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The Dilemma of Muslim Unity

The Dilemma of Muslim Unity

United we stand, divided we fall

When US President Donald Trump announced his disruptive policy decision to shift American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the divided Muslim world awoke from its deep slumber and issued its disapproval, albeit faint, of the decision.

Since the creation of Organisation of Islamic Conference (now Organisation of Islamic Cooperation) in 1969, the Muslim Ummah has failed to collectively extend meaningful support to the oppressed Palestinians in acquiring their inalienable right to a sovereign state in the Middle East. Besides the protracted Palestinian issue, the divided Muslim world is also plagued with political, economic, security and religious issues.

Worryingly, many Muslims countries are at loggerheads with one another owing to geopolitical, economic and security reasons. The divergence of interests has impeded Muslim unity that is indispensable to safeguarding their global interests that are in jeopardy. This has provided an opportunity to the West to further drive a wedge among Muslims. West has made policies that are specifically designed to sharply divide Muslims so that they do not pose a serious threat to its political, economic and cultural dominance.

A week after Trump’s announcement, Turkey immediately convened an Extraordinary Session of the OIC Islamic Summit Conference in Istanbul to send a befitting response to the United States. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) declared East Jerusalem the capital of Palestine, rejected the US stance by terming it ‘dangerous’ and called on the global community to recognize East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine.

But, the Saudi decision to send only a minister to attend the OIC’s extraordinary session manifests that some Muslim countries may not be on the same page with others. Such conflicts of interest have been the major stumbling block for Muslim countries to resolve their deep-seated political and economic issues. As history suggests, the indecisive OIC will once again fail to translate its hollow promises about an independent Palestine into tangible measures and, thereby, let Palestinians further reel under Israel’s brutal oppression.

Muslims experienced a golden age from the eighth century to the thirteenth century. During this period, Muslim rulers had not only established one of the largest empires in the world, but they also excelled in social and natural sciences. Baghdad became the centre of learning where scholars around the world gathered to seek and disseminate knowledge. However, when the Mongols invaded Baghdad in 1258, the golden age of Muslims came to an abrupt end, resulting in the supremacy of the Europeans.

Though the Ottoman Empire ruled over vast swathes of European and Middle Eastern lands, it could not sustain itself due to entrenched bad governance, internal political cleavages and the lack of naval power. Big European powers such as Britain, France, Prussia, Russia and Austria overtly helped minor Christian nations to gain independence from the tottering Ottoman Empire. After its humiliating defeat in the Crimean War (1854-56), Turkey became the sick man of Europe and was crushingly defeated in the World War I.

In the Indian Subcontinent, a few Turkish and Afghan rulers had established their rules from the eleventh century to the mid-nineteenth century. These rulers were so immersed in enjoying a luxurious life that they disregarded quality education, effective governance and the need to establish strong land and naval power. Their intellectual backwardness, bankrupt economic position and military feebleness invited the British to dethrone the Mughals in 1857 and establish the rule of the British Crown over this part of the world.

Presently, the overall conditions of the Muslim world are not satisfactory. In Myanmar, the Rohingya have endured intermittent crackdowns since Operation King Dragon in 1978. The ongoing fierce military crackdowns by the Myanmar Army have resulted in the death of over 1,000 Rohingya and compelled over half a million others to flee to Bangladesh. These ill-fated Rohingya have faced systematic torture. The OIC has counted on mere condemnations but failed to take any concrete measure to help the stateless, suppressed and beleaguered Rohingya to acquire their fundamental human rights.

The pathetic condition of the Muslims in the Indian-Occupied Kashmir (IOK) is no different from that of Myanmar’s Rohingya. India has colonised IOK since 1947 while ignoring the UNSC resolutions on Kashmiris’ right to a plebiscite. Over 700,000 Indian troops have killed around 100,000 Kashmiris in the past three decades. According to some estimates, there are about 6,700 unmarked graves in IOK and about 10,000 Kashmiris have gone missing over the past 20 years. The Human Rights Watch (HRW) has revealed that rape is usually used in IOK to punish and humiliate communities. Instead of preventing India from committing atrocities in IOK, some Muslim countries are forging robust economic and security ties with the Modi government.

The simmering Syrian and Yemeni civil wars have made the divergences within the Muslim countries vividly clear. Instead of finding an agreed solution to these lingering conflicts, some Arab monarchies have been heavily engrossed in sponsoring and arming rebels so as to dethrone the Iranian-backed Assad regime in Syria. Around 465,000 Syrians have been killed, over a million others have been injured and nearly 12 million have been displaced in this war that is now in its eighth year.

In Yemen, some 10,000 people have been killed due to the fighting between the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi rebels. Around 2,000 people have died owing to the rapidly-spreading cholera epidemic since April 2017 and this waterborne disease has adversely impacted about one million people in the country. Despite knowing that Sana’a imports about 90 percent of its wheat to feed its population, Saudi Arabia has imposed an embargo on the country, closing all of Yemen’s land and sea borders as well as airports. This has, therefore, brought about serious concerns over hunger and malnutrition. Unfortunately, the OIC and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have failed to bring the divided Muslim leaders together so that they could find a lasting solution to the bloody Syrian and Yemeni wars.

On the economic front, though the Muslim world hosts 23 percent of the world’s population and possesses 21.7 percent of the world’s landmass, its total GDP is only $7 trillion – eight percent of the global GDP. It is worrying to note that the non-oil GDP of the Muslim world constitutes only 4 percent of the world’s total. The Muslim world neither owns any major multinational corporations nor does it spend sufficiently on promoting research and development (R&D). Even though education is the most potent weapon to transform a weak country into a mighty economic and military power, most Muslim countries have shown an utter disregard to this sector.

The ideological conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia has continued to create mayhem in the Middle East and South Asia. Owing to these religious differences and the imperialistic designs of the United States, militant groups have long been wreaking havoc in various Muslims countries across the globe.

Muslim leaders need to diagnose these problems and resolve them on a war footing. A reformed and empowered OIC will immensely help safeguard the collective economic and political interests of Muslims. Any delays in uniting the divided Muslim countries will further embolden the West to divide and weaken Muslims in this anarchic world.



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About Ayaz Ahmed

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The writer is a former senior researcher at the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA), and now an independent researcher and columnist based in Karachi.

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