Challenges of Muslim Ummah and Way Forward


Muslims account for 23 per cent of the world’s population. Jews are almost 0.02 percent of the world. A short comparison of two ambrahamic religions, Islam and Judaism, reveals astonishing facts. Twenty percent of Nobel laureates are Jews while only 11 Muslims have won Nobel Prize. Only two Muslim scientists have won the Nobel Prize while hundreds of Jewish Nobel prize winning scientists are on the list. Muslim countries produce 500 PhDs in an academic year whereas only United Kingdom (UK), at the same time, produces 5000 PhDs. This shows that how Ummah lag in the race of the world. Islamic civilization had once been the cradle of learning. Medieval Islamic learning institutions in Baghdad and Spain invited students from all regions regardless of colour, creed, culture and race. Sadly, Muslims left culture of education and research. There are foreign occupations on Muslim lands. Religious extremism has caused huge turmoil in the Muslim world, leading to hostilities, enmities, proxies and deaths. Moderate Nation (Ummah Wastia) has forgotten any semblance of moderation, coexistence, forbearance and culture of dialogue. Economy is in tatters. The aggregate size of the economies of all Muslim countries put together is about $5.5 trillion which is roughly equal to Japan’s $ 5.7 trillion. According to BBC reports, more than 85000 children have died in previous three years due to malnourishment in war-torn Yemen. Most of non- oil producing countries languish in poverty. Despite all challenges, there is no effective platform to address the cause of Muslim Ummah. Organization of Islamic Co-operation (OIC) is toothless tiger, caught up in budgetary constraints, political feuds and proxies. Such plight of Muslim Ummah demands action. OIC requires restructuring and reformation. Muslim governments need to focus on trade co-operation. Muslim countries should develop sophisticated education and research centers and they should allocate dedicated budget for them. Ummah can come out of quagmire of inaction, prosecution and humiliation through unity, trade co-operation, OIC effectiveness, Science, technology and research.
Differences and conflicts run deep in the Muslim world. Proxy wars of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and Iran have gripped the Middle East and the rest of the Muslim world. Whether it is Yemen, Libya, Syria or Iraq, proxies-fueled conflagration has burnt ordinary Muslims’ lives and livelihoods. In Syria alone , 400,000 have died in the last ten years as a result of civil war and 5.5 million people have sought shelters in Jordan, Egypt, Iraq and Turkey.
While Ummah’s intra-feuds have weaken her from within, power hungry global powers considered it fit to prey the exhausted Muslim world with all might and coercion in the name of war on terror. Palestinians, once owned 97 per cent of historic Palestine, are at the mercy of Israel and foreign powers. Netanyahu has announced annexation of the Jordan valley. Jordan valley connects West Bank with Jordan and provides land-route to Jordan. Annexation of Jordan valley means West Bank will have no boundary access to Jordan and Palestine will have no international border. 1.5 million Palestinians are living in refugee camps. Following Israel model, India annexed Jammu and Kashmir on August 5, 2019 against the United Nations’ resolutions. With the help of 0.6 million Indian army personnel, it locked up more than 11 million Kashmiries in the world’s largest concentration camp, Kashmir Valley. International community remained silent spectator, the OIC issued light worded condemnations and some Islamic states called it ‘India’s internal affair’. US invaded Iraq and Afghanistan in the name of  war on terror and caused millions of deaths. United Nations remained silent spectator, occasionally condemned the civilian deaths in light words.
In addition, religious extremism has tarnished the image of Islam. Bickering sunni-shia divide, sectarianism, narrow-mindedness and global injustices have helped the extremist narratives to thrive. Al-Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan, ISIS in Iraq and Syria, Al-Shebab in Somalia and Boko-Harem in Nigeria stained the image of Islam and sometimes even provided justification for foreign intervention on Muslim lands. OIC members have lost the soft power. According to OIC own estimates, only 16 per cent of tourists visit Muslim countries while 65 per cent tourists travel to Europe and United States. Muslim countries won only 16 Gold medals in 2016 Summer Olympics while United States won 46 Gold medals. OIC members did not win a single Gold medal in 2018 Winter Olympics.
Ummah was unable to grasp the needs of time. In science and technology, It is no way near to West. The Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISECO) stated that illiteracy rates in the Muslim world ranges between 40 per cent among males and 65 per cent among females. In QS university rankings, 2019, there was not a single Muslim university in top 50. There are approximately 500 universities in Muslim world whereas only Japan has 1000 universities. Research is rare phenomenon in Muslim world. OIC members spend average 0.81 per cent of GDP on Research and Development (R&D) almost one third of world’s average. Only one Muslim country, Tunisia, allocates more than 1 percent in Research and Development (R & D). Such statistics show that how the priorities changed with time. There is no place in research, science and technology for a civilization  that gave birth to Razi, Ibn-e- Sina, Ibn-e- Rushd, Al-Khawarzmi, Ibn-e-Al Haitham, Al-Zahrawi and many others scientists. According to Human Development Index (HDI), 2019, not a single Muslim country is in first 35 countries. Only nuclear armed Muslim country, Pakistan, stands at 152.
23 per cent of World, Muslim Ummah, has 2 per cent share in global GDP. The OIC countries possess 70 per cent of the world’s energy resources and 40 per cent of the available natural resources. Despite all the natural favours, economy of OIC members is in shambles. Many Muslim countries, Pakistan, Egypt and Syria to name a few, are under enormous debts. If Oil producing countries are excluded then rest of OIC members may have less than 1 per cent of global GDP.
Above all, there is no effective platform to safeguard the interests of Ummah. OIC is rudderless and ineffective. It has not delivered promises. Best of  performances of OIC could be condemnations in all crises, Kashmir, Palestine, Rohingya Genocide, Afghanistan , Iraq and Arab spring to name a few. Intra-OIC trade accounts for just 9 per cent of the total trade volume of the OIC bloc despite geographical proximity, religious and cultural ties.
It is time for Muslim Ummah to wake up from inaction. First of all, OIC should materialize its objectives. It is sole representative of Muslims. Head of states should sit down together and bring some reforms in OIC. Other than mandatory contributions from members, fund-raising campaigns and income generating projects may be launched. Private sector may be engaged to complete projects. Turkey has proposed NATO like entity under the platform of OIC. Moreover, it has suggested conflict resolution centre to settle bickering disputes amongst Muslim states. Other suggestion could be strengthening the existing entity, Islamic Court of Justice.
OIC members, at least oil producing and significantly better economies, should contribute more to Islamic Development Bank (IDB). Moreover, IDB should do partnership with private sectors.
OIC common market, idea that first surfaced in 1974 OIC summit, is another valuable suggestion but it could be difficult step considering the political polarisation and ideological rift. It should begin with preferential and free trade agreements and facilitate trade within the group. The international trade system allows World Trade Organization (WTO) members to form regional free trade areas (FTAs) under Article XXIV of the General Agreement on Tarrifs and Trade (GATT). Free Trade Areas are developed when group of states decide not to impose tarrifs on trade. Strengthening of regional economic co-operation would enhance the possibility of merging various FTA’s over time into an eventual common market between participating member countries.
There is need of establishing OIC satellite Channel , strengthening of International Islamic News Agency (IINA) and Islamic Broadcasting Union (IBU) , producing documentary films, holding annual film festival, conducting annual literary festivals and publishing specialized books to portray positive image of Islam, counter western propaganda and promote Islamic values. OIC should promote media ventures among group of states for the formation of strong counter narrative force in all regions. For instance, Pakistan, Turkey and Malaysia can work out a TV channel to promote message of Islam and highlight various regional issues. Even if OIC does not encourage such ventures, powerful Muslim states should start TV channels as it is need of time.
An OIC member Games, like that Asian Games, is huge untapped potential. Not only will it help improve OIC members’ presence in Global Sports competition but will also build bridges between rival Islamic countries. Such common platform can be starting point for further ventures in the field of media and economy.
To conclude, an effective, strengthened and reformed OIC, trade co-operation amongst Muslim countries and unity amongst Muslim Ummah can take it out from deep pitfalls of backwardness, inaction, poverty and humiliation and chart out a course of development and freedom. Muslim Ummah has all the potential to improve their socio-economic life. A good bulge of youth lives in Muslim countries. Geographical proximity, religious commonalities and cultural similarities offer huge potential for regional co-operation. It is positive sign that leading OIC members, Pakistan , Turkey and Malaysia,  are advocating reforms in OIC to make it more effective international organization. After decades of conflict, Syria and Afghanistan are moving towards peace. New regional alignments are building . US role in international politics is diminishing. Such polarized international scenario presents an opportunity to Muslim Ummah to  develop more concrete plan of action.

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