The Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC): nature, role, and the issues.

Author:Hossain, Ishtiaq
Position:OTHER PAPERS - Essay


In 2004, in a review essay, Lisa Anderson found that most of the authors of the books she reviewed on September I I attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., considered these attacks as some sort of assaults on Modern, Western, American, and Liberal values. (1) But most certainly those attacks were not as simple as that. Therefore, Anderson admits "in reality, the impacts of September 11 were far more complex and contested than most of them [the authors] individually would likely recognize." (2) Daniel Philpott argued that the assault on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the killing of some three thousand civilians on September 11, 2001, was motivated by a political theology that regards the Westphalian synthesis as despicably secularized. (3) This political theology, described by Philpott as "radical Islamic revivalism," began in the early twentieth century as an internal moral critique of Islamic civilization, one that regards it as having decayed to a state of barbarism. (4) This is reflective of the theory of "clash of civilizations" propounded by Samuel P. Huntington. This theory argues that the post-Cold War era would be dominated by conflicts involving civilizations rather than nation states. (5) In this literature Islamic civilization emerges as the most potent remaining threat to building a liberal international order. (6) It may still be debated whether September 11 attacks were an assault on Western values or the rejection of a secularized international system, but there is no doubt that since those tumultuous events of September 11 much have been said and made about the role of Islam and Muslims in the contemporary international system. Evans points out that it has become a common-place theme in European and North American society that Islam is dedicated to changing Western values. (7) In this regard, he notes that Islam is presented as a monolithic, proselytizing creed dedicated to undermining, overturning, and eventually replacing the values that have sustained capital growth on a global scale. (8) However, the fact remains that Muslims around the world also joined the chorus of condemnation of September 11 attack. Leading Muslim clerics in Egypt, Iran, and other parts of the Middle East publicly and in stern language denounced the September attacks, declaring them to be blatantly incompatible with Islamic religion and indeed with any conceivable standards of ethics. (9)

In spite of these denunciations, negative views of Muslims among sections of Westerners persist. In 2007, a Pew Center survey found that about 43% of Americans viewed Muslims in positive light but 30% Americans used negative words to describe their impressions of Muslims. Muslims were described as fanatic, violent and terrorists. (10) Hence the observation that not much has changed since Lapidus wrote in 1996, that to the Westerners, Islam calls to mind puritanical holy warriors, fanatics, dervishes, suicide bombers, hijackers, and human waves thrown into battle. (11) Therefore, it is not surprising that an exasperated Aslam Syed writes, "Muslim history, culture, religion, and politics are judged not through history or proper context of their Holy Book but through the dusty clouds that followed the destruction of the twin towers of the New York City and the attack on the Pentagon in Washington, D.C." (12) Two members of President George W. Bush's now infamous "Axis of Evils" were Muslim majority states--Iran and Iraq. Syria has been placed on U.S. State Department's list of states sponsoring terrorism. Libya also shared a place on that list until the Tripoli authorities gave up their nuclear weapons and technology in 2003 and handed them over to the United States. Pakistan has been described as a dishonest partner of the U.S. in the Afghanistan War. (13) Such views give rise to a general impression that the Muslim majority states are not playing a positive role in international relations. Admittedly, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), Jordan, Qatar, Oman, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia are praised for their roles in the "War on Terror." However, a number of these countries, like Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., and occasionally, even Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia are singled out for not doing enough to fight terrorism although many of these countries themselves have been victims of terrorism. In the eyes of some in the West, therefore, the Muslim states are rather unwilling partners of the West in the contemporary 'secular' international system.

The paper argues that this persistent negative view of the Muslim majority states by the West is not an accurate description of the role the Muslim majority states play in the contemporary international system. The Muslim majority states, time and again have proved that they are responsible members of the contemporary international system. They are not a group of states that are asking for the re-making of the international system in light of Islamic principles. Although the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) proposed for the setting up of an International Islamic Court of Justice (IICJ) in 1985 based on Islamic shariah law (14) by and large the Muslim majority states operate within the laws as laid down in the contemporary secular international system.

In light of the above-mentioned arguments this article examines the role of the Muslim majority states by looking at the features and achievements of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC). The first section of this chapter presents a brief description of the international society from the perspective of Islam. The second section analyses the nature of the OIC. The third and fourth parts discuss the reform efforts undertaken by the OIC and the issues faced by the OIC respectively.


Before we undertake a discussion on the Ummah, which is considered here as the Islamic perspective on international society, it is desirable that the concept of 'international society', as it is understood in the contemporary international relations be briefly described here. International society is understood to be a particular form of human association that is thought to include and somehow organize the relations among the different bounded political communities. (15) The most widely accepted definition of an international society is provided by Hedley Bull. According to him, "a society of states (or an international society) exists when a group of states, conscious of certain common interests and common values, form a society in the sense that they conceive themselves to be bound by a common set of rules in their relations with one another, and share in the working of common institutions." (16) One of the vital common interests that bind the society of states together is that of ensuring an environment of peace and stability among themselves for without this the states would not be able to engage in peaceful pursuit of their interests. However, in order to create and maintain such an environment the states must agree to certain common minimum rules. One such rule is that of the respect for sovereignty of each member state. Sovereignty involves three norms: first, that the ruler of a state exercises sole authority over the territory of that state; second, that all states are judicially equal; and third, that state parties are not subject to any law to which they do not consent. (17) In addition to the sovereignty rule, the states also usually respect international agreements they enter into and restrict the use of force to settle inter-state disputes.

So long sovereignty rule reigns supreme, the weakness of the international society would continue to be the absence of an international authority with the full sovereign rights to enforce international law. Neither the League of Nations (1914-1919) nor the contemporary United Nations have enjoyed the absolute sovereignty in dealing with violations of international law. In other words, these world bodies are not world governments. Time and again, it has been demonstrated that these organizations worked very well only when their member-states cooperated with each other within the respective organization's framework. It is an anarchical society in the sense that there is no centralized world government capable of enforcing international law as do national governments within their territorial domains. However, as Sheehan points out, the absence of world government has not prevented the development of an international order in which states are able to pursue their objectives peacefully most of the time. (18) This is possible because the society of states do, in fact, agree on minimum rules and regulations to conduct their relationships peacefully. Although Bull emphasizes the existence of international society, he does not ignore the existence of power politics in international relations. According to Little, although Bull initially stipulates that the institutional structure of the European international society was underpinned by the balance of power, in practice all five institutions (the balance of power, international law, diplomacy, war, and great power management) are mutually interdependent. (19) Therefore, it may be pointed out that the contemporary international society may be based on certain common norms, and values but side by side power politics with all its trappings are the constant features of such a system. Hence, in such a system, while one could expect adherence by states to rules, norms and values, the possibility of conflicts, and wars are also ever present.

Islamic thought on international relations has been built on the premise that the Muslims form a distinct and separate community known as the Ummah. In this thought the world was divided into the dar al-salam (abode of peace), and the dar al-harb (the abode of war). This...

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