The Amman, Jordan-based Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in collaboration with the Prince Alwaleed BinTalal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at the Georgetown University, Washington DC, has issued a list of 500 most influential Muslims in the world.
The Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre is an off shoot of the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought which launched the Amman Message in November 2004 in a bid to reach a broad definition of who is a Muslim. The Amman Message, unanimously approved by Muslim scholars, attempted to describe what Islam is and what it is not, and what actions represent Islam and what actions do not?
To reach a precise definition of who is a Muslim, the Amman Message recognized the validity of all 8 Mathhabs (legal schools) of Sunni, Shi'a and Ibadhi Islam; of traditional Islamic Theology (Ash'arism); of Islamic Mysticism (Sufism), and of 'true' Salafi thought. Based upon this definition it forbade takfir (declarations of apostasy) between Muslims. The Amman Message also set forth the subjective and objective preconditions for the issuing of fatwas (Islamic rulings), thereby restricting 'ignorant and illegitimate edicts in the name of Islam.'
The 500 Most Influential Muslims is an extension of the Amman Message. The Editors of the list have not given any criteria for choosing an influential personality but the list unveils a pattern and agenda behind the selection.
"The 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World" is the title of the 202 pages book that contains the names and introduction of these personalities. The list is Edited and Prepared by Ed Marques and Usra Ghazi. Prof John Esposito and Prof Ibrahim Kalin served as the Chief Editors of the project.
The first chapter of the book sets the tone of the enterprise. The introduction of Islam is taken from the writings of the Italian Muslim scholar, Vincenzo Olivetti, the author of a controversial book: Terror's Source: The Ideology of Salafism and Its Consequences.
Echoing the Rand Corporation's arbitrary division of 1.5 billion Muslims into four categories (Fundamentalists, Traditionalists, Modernists and Secularists), the authors divided Muslims into three broad ideological categories i.e. Traditionalists, Moderates and Fundamentalist. Not only that, they also provided a specific percentage of the Muslims belonging to each category. According to the authors, 96% Muslims are Traditionalists, one percent Moderates and three percent Fundamentalists. No source is given for this important and specific data.
The authors describe the Traditional or orthodox Islam, to which 96% Muslims belong, as non-politicized Islam, largely based on consensus of "correct opinion." The Traditionalist Muslims include the adherents of all the Sunni and Shi'a sects as well as the Ibadi sect. The followers of Islamic mysticism (Sufism) or mystic brotherhoods are also included in this category.
The Islamic Fundamentalism, to which three percent Muslims adhere, has been described as "highly politicized religious ideology popularized in the 20th century through movements within both the Shi'a and Sunni branches of Islam--characterized by aggressiveness and a reformist attitude toward traditional Islam." The authors include in this category the followers of the Muslim Brotherhood or Al Ikhwan Al Muslimeen, Wahabis or Salafis as well as the adherents of the "revolutionary Shi'a ideology" of the late Imam Khomeini of Iran.
Islamic modernism is described as a reform movement that started in the 19th century by politically-minded western-educated Muslims who had "scant knowledge of traditional Islam." They blamed the technological weakness of the Muslim world on the 'traditional Islam' and called for a complete overhaul of Islam, particularly the Islamic law (sharia) and doctrine (aqida).
After setting in the broad outlines of the project the authors divided the 500 personalities into 15 categories: Scholarly, Political, Administrative, Lineage, Preachers, Women, Youth, Philanthropy, Development, Science and Technology, Arts and Culture, Media, Radicals, International Islamic Networks and Issues of the Day.
Let us analyze the first 50 most influential Muslims which are profiled in detail in the list that includes Muslim rulers, two elected leaders, sect leaders, scholars, well-known Muslim religious leaders (Ulema) as well as a lay preacher.
A glance of the list indicates that the authors have political considerations in mind. The first two choices are telling and confirm beyond any doubt this argument. King Abdullah Ben Abdul Aziz tops the list while Grand Ayatollah Hajj Sayyid Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran is named as the second top Muslim leader. In this way both top Sunni and Shia political leadership has been accommodated.
At the same time the five other autocratic Muslim rulers are included: King Mohammed VI, King of Morocco, King Abdullah II bin Al Hussein of Jordan, Sultan Qaboos bin Sa'id of Oman, Emir Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum of Dubai, Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei and Sultan Muhammadu Sa'adu Abubakar III of Sokoto.
Only two elected Muslim leaders are included in the list: President Abdullah Gul of Turkey and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.
Surprisingly, two Generals also found place in the list: General Mohammad Ali Jafari, Commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.