by: Ryan Mauro
The Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre has released this year’s list of the 500 “world’s most influential Muslims” and of the top 10, seven are Islamists. The unfortunate reality is that Islamism is indeed mainstream thought in the Muslim world and non-Muslims have a lot of ground to make up in the struggle over the direction of the Muslim world.
The most influential Muslim is Saudi King Abdullah. He is hailed as a reformer but that is by Saudi standards. Under his rule, Sharia is still the law of the land in an especially puritanical form. By setting this example and teaching that this is Allah’s vision for governance, Saudi King Abdullah is still promoting the Islamist ideology. He is in his late 80s and he just underwent major back surgery, prompting some to worry about what the future holds for his country.
In second place is Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan. He has sharply moved the secular, pro-Western country of Turkey in an Islamist direction, expertly using the doctrine of “gradualism.” The rate of his implementation of the Islamist agenda has sped up as the strength of his political party has increased. The former ally of Israel is now an adversary, with Erdogan stating that Hamas isn’t a terrorist organization but a “resistance” group.
He has remained popular since becoming the Tukish prime minister in 2003, defying the pattern of Islamists losing popularity once they come to power. However, a new poll shows a dip in his support. Erdogan’s government occupies two spots in the top 50, with President Gul taking 24th place.
The Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohammed Badie, who essentially declared jihad on the U.S. and pro-Western Arab governments in 2010, is in fourth place. This makes the Muslim Brotherhood the strongest international movement in the Islamic world.
It’s interesting to see that Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi is in 11th place, even though his name recognition is so high. This is because Morsi is a product of the movement that Badie leads. Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi, the senior Brotherhood cleric known for his vitriolic preaching, took 16th place. Khaled Mashaal, the leader of Hamas, a branch of the Brotherhood, is in 48th place.
Fifth place went to the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani. He does not preside over an Islamic state, but his government is subsidizing the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood while enjoying the status of a U.S. ally. His country is home to Sheikh Qaradawi and Al-Jazeera. A 2009 State Department memo said that Qatar’s counter-terrorism cooperation is “considered the worst in the region.”
Following Qatar is Iran, specifically Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Not much needs to be said about the threat posed by his influence. Notably, Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s name does not appear in the top ten. That’s because Khamenei holds the real power. The Iran-backed Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is in 28th place.
In eight place is Sheikh Ahmad Muhammad Al-Tayyeb, president of Al-Azhar University in Egypt. This is the most powerful Sunni religious institution, which endorsed Umdat al-Salik’s Reliance of the Traveler that teaches Muslims the ins and outs of Sharia Law. Al-Tayyeb calls for international laws against “defamation” of religion, a nicer sounding way of outlawing criticism of Islam. The draft constitution of Egypt approved by the Islamists requires that the government consult with Al-Azhar scholars on “matters related to Sharia.”
Finishing off the top ten is Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish Islamist who lives in Pennsylvania. His charter school network in America, the largest in the country, is under FBI investigation. His influence has been instrumental in spreading Islamism in Turkey. Although his preaching is on the less extreme end of Islamism, he has made multiple worrisome statements.
For example, in 1999, he preached in favor of “gradualism” in Turkey. He said, “You must wait until such time as you have gotten all the state power, until you have brought to your side all the power of the constitutional institutions in Turkey.” He told the audience to “discard the thoughts and feelings I expressed here,” because he is “trusting your loyalty and secrecy.”
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