On 21 August 1969, an Australian-born Christian, Dennis Michael Rohan, attempted to set fire to the ancient Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. The fire he ignited destroyed part of the roof and the 800-year-old pulpit of Salahuddin Ayubi, the general who liberated Jerusalem from the Crusaders in the 12th century. After this incident, a former Mufti (legal religious authority), Amin al-Husseini, of Jerusalem demanded that a summit be held of all Muslim heads of state. As many as 25 Muslim countries also filed a complaint to the United Nations alleging Israel as complicit in the arson.
The Moroccan king Hassan II invited Muslim leaders. On 25 September 1969, representative from 24 Muslim countries met in the Rabat, the capital of Morocco. In the conference they decided to establish a world organisation. Furthermore, they also 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 this meeting, plans were made for setting up a permanent secretariat.
The headquarters of the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is located in Jeddah. It is the second-largest inter-governmental organisation after the United Nations. It consists of 57 states which span four continents (Asia, Africa, Europe and South America). The OIC is the collective voice for 1.9 billion Muslims. It has a permanent delegation to the United Nations and to 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 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
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 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 OIC to resolve the clash. The OIC also played a vital role during the Ramadan War in 1973 against Israel. It also solved the issue of oil restriction against 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 the PLO observer status at the UN and adopt a number of non-binding resolutions at the UN General Assembly, including one that declared Zionism a racist ideology (Resolution 3379).
The OIC has been criticised by many people for not providing any solutions to the current crises in many Muslim countries. Another big challenge for OIC is that there is political diversity with different states having different political systems. The OIC doesn’t have a unified voice because most of its member countries are not democratic. Also, Saudi-Iran relations, for example, are acrimonious because they belong to different sects of Muslims.
It is no secret that OIC faces a variety of problems due to the uneasy relations between its member states. 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 past 9 years, the OIC has not played its role to resolve the conflict. Many Muslim countries are also infamous for sectarian violence. Equal participation of women is another challenge for the organisation. The OIC is suffering 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. But, still, the organisation can play its part in the future. The major conflict in today’s world is in the Middle East, where the OIC can play a role. Sectarian conflicts among states should be solved peacefully. Conflicts should be resolved bilaterally or the OIC can play the role of mediation. The OIC should help poor member states financially.
—The writer is a student of International Relations and Freelance journalist currently based in Islamabad, Pakistan. He can be reached at [email protected] or @furqanraja1122 on Twitter.