Since its inception, the OIC has actively sought to play a role in various international issues. As the organization with the second-largest number of member states after the UN, the OIC stands out as a global entity representing over a billion Muslims worldwide, with a wide geographical distribution of member states.

However, the diverse political, economic, and social structures of member countries have led to a cumbersome decision-making process and prevented the organization from becoming an influential force on international platforms. This situation has persisted from its inception to the present day, preventing the organization from reaching a position similar to the EU or UN.

The Palestine issue, a significant factor in the organization’s establishment, has worsened despite the OIC’s existence. Israel’s expansion into Palestinian territories has not been halted, and no solution has been found for the plight of the Palestinian people. The OIC’s activities regarding this issue have been limited to political and diplomatic efforts.

The OIC has embraced the Palestine issue as a primary goal, for instance, expelling Egypt from the organization following the Camp David Accords with Israel. However, the organization lacks a plan for resolving the Palestine conflict.

The OIC has played an effective role in establishing diplomatic relations between Bangladesh and Pakistan and in achieving peace between the PLO and Jordan. However, due to the diverse structures of member countries, the organization failed to adopt a unified stance during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, merely condemning the US invasion of Afghanistan.

The organization’s failure is also evident in the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), where the OIC’s activities were limited, and it could not stop the conflict that resulted in a million deaths.

A similar example can be found in the Bosnian War following the dissolution of Yugoslavia. Although the OIC made numerous attempts, the solution came from a US-led intervention and the Dayton Agreement.

The OIC has also been ineffective in addressing issues such as Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait (1991) and the status of Kashmir. The organization’s initiatives in these areas have been limited to diplomatic efforts, lacking the ability to enforce and implement sanctions, resulting in symbolic actions.

The events at the OIC meeting on November 11, 2023, convened by Saudi Arabia in response to renewed Israeli attacks in Palestine, illustrate why the organization has been ineffective in solving problems.

At this meeting, discussions included taking concrete measures against Israel and assuming a deterrent role by member states, such as withholding the use of American bases in the region, cutting diplomatic and economic ties, and implementing an oil embargo. However, opposition from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Morocco prevented any concrete actions.

Thus, the OIC has been unable to adopt sanction resolutions on the Palestine issue, its raison d’être, due to various interests. For instance, an “oil embargo” decision could have focused the world’s attention on ending the humanitarian tragedy in Palestine. Yet, the interests of countries prevented such a decision.

A similar example can be cited for Turkey. Despite the AKP government’s exploitation of Palestine in its rhetoric and even local elections, trade with Israel has reached its peak amid the ongoing drama in Palestine.

These instances serve as concrete evidence that the administrations of countries forming the OIC have failed the “sincerity test” in resolving the issues of Muslim communities. From an external perspective, the OIC may appear as a powerful organization, but it has not progressed beyond being a mutual assistance institution.

Sources:

  • Beyaz, Y. (2018), “The Effects of the 1931 Islamic Congress and Its Reflections on Turkey”, Journal of Islamicjerusalem Studies, No. 18, pp. 35-56.
  • Dursun, D. (2001), “Organization of Islamic Conference”, Encyclopedia of Islam, Vol. 23, pp. 49-53.
  • Alpkaya, G. (1991), “Republic of Turkey, Organization of Islamic Conference, and Secularism”, Ankara University Faculty of Political Sciences Journal, Vol. XLVI, Nos. 1-2, pp. 55-68.
  • İlhan, A. (2019), Turkey’s Foreign Policy in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Yıldırım Beyazıt University Institute of Social Sciences Doctoral Thesis, Ankara, 2019.

https://www.mfa.gov.tr/islam-isbirligi-teskilati.tr.mfa (March 6, 2024);

https://kriterdergi.com/dosya-filistin-2/islam-isbirligi-teskilatinin-gazzedeki-gelismelerdeki-rolu-hayir-kurumu-mu-uluslararasi-orgut-mu (March 8, 2024).

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DR.YUKSEL NIZAMOGLU
DR.YUKSEL NIZAMOGLU
Dr. Yüksel Nizamoğlu is an Historian focuses on Ottoman Balkans, Middle East Studies, and Military History. PhD. 2010. Istanbul University.
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