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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Vol. 8    Issue 20   01-15 March 2014

Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu

Professor A. R. MOMIN

Professor Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, an eminent Turkish scholar, diplomat and administrator, relinquished the office of Secretary-General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation on 31 December 2013.

Professor Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu was born in a respectable family of Turkish origin in Cairo on 26 December 1943. He graduated in chemistry from Ain Shams University, Cairo in 1966 and thereafter obtained the M. Sc. degree from Al-Azhar University. He taught Turkish language and literature at Ain Shams University from 1966 to 1970. In 1974 he received a Ph. D. in chemistry from Ankara University. From 1975 to 1977 he was a Research Fellow at the Department of Chemistry at Exeter University, UK. Ihsanoglu was the Founder-Head of the Department of History of Science at the Faculty of Letters of Istanbul University, a position he held from 2001 to 2005. He has played a pioneering role in teaching and research in the history of science in Turkey and is the founder-chairman of the Turkish Society for the History of Science.

Ihsanoglu has been a visiting professor at several universities in Europe and Turkey, including the University of Exeter, UK, Istanbul University, Ankara University and Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich. He is a member of several international societies and a member of the advisory boards of many scientific and academic organizations. His major academic and research interests include the history of institutions of learning in the Muslim world, Turkish history and culture, the history of science in Ottoman Turkey, Islamic calligraphy, and relations between the Muslim world and the West. He has published several books and papers in Turkish, English and Arabic and has co-authored a massive work on the history of the Ottoman state and civilization, which has been published in Turkish, English, Arabic, Bosnian, Albanian and Russian languages. He has also written a book on Islamic calligraphy.

Ihsanoglu has received wide international recognition and appreciation for his academic contributions and for his sincere efforts to foster intercultural understanding and dialogue between the Muslim world and the West. The International Academy of the History of Science presented him the Alexandre Koyre Medal in appreciation of his contribution to the history of science in Ottoman Turkey. He was elected President of the International Union of History and Philosophy of Science for the term 2001-2005. The International Union of History and Philosophy of Science instituted the ‘Ihsanoglu Medal’ in his honour. In 1997, Alija Izetbegovic, the first president of Bosnia and Herzegovina, conferred on Ihsanoglu the honorary title of ‘Ambassador At Large of Bosnia and Herzegovina.’


The Research Centre for Islamic History, Art and Culture was established in Istanbul in 1980 as the first subsidiary organ of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. The organisation’s main goal is to sponsor research and documentation relating to Islamic civilization and its contribution to the enrichment of humanity. It seeks to foster better understanding and dialogue between Muslims and other people and cultures in the world and to clear misconceptions and negative stereotypes about Islam and Muslims. It also serves as a forum and meeting point for scholars, researchers and artists as well as well institutions and organizations from around the world for the promotion of its basic goals and objectives.

In pursuance of its goals, IRCICA organizes conferences, symposia and exhibitions and solicits international cooperation and collaboration. IRCIA has an ambitious research and publications programme. It has published two important volumes, World Bibliography of Translations of the Meaning of Holy Quran: Printed Translations, 1515-1980, which catalogues 2,672 works in 65 languages, and World Bibliography of Translations of the Holy Quran in Manuscript Form, which was published in 2009. IRCICA has also published the facsimile editions of some of the oldest Quran manuscripts, such as the Topkapi Mushaf, which is attributed to Caliph Uthman, the Quran manuscript at Mashhad al-Husayn Mosque in Cairo, and the Quran manuscript attributed to Caliph Ali (the San’a copy). A facsimile edition of the Topkapi Mushaf, edited with a detailed introduction by Dr Tayyar Alktikulac, former President of Religious Affairs, Turkey, and a foreword by Ihsanoglu, was published by IRCICA in 2007. IRCICA has also published catalogues of manuscripts in Turkish libraries and historical studies of Islamic civilization in South and Southeast Asia, Malaysia, the Balkans and Ottoman Turkey.

Ihsanoglu was the Founder-Director-General of IRICIA from its establishment in 1980 until 2004.

Organisation of Islamic Cooperation

Ihsanoglu became the first democratically elected Secretary-General of the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in January 2005 and was unanimously reelected in 2008. He relinquished office on 31 January 2013at the end of a momentous career.

The organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the second-largest international and intergovernmental organization after the United Nations, was established in 1969. The basic objectives of the OIC include the promotion of solidarity among Member States and enhancing cooperation in social, economic, political, scientific and cultural fields in the Muslim world. The new Charter of the OIC, approved in 2008, emphasizes the promotion of fundamental rights and freedoms and good governance in Member States. The OIC oversaw the drafting and approval of the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in 1990, which provides an overview of the Islamic perspective on human rights.

The OIC has set up several affiliated institutions and organizations in various Muslim countries. These include World Islamic Economic Forum, based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, International Association of Islamic Banks, located in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and Organisation of Islamic Capitals and cities.

Ihsanoglu was instrumental in expanding the scope and reach of the OIC, in introducing much-needed reforms and reorganization and in enhancing its effectiveness and global profile. He got the name of the organization changed from Organisation of Islamic Conference to Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. At his suggestion, a new OIC Charter was drafted and unanimously approved. Ihsanoglu suggested that in order to deal with the challenges of the 21st century, OIC needs to have a far-sighted and futuristic outlook and strategy. In pursuance of this goal, the OIC approved a Ten-Year Programme of Action. The other notable initiatives taken by Ihsanoglu include the creation of new departments of humanitarian assistance and family affairs in the General Secretariat and the establishment of new institutions and organs, such as the Permanent Human Rights Commission, Science, Technology and Innovation Organisation, and Special Organ for the Development of Women, under the umbrella of the OIC. Ihsanoglu has a deep and abiding concern with the issue of human rights. He insisted that the issue of human rights should be made an integral part of the new OIC Charter. The Permanent Human Rights Commission is aimed at projecting civil, political, social and economic rights in OIC’s covenants, instruments and declarations. Ihsanoglu announced the creation of an Islamic Human Rights Commission under the auspices of the OIC at a conference in Kazakhstan in 2011. The major objectives of the Commission include the dispelling of misconceptions regarding the interface between Islam and human rights, supporting and strengthening the efforts of Muslim countries to consolidate civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, liaising and coordinating with human rights organizations in Muslim countries and at the global level, and prompting and facilitating self-introspection among Muslims. This is sought to be done through counseling and legal advice, information campaigns and research.

Under Ihsanoglu’s guidance and leadership, OIC launched a number of humanitarian assistance and rehabilitation projects in Indonesia, Niger, Sudan, Yemen, Algeria, Gaza and Pakistan.

During Ihsanoglu’s tenure, OIC made dedicated efforts to foster cooperation among Member States in respect of trade and development, science and technology, information and communication, transportation and infrastructure, tourism and humanitarian outreach. As Secretary-General of the OIC, Ihsanoglu’s initiatives and priorities have been inspired and guided by the central principles of moderation and modernization.

In recent years, sectarian conflicts, especially between the followers of Sunni and Shia creeds, have cast a long shadow over large parts of the Muslim world. Ihsanogolu made sustained efforts to involve OIC in defusing sectarian tensions and conflicts and in fostering a climate of tolerance, peace and reconciliation in the Muslim world. In order to defuse the escalating Shia-Sunni conflict in Iraq in the wake of the collapse of the Saddam Hussein regime, Ihsanogolu contacted the Shia and Sunni scholars and clerics in Iraq and urged them to sign a declaration which condemned reckless sectarian killings and emphasised that such horrendous acts were contrary to the teachings and principles of Islam. In January 2010 Ihsanoglu called for the creation of two institutions, under the auspices of the OIC, to deal with issues relating to security and the adjudication and resolution of conflicts in Member States. He called these institutions Peace and Security Council and Islamic Court of Justice. In collaboration with the International Fiqh Academy, Ihsanoglu made sincere efforts to facilitate and promote mutual understanding, dialogue and accommodation among the representatives of various schools of Islamic jurisprudence.

It cannot be denied that the Muslim world is bedeviled by endemic disunity and dissensions. The OIC, which is a representative body of the Muslim world, is fraught with political, ideological and factional divisions. It goes to the credit of Ihsanoglu that he successfully strove to forge a consensus in the organization on some major issues through negotiations and dialogue. This testifies to his reasoned approach, persuasive powers and negotiating skills.

During his long tenure as Secretary-General, Ihsanoglu endeavoured to foster closer cooperation and collaboration between the OIC and various international organizations and agencies, including the United Nations, the European Union, UNESCO and the World Health Organisation. At a United Nations General Assembly meeting in September 2010, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon paid glowing tributes to the OIC and described it as “a strategic and crucial partner of the United Nations” and added that it “plays a significant role in helping to resolve a wide range of issues facing the world community.” Ihsanoglu has repeatedly stated that the OIC, which is the second-largest non-governmental organization in the world after the United Nations, deserves to have a seat in the United Nations Security Council.

Ihsanoglu is passionately committed to democracy, the rule of law, pluralism and recognition of cultural diversity, good governance, freedom of expression, including freedom of religious belief and practice, human rights and minority rights, and women’s empowerment and their participation in the political process. He has consistently repudiated all forms of narrow-mindedness, sectarianism, extremism and bigotry. He has always argued that negotiations, dialogue and diplomacy should take precedence over contestation and confrontation.

Building Bridges between the Muslim World and the West

One of Ihsanoglu’s deepest and abiding concerns is to reconstruct bridges of understanding, goodwill, reconciliation and rapprochement between the Muslim world and the West. In his lectures at Western universities, speeches at international conferences and in his writings, Ihsanoglu has highlighted the contributions made by Muslims to the advancement and enrichment of Western civilization, especially in the fields of science and medicine, technology and engineering, architecture and arts, and humanities and social sciences. In his speech on “Building bridges: Intercultural dialogue, identities and migration,” given in the United Nations Assembly Hall in Geneva on 16 September 2010, Ihsanoglu persuasively argued that the Muslim world and the West need to recover their shared heritage and embrace each other in a spirit of mutual understanding, trust and respect.

As Secretary-General of OIC, Ihsanoglu closely interacted with international organizations and institutions, including the United Nations, the Council of Europe, UNESCO, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the British Council, with a view to foster greater understanding, cooperation and reconciliation between Muslim countries and the wider world in general and the West in particular. Ihsanoglu was closely associated with the British Council-sponsored project “Our Shared Europe.” The project was launched in 2007 in the context of the major cultural challenges facing Europe today. It takes cognizance of the continent’s cultural diversity and the contributions of various communities and cultures, in the past as well as in the present, to the making of European civilization. The programmes and activities under this initiative encourage and facilitate wide-ranging discussions and perspectives on diversity and pluralism, migration and integration in the context of European societies. At the same time, they seek to explore, identify and highlight common ground and shared values, perspectives and traditions in a framework of mutual respect, inclusiveness and trust.

Rapprochement between the Islamic World and Christendom

Following the assumption of office by Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, the relations between the Vatican and the Islamic world have deteriorated over the past few years. In many ways Pope Benedict moved away from the path of inter-faith dialogue and reconciliation initiated by his predecessor, Pope John Paul II. In 1964 Pope John Paul II had established the Office for Non-Christian Affairs at the Vatican to study diverse religious traditions, provide resources and promote inter-religious dialogue through education. Unlike Pope John, who was a great supporter of inter-faith dialogue (and was the first pope to step into a mosque in 2000 years), Pope Benedict did not think much of inter-faith dialogue. In 2006 he downgraded the Vatican’s Council for Interreligious Dialogue, which dealt mainly with the Muslim world. One of the first signs of Pope Benedict’s departure from the reconciliatory approach of Pope John Paul II was the removal from office, at his instance, of Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, who was heading a Vatican department that promoted dialogue with other religions. A distinguished scholar on Arab and Muslim affairs, Fitzgerald was an acknowledged expert on the Islamic world and on Christian-Muslim relations.

To make matters worse, in a speech at a university in Regensburg, Germany on September 12, 2006, Pope Benedict quoted a derogatory statement about the Prophet Muhammad, without contradicting it, of the 14th century Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Paleologus: “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and then you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached”. The pope’s remarks created a huge uproar across the Islamic world. Islamic organisations and Muslim leaders denounced the pope’s insensitive statement and accused him of slandering Islam and the Prophet and attempting to rekindle the fires of the crusades. Morocco withdrew its ambassador to the Vatican, calling the pope’s comments offensive. The New York Times wrote in an editorial on September 17, 2006 that Pope Benedict must issue a “deep and persuasive apology for the quotes in his speech.” “The world listens carefully to the words of any pope. And it is tragic and dangerous when one sows pain, either deliberately or carelessly”, the paper added. Rev Daniel A. Madigan, Rector of the Institute for the Study of Religions and Cultures at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, said, “You clearly take a risk using an example like that. Certainly the Pope closes the door to an idea which was very dear to Pope John Paul II—the idea that Christians, Jews and Muslims have the same God and have to pray together to the same God”. Faced with worldwide protests from Muslims, Pope Benedict tendered a personal apology for his remarks.

Anguished by Pope Benedict’s offensive and careless statements, some Muslim scholars sent a letter to him, highlighting the shared theological and moral ground between Islam and Christianity and emphasizing the need for mutual understanding and trust. This letter was later followed up by an open letter A Common Word, signed by some eminent Muslim scholars and diplomats and sent to Pope Benedict and leaders of other Christian denominations across the world, calling for mutual understanding and dialogue and the restoration of peaceful relations between the world’s two major religions whose followers make up more than half of the world’s population. Ihsanoglu was one of the signatories of this document.

At a session of the United Nations’ Alliance of Civilizations project held in Istanbul in 2009, Ihsanoglu called for a historic reconciliation between the Islamic world and Christendom, similar to the one reached between Judaism and Christianity in the closing decades of the 20th century. Ihsanoglu met Pope Francis at the Vatican on 13 December 2013 and exchanged views on fostering closer ties between the Islamic world and Christendom. Pope Francis told Ihsanoglu that he had a special interest in improving relations with the Muslim world.

Clash of Civilizations

In 1993, Samuel P. Huntington, a controversial American political scientist, wrote an article “The Clash of Civilizations” in Foreign Affairs. The article was widely discussed in academic circles around the world and was translated into 26 languages. Huntington later expanded the article into a best-selling book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order (1996). The crux of his argument was the following.

    It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in the world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among mankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future. 1

Huntington identified seven or eight major civilizations: Western, Confucian (or Sinic), Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin American, and possibly African. He particularly focused on the cultural lines of demarcation between Islamic and Western civilizations and saw Islam and Christianity as potentially pitted against each other. He predicted that the next war, if it ever occurred, would be a war between civilizations.

Huntington argued that the conflict along the fault lines between Western and Islamic civilizations has been going on for 1,300 years and added: “Violence also occurs between Muslims, on the one hand, and Orthodox Serbs in the Balkans, Jews in Israel, Hindus in India, Buddhists in Burma and Catholics in the Philippines. Islam has bloody borders”. Shortly after the attack on the United States on September 11, 2001, Huntington wrote an article “The Age of Muslim Wars” in Newsweek, in which he argued that Muslim wars have replaced the cold war as the principal form of international conflict and that “Muslim violence could congeal into one major clash of civilizations between Islam and the West or between Islam and the Rest.”

Huntington’s controversial thesis of clash of civilizations has evoked a great deal of discussion and controversy in academic and political circles around the world and has been repudiated by some of the world’s leading thinkers and intellectuals, international organisations, diplomats and heads of states. The thesis of clash of civilizations can be faulted on at least three counts. First, Huntington’s notion of what he calls “civilization identity” is vague, essentialist and fossilised. He takes a monolithic and static view of cultures and civilizations and glosses over the diversities and internal dynamism that characterise all civilizations. Second, he seems to be oblivious of the fact that cultures and civilizations are deeply interrelated and inter-dependent.

Third, the thesis of clash of civilizations is not only myopic and cynical but also fraught with dangerous implications and potential repercussions. It has the horrifying potential of turning into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Edward Said decried the clash of civilizations thesis as a deplorable attempt to revive the old good versus evil dichotomy prevalent during the Cold War era. The thesis turns negotiable disputes into immutable, inevitable conflicts. Furthermore, it legitimises and reinforces popular stereotypes and misconceptions. 2 The United Nations’ report Alliance of Civilizations (2006) emphasises that the history of relations between cultures is not only one of wars and confrontations; it is also one of centuries of constructive exchanges, cross-fertilisation and peaceful coexistence 3

In order to refute and counter the thesis of clash of civilizations, the United Nations launched a project called Alliance of Civilizations in 2005. The initiative for the project came from the prime minister of Spain, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and the Turkish prime minister RecepTayyip Erdogan. The project is aimed at forging intercultural and inter-religious dialogue and rapprochement between the Muslim world and the West, dispelling misconceptions and mistrust about Islam and Muslims and combating xenophobia and extremism.

Ihsanoglu has forcefully repudiated the thesis of clash of civilizations at international conferences and forums and has emphasised that Huntington’s misguided views are falsified by centuries of social, political, diplomatic and cultural linkages and exchanges between the Islamic world and the West. He has remarked that “we are faced with a clash of extremists from both sides, not a clash of civilizations.” Ihsanoglu has been closely associated with the Alliance of Civilizations project since its inception.

Combating Islamophobia

Since the publication of the report Islamophobia: A Challenge to Us All by the Runnymede Commission in 1997, the term Islamophobia has gained wide currency in academic discourse and in the media in Britain and other European countries. The report defined Islamophobia as “an outlook or worldview involving an unfounded dread and dislike of Muslims, which results in practices of exclusion and discrimination.” A report of the Council of Europe entitled Islamophobia and its Consequences for Young People (2005) described Islamophobia as “the fear of or prejudiced viewpoint towards Islam, Muslims and matters pertaining to them. Whether it takes the shape of daily forms of racism and discrimination or more violent forms, Islamophobia is a violation of human rights and a threat to social cohesion”. The report highlights many instances of discrimination faced by Muslims in Britain in various aspects of life and emphasizes that Islamophobia represents “a dramatic aspect of social exclusion and the vulnerability of Muslims to physical violence and harassment”. Former United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, observed at a United Nations conference in 2004: “When the world is compelled to coin a new term to take account of increasingly widespread bigotry, that is a sad and troubling development. Such is the case with Islamophobia.”

Racism and xenophobia in European societies are manifested in the demonisation and stigmatisation of Muslims, in discrimination and acts of harassment and physical violence against them, in attacks on mosques and cemeteries, in the opposition to the construction of new mosques or minarets and in the deprecation of visible Islamic symbols like the headscarf. A report of the Vienna-based European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia entitled Muslims in the European Union: Discrimination and Islamophobia (2006) has documented the wide range of Islamophobic practices across the European Union’s 27 member-states. The report shows that Islamophobia, discrimination and socio-economic marginalization have a primary role in generating disaffection and alienation among Muslims in the EU. The report notes that Muslims living in the EU are often victims of multiple discrimination on the basis of their religion, race, national or ethnic background, language, colour and gender. They are often victims of negative stereotyping, at times reinforced through negative or selective reporting in the media. Muslims, the report says, are often disproportionately represented in poor housing conditions, while their educational achievement falls below average and their unemployment rates are higher than average.4

The stigmatization and demonization of Muslims in Europe, as well as in the US, has been aggravated after 9/11. The report of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (2004) noted that “as a result of the fight against terrorism engaged since the events of 11 September 2001, certain groups of persons, notably Arabs, Jews, Muslims, certain asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants, certain visible minorities and persons perceived as belonging to such groups, have become particularly vulnerable to racism and/or to racial discrimination across many fields of public life, including education, employment, housing, access to goods and services, access to public spaces and freedom of movement”. The horrendous acts of violence and wanton killing by a small group of crazed fanatics on the fringes of Muslim societies have evidently widened the gulf between Muslims and mainstream European societies.

Ihsanoglu has been deeply concerned and anguished by the rise in Islamophobic sentiments and ideologies across large parts of Europe and the United States. He has noted that the rise of Islamophobia in Europe in recent years has manifested itself in three stages. The first stage was marked by the publication of the slanderous caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten on 30 September 2005, which created a storm of protests across the Muslim world. At that time, the vilification of Islam and Muslims was disguised and justified in the name of freedom of expression. The second stage witnessed the institutionalization of Islamophobic sentiments with a constitutional veneer. This was conspicuously reflected in the ban on the construction of minarets atop mosques in Switzerland, which was rationalized and legitimated in terms of constitutional provisions such as a nation-wide referendum. The third stage of Islamophobia, according to Ihsanoglu, is manifested is the politicization of Islamophobic sentiments. This is attested by the growing popularity of far-right and anti-Muslim parties in several European countries. The ascendancy of extremist and anti-immigrant parties in several European countries, such as the National Front in France, Freedom Party in the Netherlands, Austria’s FPO party, Belgium’s Flemish Block, Italy’s Northern League, Greece’s Golden Dawn party, Germany’s Republican Party and Hungary’s Jobbik party, shows that Islamophobic ideologies and sentiments have made deep inroads into political discourses and public debates in Europe.

Ihsanoglu has made sustained efforts to combat the pernicious influence of Islamophobia. He played an important role in the organization of the first international conference on “Islamophobia: Law and the Media,” held under the joint auspices of the OIC and the Government of Turkey in Istanbul in September 2013. Ihsanoglu took a keen interest in the organization of an international symposium on Islamophobia at Georgetown University in 2007 and an international conference on “Media misrepresentation of Islam and Muslims: A quest for solutions” at Brussels in 2012. At Ihsanoglu’s suggestion, an Islamophobia Observatory was set up at the OIC General Secretariat with a view to monitor Islamophobic writings, speeches, incidents and events. Ihsanoglu was instrumental in the opening of an OIC Representative Office in Brussels in June 2013. The office liaises with the Council of Europe and the European Parliament in combating Islamophobia and promoting intercultural and inter-religious understanding and dialogue between the Muslim world and Europe. The OIC co-sponsored, with the Council of Europe and the British Council, a roundtable on “Addressing Islamophobia: Building on unused opportunities for mutual respect and inclusion” in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on 27 May 2010.

Freedom of expression is considered a sacrosanct and inalienable right in European societies. In reality, a great deal of hypocrisy, double-speak and contradiction surrounds the issue. No country, including European nations, allows complete, unfettered freedom of expression. Freedom of expression in nearly all countries is restricted by prohibitions against defamation, libel, blasphemy, obscenity, national security, incitement to hatred, and judicial and parliamentary privilege. On the other hand, far-right politicians, writers and journalists in Western countries are allowed to indulge in hate speech and to make derogatory statements about Islam and Muslims with impunity and with no fear of prosecution.

On April 19, 2007 the European Union approved the draft of a Europe-wide legislation that would make hate crimes punishable by jail sentences. The legislation called for jail terms for “intentional conduct” that incites violence or hatred against a person’s race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin. The same punishment would apply to those who incite violence by “denying or grossly trivializing crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes”. Curiously, the legislation states that the constitutional protection of freedom of speech in individual European countries would be upheld. In other words, publishing the derogatory cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad would not constitute an offence in any European country because it would be protected by the provision of freedom of speech. The critics of the anti-hate legislation accuse the European Union of having double standards in that while it protects established Christian religions against blasphemy and outlaws anti-Semitism, it does nothing to protect Muslims against demonization and Islamophobia.

Since 1998 the Organisation of the Islamic Conference has been pressing for a series of resolutions in the United Nations General Assembly on “combating defamation of religions.” Western countries and their allies have opposed these resolutions on the ground that they run against the cherished principle of freedom of expression. Consequently, the support for these resolutions has been dwindling. The UN General Assembly passed a resolution on December 21, 2010 on “combating defamation of religions.” The resolution was passed with 79 votes to 67, with 40 abstentions. In view of the dwindling support for the resolutions, the OIC agreed on March 25, 2011 to set aside the 12-year campaign, allowing the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva to approve a plan to promote religious tolerance. The new approach shifts focus from protecting beliefs to protecting believers. This represents, at best, legal sophistry and will be of little help in combating defamation and slandering of religions. The new approach looks at beliefs in abstraction and mistakenly assumes that they can be disembedded from believers. Ihsanoglu has persistently urged the United Nations to approve a ban on the denigration and disparagement of Islam and Muslims.

The right to freedom of expression needs to be tempered with social responsibility and sensitivity towards the beliefs and sentiments of others. An unbridled right to freedom of expression is fraught with socially disruptive consequences. 5

The Need for Restructuring of OIC

The structure and functioning of the OIC leaves much to be desired. The organization continues to be fraught with some intractable challenges and impediments, including its fractured character, the lack of cohesiveness and consensus on major issues and priorities, and the deficit of far-sightedness. These shortcomings were recently manifested in the OIC’s tragic failure in condemning the military takeover of Egypt by General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the removal of the country’s first democratically elected president and the blatant subversion of democracy with the connivance and support of the United States. The blame for this failure should be laid, collectively, at the door of the organization, and not its outgoing Secretary-General’s. One hopes that Ihsanoglu’s successor, Mr. Iyad bin Amin Madani, will carry forward his illustrious legacy and take the process of reform and restructuring of the OIC, initiated by Ihsanoglu, to its logical conclusion.


  1. Samuel P. Huntington. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996, p. 22.
  2. Edward Said, ‘A clash of ignorance’ The Nation (4 October 2001); Amartya Sen. Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny. London: Allen Lane, 2006, pp. 10-12, 40-44.
  3. www.unaoc.org
  4. A. R. Momin. ‘The surge of Islamophobia in the West’ in Vistas of Illumination: Selected Essays from the Minaret. New Delhi: Institute of Objective Studies, 2013, pp. 249-66.
  5. A. R Momin, ‘Freedom of expression, human rights and inter-cultural sensitivity’ in Vistas of Illumination: Selected Essays from the Minaret, pp. 51-58.

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