Monday, December 2, 2013

Influencing Muslims: The 500 Most Influential Muslims

 The Grand Sheikh of Al Azhar university in Cairo, Ahmad al Tayyeb, has been named the most influential Muslim in the world, according to a new survey.

2 Dec 2013 07:00 Africa/Lagos

 Influencing Muslims: The 500 Most Influential Muslims

 AMMAN, Jordan, December 2, 2013 /PRNewswire/ --

Latest annual release of 'The Muslim 500' highlights those world's most influential Muslims and highlight changes going on in the Muslim world.

2012 was the widely considered to be the high mark in the history of Islamists movements. The Muslim Brotherhood parties won both the elections in Tunisia and Egypt, Erdogan had easily won a reelection in Turkey, the Syrian government seemed to be at the heels of a collapse, mainly at the hands of Brotherhood-led rebels and the Moroccan parliamentary elections were easily won by the primary Islamists party.
     (Photo: )

Within one year all that has changed.
Both Islamist-lead parties in Egypt and Tunisia have been replaced, Prime Minister Erdogan faced massive protests in Turkey, and even the embattled Assad has made a military comeback and now seems closer to winning the civil war. In Bangladesh the International Tribunal Court has found many top leaders of the Islamist Jamaat i-Islami party guilty of war crimes for their roles in the 1973 civil war. In Bangladesh and Egypt the Islamist parties have been banned in some form. All over the world Islamists movements are taking a huge hit.

What a difference a year makes.
Covering these changes, and much more, is 'The Muslim 500', an annual publication of the five-hundred most influential Muslims in the world. The 2013/14 issue, edited once again by Professor Emeritus S. Abdallah Schleifer of the American University in Cairo, has just been released and is available for free download at

Decline of the Islamists
While the 2012 edition highlighted the ascent of the Muslim Brotherhood with many of their leaders shooting up the list, the latest edition records its fall. Dropped from the top of the list are the following Egyptian leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood: Dr Mohammed Badie, President Morsi, Khairat Al-Shater and the scholar Sheikh Al-Qaradawi. Also demoted was the Qatar emir Sheikh Hamad Al-Thani, a significant supporter of the Brotherhood who abdicated the throne, and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, a vocal supporter of the MB who dropped from second to sixth.

New #1 at the Top
At the top of the list this year is Sheikh Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, head of Al-Azhar, the world's largest and most revered Sunni educational institute with nearly 2 million students directly under its patronage and hundreds of schools and universities all over the world under its influence. His position essentially makes him the guardian of traditional Sunni orthodoxy. This pick marks the first time in the five years of publication that the powerful King Abdullah Al-Saud didn't make the #1 mark (he's now listed as #2). Sheikh Al-Tayyeb's leadership of this massive institute has kept him in the top 10 previously but this year Al-Azhar faced some of the biggest challenges ever to the orthodox nature of the 1,036 year-old university, considered by most to be the world's oldest continuously-operating university. Al-Tayyeb's astute decision making over the past couple of years have preserved the traditional approach of Al-Azhar which faced threats from Islamists and Salafis in the tumultuous years that have followed Mubarak's fall. His public support of General Al-Sisi's coup also gave it a strong religious grounding that was necessary for it to achieve the legitimacy needed to prevent a civil war, effectively making him a "king-maker" and cementing his place at the top of the list.

New additions
Amongst the list of new additions to the list are Malala Yousufzai, the teenage advocate for women's education; President Hasan Rouhani, the new president of Iran; Nawaz Sharif, the new Prime Minister of Pakistan; Dr Bassem Yousef, the "Jon Stewart of the Middle East"; Habib Lutfi Yahya, a popular Indonesian preacher; Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky, the leader of a growing Shia movement in Nigeria; Nouman Ali Khan, the popular American preacher, and dozens more.

The 2013/14 edition also added a new section; 'Major Events' that provides a timeline of the major events that have taken place over the past year. They also announced that publishers from Turkey and Indonesia will be translating and publishing this issue of The Muslim 500, making it accessible to a large number of non-English speakers.

How Influence is Measured
Determining influence can be quite difficult. Aftab Ahmed, Editor-at-large of the publication states that it "is of course the most challenging aspect of the publication, and the one where opinions diverge the most. Influence can sometimes be gauged on a quantitative basis, the number of people influenced, the number of books written, the amount of sales etc., but more often it is related to the qualitative and lasting effect of that influence." In fact the publication differs quite a bit from other annual lists in that the achievements of a lifetime are given more weight than achievements within the current year. This means that the list of names changes gradually, rather than dramatically, year-on-year.

Each year the publication generates a ton of both praise and criticism, some of which comes simply misunderstanding the book's purpose. Some have mistakenly understood that the list considers piety as a main criteria or that the publication supports each individual. However Ahmed noted that "impact can be either positive or negative, depending on one's point of view of course. The selection of people for this publication in no way means that we endorse their views; rather we are simply trying to measure their influence. The influence can be of a religious scholar directly addressing Muslims and influencing their beliefs, ideas and behaviour, or it can be of a ruler shaping the socio-economic factors within which people live their lives, or of artists shaping popular culture."

Another critique of the publication is that the top of the list is dominated by political and religious scholars. Ahmed responded to the critique by noting the tremendous impact heads of states have in many Muslim countries, saying "their dominant and lasting influence cannot be denied, especially the rulers, who in many cases also appoint religious scholars to their respective positions."

This doesn't discount the significant amount of influence from other sectors of society. The publication selects Muslim individuals from a range of categories of influence, thirteen in total: Scholarly, Political, Administration of Religious Affairs, Preachers and Spiritual Guides, Philanthropy/Charity and Development, Social Issues, Business, Science and Technology, Arts and Culture, Qur'an Reciters, Media, Celebrities and Sports Stars and Extremists.

About The Muslim 500
This publication sets out to ascertain the influence some Muslims have on the Muslim community, or on behalf of the community. Influence is: any person who has the power (be it cultural, ideological, financial, political or otherwise) to make a change that will have a significant impact on the Muslim world (there are 1.7 billion Muslims in the world today, making up approximately 23% of the world's population, or over one-fifth of mankind). Over the past few years The Muslim 500 has been covered by major international news media outlets such as the Huffington Post, NPR, the Guardian, The Washington Post, Foreign Policy, Reuters, and more. It is published each year by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre based out of Amman, Jordan.

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