March 30, 2022
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s Council of Foreign Ministers held its 48th session in Islamabad last week. It was another significant opportunity for the member states to come together within the framework of an important international platform. For the approximately 2 billion adherents of Islam worldwide, who make up about 25 percent of the global population, such events raise hopes of a better future by addressing their most serious concerns. The entire Islamic world has been facing multiple challenges on the security, political and economic fronts, together with the impacts of COVID-19, which has hit some of them the hardest.
The OIC event brought into the spotlight some of the most pressing issues faced by the international Islamic community. Caught in the middle of regional and international rivalries and geopolitical tensions, many OIC member states find it hard to steer toward lasting peace, security and prosperity while maintaining their Islamic identity and specific national interests.
Muslims have traditionally blamed others for their own faults in terms of missed opportunities and misguided policies. However, this does not mean that others may not be responsible for the misfortunes of Muslims. But first and foremost, we need to hold our own past and present leaders accountable for our troubles before pointing fingers at others. Today’s world is more complicated, given that nation states increasingly strive to advance their own national agendas while being limited by the realities of the interdependent global architecture.
The OIC theme of “Partnering for Unity, Justice and Development” conveyed a strong message to the entire Muslim world. Disunity among Muslim states, obstacles in development, and injustices within Muslim societies are major areas that call for governments’ attention.
It must act as a catalyst by raising its voice and helping to address some of the most pressing problems affecting Muslims.
The situation in my home country, Afghanistan, is a good case in point. In December 2021, a special OIC session was convened by Saudi Arabia and hosted by Pakistan to discuss the evolving situation in the wake of the Kabul government’s collapse last August and the emerging humanitarian crisis. The conference concluded with the establishment of a special fund for Afghanistan. If the initiative gains ground, there will be a need to ensure that valuable resources are diverted to the most deserving segments of Afghanistan and the critical sectors that not only provide urgent humanitarian relief but also help stimulate the stagnant economy. It will also be critical to use genuine implementing partners that have heart and not just commercial interests in mind, as has been typical of past interventions in Afghanistan.
In its declaration, the OIC expressed its solidarity with the people of Afghanistan and asked for the upholding of human rights, including those of women and children. The OIC, with its representative present in the country, has an added advantage in persuading the Taliban administration not to close the doors to education on Afghan girls. Presenting its excuse of dress code by not allowing girls beyond grade six to attend schools has little rationale. Girls’ uniform in Afghanistan is already one of the most modest and compliant with Islamic principles. Muslim countries lag behind the rest of the world in science, education and other indicators of human development. Not allowing girls — who make up half of the country’s population — into school only harms the OIC’s vision for the Islamic world.
Last week’s OIC event touched on all issues relevant to the Islamic world, including international terrorism, political instability and economic troubles. The declaration of the conference, which was timely and encompassed all significant issues facing the global Muslim community, presented a highly ambitious agenda when it comes to the realization of the goals to be achieved. It is time for the OIC to become more robust and active in international politics. It must act as a catalyst by raising its voice and helping to address some of the most pressing problems affecting Muslims around the world, from Afghanistan and Myanmar to Bosnia-Herzegovina. It must focus on issues like Islamophobia in non-Muslim countries and promoting religious tolerance and peaceful coexistence in Islamic states.
It is also important that the OIC is better linked with other regional and international cooperation platforms that are already in place, complementing them to synergize where common objectives are to be achieved. The organization will not make progress in isolation, but rather through better connectivity with the rest of the world. At the end of the day, the OIC will be judged by Muslims around the world and the entire human community through its achievements and performance.
- Ajmal Shams is Vice-President of the Afghanistan Social Democratic Party and is based in Kabul. He was a deputy minister in the former Afghan government. Twitter: @ajmshams
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