Thursday, 5 August 2010

Suspicious or Auspicious? A list of 500 Muslims.

The RISSC has put together a list of 500 high profile Muslims. This multi-lettered organization is not a sister agency of the CIA, FBI, NSA, DHS, IARPA and any others from the alphabet soup of benign and benevolent organizations. It is the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre based in Jordan, and tasked with furthering the 'Amman Message' as signed in 2004 by 24 global Islamic scholars; its goal is to promote 'moderate' Islam (in moderation of course).

Through a methodology of opaque proportions, the RISSC arrived at a list in 2009 of the 500 most influential Muslims in the world (in several senses of the term). For 2010, the Centre has identified the top 20 as follows: 

1. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia
2. President Erdogan of Turkey
4. King Abdullah of Jordan
5. King Mohammed of Morocco
6. Sultan Qaboos of Oman
7. Sheikh Ahmad al-Tayeb, Imam of Al-Azhar in Egypt
9. President Yudhonoyono of Indonesia
10. Sheikh Goma'a, Grand Mufti of Egypt
11. Shiekh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia
12. Mohammed Badie, Supreme Guide of Muslim Brotherhood
13. Fethullah Gulen, Preacher from Turkey
14. Sheikh Qaradawi, Religious scholar based in Qatar
15. Amr Khaled, Preacher and Social activist from Egypt
16. Amir Abd al Wahhab of Tablighi Jamat of Paksitan
17. Sheikh al Bouti, Islamic Scholar of Syria
18. Hassan Nasrallah, Secretary-General of Hezbollah in Lebanon
19. Dr. Siradj, Chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama in Indonesia
20. The Aga Khan, Imam of Ismaili Muslims in France

There are two names that jump out (and one more based on pronunciation): Amr Khaled and Fethullah Gulen, who most aptly can be described as spiritual entrepreneurs. Khaled is a televangelist in the American tradition, and Gulen can most aptly be described as the Billy Graham of Turkey. Otherwise the top 20, reads like a very traditional list. There is not a woman among them; the top six are heads of state. It is unclear as to why the President of Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation (230m), is at number nine while Sultan Qaboos of Oman (3m) and King Abdullah of Jordan (6m) are ahead. Furthermore, why is Sheikha Hasina the Prime Minister of Bangladesh and an entrenched politician not to be found (of course she is in the over 500). Missing from the top 50 (but in the overall list) are Dubai-ruler Sheikh Muhammad bin Rashid al Maktoum and Abu Dhabi ruler (and UAE President) Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan; they are instead supplanted by Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince who is at #22. Shahrukh Khan, who is Bollywood's biggest star, couldn't manage to crack the top-50 either. After the top 50, there is no remaining order for the Muslims listed, who are segmented by ten different categories. 

It is a difficult assignment to identify the most influential people out of a total sample of 1.5 billion, spread across nearly every country of the globe. I would posit, however, that many of the individuals on this list influence but do not necessarily inspire. They have followers but they do not necessarily lead. Some of the most impressive names on the list such as Shukria Barakzai a Muslim feminist in Afghanistan, are relatively unknown amongst the wider 'umma'. Ultimately the hope in the future should be that those identified as Muslim leaders will have earned their designation because of their positive impact on society-at-large, and not simply because of their hereditary lineage, accumulation of power, or spiritual position.

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