Raja Furqan Ahmed
On 21 August 1969, Australian-born Christian Dennis Michael Rohan attempted to set fire to the ancient Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. The fire destroyed part of the roof and the 800-year-old pulpit of Salahuddin Ayubi, a general who liberated Jerusalem from crusaders in the 12th century. After this accident, a former Mufti (Islamic legal-religious authority) Amin al-Husseini of Jerusalem demanded a summit of all Muslim heads of state. At the same time, 25 Muslim countries filed a complaint with the United Nations alleging Israel as being complicit in the arson.
Reacting to this arson, Morocco king Hassan ll invited Muslim leaders to his capital. On 25 September 1969, representatives from 24 Muslim-majority countries met at Rabat, the capital of Morocco. In the conference, they decided to establish an organisation. Furthermore, they passed a resolution which stated:
“Muslim governments would consult with a view to promoting among themselves close cooperation and mutual assistance in the economic, scientific, cultural and spiritual fields, inspired by the immortal teachings of Islam.”
In March 1970, the first Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers was held in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. In the meeting, leaders decided to set up a permanent secretariat. That was how the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) came into being.
The headquarters of the OIC is located in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. It is the second-largest inter-governmental organisation after the United Nations. It consists of 57 states which cover four continents (Asia, Africa, Europe and South America). OIC is the collective voice for 1.9 billion Muslims. OIC has a permanent delegation to the United Nations and the European Union. During the 38th meeting of the foreign ministers on 28 June 2011 in Astana, Kazakhstan, the name was changed from the Organisation of Islamic Conference to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.
Following are some objectives of the OIC: To preserve Islamic social and economic values, promote solidarity among member states, increase cooperation in social, economic, cultural and political areas, enhance and consolidate the bonds of fraternity, to promote inter-state relations based on justice, mutual respect and good neighbourliness to ensure global peace, security and harmony, reaffirm support for the rights of peoples as stipulated in the UN Charter and international law, support and empower the Palestinian people to exercise their right to self-determination and establish their sovereign State with Al-Quds Al-Sharif as its capital, while safeguarding its historic and Islamic character as well as the Holy places therein, protect and defend the true image of Islam, protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms, eliminate racial discrimination.
In 1970, a conflict broke out between the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Jordan. The President of Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser, and Saudi Arabia’s King Faisal jointly led the Organisation of Islamic Conference to resolve the clash. The OIC also played a vital role during the Ramadan War in 1973 against Israel. OIC also solved the issue of oil restriction against the supporters of Israel in 1974. Due to the OIC’s backing, the PLO won recognition from the international community to represent stateless Palestinians.
One of the big achievements of OIC was to get PLO an observer status at the UN and have passed a number of non-binding resolutions at the UN General Assembly, including one that declared Zionism a racist ideology (Resolution no# 3379).
The OIC has been criticised by many people for not providing any solutions in current crises in Muslim countries. Another big challenge for OIC is that there is much political diversity, as some states have monarchy while others have democracy. The OIC doesn’t have a unified voice because most of its member countries are not democratic. Saudi-Iran relations are also hampered because they represent different sects of Muslims.
It is no secret that members of OIC face a variety of problems due to the conflicting relations between them. The Syrian issue is another challenge for the OIC. According to reports, more than 250,000 Syrians have lost their lives during the civil war. In the last 9 years, the OIC has not played any significant role in resolving the conflict. Many Muslim countries are infamous regarding sectarian violence. Equal participation of women is another challenge for the organisation.
The organisation is suffering also from a structural problem, as organisation members belong to different continents. Its budget is not enough for global activities because most of the member states are poor. Still, the major conflict today is in the Middle East region, so the OIC can concentrate its energies there and play its part in minimising the conflict. Sectarian conflicts within states should also be solved peacefully. OIC can play the role of mediator or by providing financial support.
The writer is a student of International Relations and freelance journalist currently based in Islamabad, Pakistan. [email protected]