OIC's Relevance in the Muslim World

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) was established on 25 September 1969, after the arson incident at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied Jerusalem. The organisation was set up to safeguard and further the interests of the Muslims. It is the collective voice of the Muslim world and, as such, the second-largest international organisation after the UN. The Council of Foreign Ministers is the OIC organ, which meets most frequently and where the implementation of policy decided by the Muslim heads of states is hashed out. The OIC can leverage its position as the single mouthpiece of the Muslim world to outline a path for the Muslim countries to follow.

The organisation held an extraordinary session of the Islamic Summit in 2005 to outline an agenda to be fulfilled within ten years, i.e. by 2015, called the Ten-Year Program of Action. The agenda’s objective was to help the Muslim Ummah with the challenges they may face in the 21st Century. A follow-up programme has also been developed and adopted; the OIC-2025 incorporates priorities like peace and security, Palestine and Al-Quds, counterterrorism, poverty alleviation, food security, and climate change.

The longest-standing issue in the OIC is the Palestinian cause. It was one of the key causes for the Muslim world even before the creation of the OIC. Since its creation, Palestine and Al-Quds have been an area of primary concern for the organisation. But, over the years, there has been no solid action to help the people of Palestine. Even in the most recent conflict between Israel and Hamas, the OIC played a nominal role in bringing an end to the conflict.

The OIC is hampered by the limitations of its member states with respect to their domestic and foreign policy. The geographical differences in the locations of the member states mean that various states in the organisation pursue different policies depending on their immediate region. This difference in policy of the individual members also leads to difficulty and, in many instances, a lack of consensus between the members. This lack of consensus is only compounded by the fact that many member states do not get along very well and, in instances, are even regional opponents or have competing interests. For example, Algeria and Morocco have been at odds for some time, and in August 2021, Algeria cut diplomatic ties with Morocco.

The geographical differences in the locations of the member states mean that various states in the organisation pursue different policies depending on their immediate region.

Another example is the constant rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran. For the first time in January 2016, the council openly sided with one of its members to issue a condemning resolution against the other. This resolution was in favour of Saudi Arabia and against Iran. In all previous instances where two of its members were having diplomatic problems between themselves, the OIC tended to stay neutral and not openly side with either of its members. This action has led to the loss of faith of Shia Muslims in the organisation, as they now believe that the organisation is no longer independent from the agendas of its member states, meaning that it cannot independently pursue Muslim solidarity.

The OIC under its umbrella has multiple sub-organs, standing committees, specialised institutions, and institutions with which it is affiliated to fulfil its goals, as mentioned in the OIC charter. However, to better use these assets at its disposal, the organisation must look at the current state of the Muslim world, identify the problems being faced, and figure out how it can help alleviate these problems and is there a need for changes within the organisation to project the Muslim world better and solve their problems.

The most needed is that the OIC ensure the full implementation of Objective 17, as stated in Article 1 of the OIC Charter. According to the objective, the OIC will be the single voice to be heard on mutual issues. The organisation will need to restrain members from diverging from the organisation’s interests for their own benefit and ensure they follow the OIC prerogative for the collective good of the Muslim world.

Another much-needed step would be to increase the number of projects and the amount of funding undertaken by the Islamic Development Bank in the lesser developed Muslim countries. At the same time, the OIC should also push for studies on how meaningful human development can be carried out across the Muslim world and include the Islamic Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture in determining what industries would be most beneficial for the underdeveloped member states. The Islamic Organisation for Food Security should work with member states to determine how to increase local food production to spend less foreign reserve on importing food items from abroad.

The International Islamic Court of Justice, the principal legal arm of the organisation, can be utilised to solve disputes within the Muslim world if the OIC can get members to go to the IICJ to solve their disputes, including disputes relating to trade and commerce. This would be a great step in increasing its relevance in addition to the actions that the OIC’s other organs can take.

The most significant action that the OIC can take to restore its relevance is meaningful action to resolve the Palestine and Kashmir issues. These are the two longest-standing disputes in the Muslim world, and both predate the formation of the OIC. In both cases, the population of the disputed areas are suffering extreme levels of terror and abuse by the occupiers and an increasing number of human rights violations. This support for basic human rights is within the OIC’s charter (Objective 7), and as such, it should be the organisation’s utmost priority.

Syed Zulfiqar Ali

Syed Zulfiqar Ali has completed his Masters in Defence & Strategic Studies from Quaid-i-Azam University, and is currently serving as a Research Assistant at the Centre of Strategic and Contemporary Research.

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