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Organization of the Islamic Conference

Golam W. Choudhury, James Piscatori, Saad S. Khan
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

    Organization of the Islamic Conference

    [This entry contains two subentries:


    The Islamic theory of international relations centers on the Qurʿānic concept of ummah, the community of believers that comprises all Muslims of various nations and races. Especially with the rise of modern nation-states, Islamic thinkers have debated whether the concept of a nation conflicts with the universality and unity of the Islamic community. Muhammad Iqbal asserted that Islam furnishes a model for human unity and that nationalism can coexist with it as long as Muslims believe in tawhīd (the unity of God). Other scholars reject this view; thus ʿAlī Muḥammad Naqvī writes, “Nationalism and Islam have two zopposite ideologies, schools and ideas and independent goals and programs” (Islam and Nationalism, Tehran, 1984).

    Nonetheless, the modern world order has resulted in the suppression of two traditional vehicles of Islamic unity—empires with an integral clerical establishment, and conquest by jihād. Seeking a viable modern response to Western political and economic dominance, nineteenth-century reformers—notably Jamāl al-Dīn al-Afghānī (d. 1897), Muḥammad ʿAbduh (d. 1905), and Muḥammad Rashīd Rīḍā (d. 1935)—developed the political theory of Pan-Islamism. The Pan-Islamist movement and its leading journal al-Manār began promoting the idea of Muslim congresses in 1898, but the first general Islamic conference was not held until 1926, with meetings in Cairo and Mecca. These meetings concerned themselves primarily with responses to Kemal Atatürk's abolition of the caliphate; a third congress in 1931 addressed the protection of Palestinian Muslims and the holy places of Jerusalem.

    Saudi Arabia and the Muslim regions of the Indian subcontinent led attempts to establish an international Islamic body in the 1940 S and 1950 S, in the face of opposition from secularist regimes in Egypt, Turkey, and Iran. The first International Islamic Economic Conference met in Karachi in 1949, and the second in Tehran in 1950. A conference of Muslim religious scholars was held in 1952 in Karachi at the initiative of the grand muftī of Palestine, Amīn al-Ḥusaynī, who advocated Islamic unity: “Modern scientific research and discoveries have shortened distances. In these circumstances even the most powerful nations of the world cannot remain in isolation.” Al-Ḥusaynī noted the unity of the Western and Communist blocs and lamented, “Only the Muslims in the face of so many difficulties and problems have so far failed to form themselves into an ummah.” See ḤUSAYNī, AL-ḤāJJ AMīN AL-.

    Why had Muslims failed to translate their dream of an Islamic ummah into reality? There was no dearth of able thinkers and dynamic leaders, yet they had been unable to create a permanent international organization founded on Islamic ideology. Secularists, socialists, and regional nationalists were not yet prepared to rise above their differences and forge unity on the basis of their shared beliefs.

    The movement for Pan-Islamic unity, however, was not without some results. Its tenacious adherence to the concept of a united world of Islam ultimately triumphed in the 1960 S, when new and more vigorous attempts to develop bonds among Muslim countries emerged. The Saudi crown prince, later King Fayṣal, led this new effort, motivated by his desire to contain Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser's Arab nationalism. He toured Pakistan, Iran, Jordan, Sudan, Turkey, Morocco, Guinea, Mali, and Tunisia advocating an Islamic ummah. In 1962 Saudi Arabia also established a philanthropic organization, the Muslim World League (Rābiṭat al-ʿĀlam al-Islāmī) to combat socialism and secularism. See MUSLIM WORLD LEAGUE.

    The situation changed dramatically after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War in which Israel crushed Egypt, Jordan, and Syria and occupied large Arab territories. The entire Muslim world was shocked, especially by the occupation of Muslim holy places in Jerusalem—among them al-Aqsā Mosque, the third holiest site of Islam. Amīn al-Ḥusaynī and King Fayṣal called for an Islamic summit conference, supported by other national leaders including Tunku Abdul Rahman of Malaysia. In their changed circumstances, Nasser and other former opponents could no longer ignore the initiatives of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and their allies. Finally, after an arsonist set fire to part of al-Aqsā Mosque, the first Islamic summit was held in Rabat on September 22–25, 1969.

    The leaders who assembled in Rabat were convinced that their peoples formed an indivisible ummah and were determined to exert united efforts to defend their legitimate interests. This resolve gave birth to the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), formally proclaimed in May 1971. The OIC expresses the determination of Islamic nations to “preserve Islamic social and economic values” and reaffirms their commitment to the United Nations Charter. Its primary goals are to promote Islamic solidarity among member states; to consolidate cooperation among member states in economic, social, cultural, scientific, and other vital fields of activity, and to carry out consultations among member states in international organizations; to endeavor to eliminate racial segregation, discrimination, and colonialism in all its forms; and to support international peace and security founded on justice.

    The highest policy-making function of the OIC consists of meetings of heads of state. These summit conferences enable the leaders of the Islamic world periodically to review internal conditions and external political developments from an Islamic perspective. The next level of policy-making is the annual Conference of Foreign Ministers, which considers international developments and their impact on the Islamic states with a view to defining common positions on global political and economic issues. The ministers have focused on such issues as the question of Palestine, the occupation of Afghanistan, the Iran-Iraq war, and the situation in South Africa, seeking equitable solutions to these problems.

    The third and permanent component of the OIC's institutional structure comprises the General Secretariat based in Jiddah and OIC agencies and offices in a number of countries. The head of the Secretariat, the secretary-general, is elected for a four-year nonrenewable term by the Conference of Foreign Ministers; there are also four assistant secretaries and various other officials.

    One important institution that has developed within the framework of the OIC is the Islamic Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (ISESCO), modeled on UNESCO. The need to advance education, particularly in science and technology, in contemporary Muslim countries can hardly be exaggerated. ISESCO has undertaken an ambitious program founded on two complementary objectives: to strengthen cooperation among member states in the fields of educational, scientific, and cultural research and to make Islamic culture the pivot of educational curricula at all levels; and to support genuine Islamic culture and to protect the independence of Islamic thought against cultural invasion, distortion, and debasement.

    The OIC has been more successful in such cultural programs than in political matters, where Muslim countries are still far from achieving the cohesion and unity embodied in the OIC Charter. The Iran–Iraq war has perhaps been the most frustrating problem for the OIC among numerous regional and ethnic disputes. Despite such obstacles, however, the OIC in general provides a valuable forum in which Muslim countries are gathered for the first time in an official organizational setting. This is no small achievement after centuries of division and conflict within the ummah.

    The OIC and Muslim Internationalism.

    From the 1970s, the Islamic world has displayed three internationalist tendencies. One is formal, inter-governmental institutionalization, embodied in the Organization of the Islamic Conference. While it has grown in both size—fifty-seven members compared to its founding membership of thirty states—and activities, it is still a minor player in international relations. Despite its many meetings, programs, and affiliated agencies, it has done little to resolve intra- Muslim disputes and even less to affect larger issues such as the Palestinian–Israeli conflict. Coordination, let alone unity, has proved elusive at times. The second tendency is governmental organization, such as the Saudi Muslim World League or Libya's World Islamic Call Society. Despite broad and well-financed agendas and their claims to operate around the world, these have remained agents of individual governments and are extensions of their foreign policy. The third tendency is less institutional—a myriad of ad hoc conferences and other channels for expression of Muslim or Islamist public opinion, some of it explicitly critical of Muslim governments and the instruments, such as the OIC, that they control. More recently, an expanding network of websites, blogs, and chatrooms has broadened the debate and, arguably, had a similar effect.



    • Aḥsan, ʿAbdullah al-. The Organization of the Islamic Conference. Herndon, Va., 1988. A detailed study of the origins, structure, and membership of the OIC.
    • Choudhury, Golam W.Islam and the Contemporary World. London, 1990. Chapters 5 and 6 explore the development of Pan-Islam and the structure and organization of the OIC.
    • Kramer, Martin S.Islam Assembled: The Advent of the Muslim Congresses. New York, 1986.
    • Moinuddin, Hasan. The Charter of the Islamic Conference and Legal Framework of Economic Co-operation among Its Member States. Oxford and New York, 1987. A detailed, constitutional study of the OIC.

    Golam W. Choudhury Updated by James Piscatori

    Structure and Activities

    With fifty-seven states as regular members, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC; Ar., Munazzamat al-Muʿtamar al-Islāmī) is the largest grouping of Muslim states and the only inter-governmental organization based solely on religion. Another five observer members are composed of two non-Muslim countries: Russia and Thailand, whose record of dealing with their Muslim minorities has been under OIC scrutiny, and three Muslim Majority quasi-states: Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) backed by Pakistan, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) backed by Turkey, and the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in the South Philippines backed by Libya. The OIC members comprise just under one-third of the of the United Nations, and the OIC is a larger organization than the African Union (AU) (formerly OAU), the Organization of American States (OAS), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the British Commonwealth. Its members are geographically spread over four continents; Africa and Asia have a large number of Muslim-majority states, and the bulk of the OIC membership originates there. Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, (Northern) Cyprus and Turkey are considered its European members, while Surinam and Guyana are two member states from Latin America. Several organizations like the Muslim World League, the World Muslim Congress, and the World Assembly of Muslim Youth also enjoy permanent observer status in the organization. United Nations representatives are also a frequently invited guests at OIC conferences.

    Interestingly, acquiring membership in the OIC can sometimes become a tricky domestic political issue. Nigeria had to temporarily withdraw from the OIC during 1985–1986 due to huge backlash from its vocal Christian minority. In Albania, the issue of OIC membership nearly toppled the first government of Sali Berisha in 1992, and in 1993, Zanzibar had to resign from the OIC or risk its union with mainland Tanzania.

    The OIC was created on September 25, 1969 at the first Islamic Summit, or Conference of Kings and Heads of State, in Rabat, Morocco. The conclave had been jointly convened by King Fayṣal of Saudi Arabia and King Hasan II of Morocco in response to an abortive arson attack on the al-Aqsā Mosque near the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. The holy city had been captured by Israel during the third Arab–Israeli war two years earlier. The Summit resulted in a decision to found an organization that would aggregate the Muslim world's interests on all world forums, promote friendship and harmony among Muslim states, and improve relations between the Muslim world and the rest of the world. The OIC's charter was formalized in 1972, and the seat of the organization has been declared temporarily to be the Saudi port city of Jiddah, “pending the liberation of Jerusalem” which will then become the permanent seat of the OIC.


    The OIC has a four-tier structure. At the top are four principal organs: 

    • 1.  the Conference of Kings and Heads of State, commonly called the Islamic Summit,
    • 2.  the Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers (ICFM), 
    • 3.  the General Secretariat, and
    • 4.  the International Islamic Court of Justice (non-operational because it has not acquired a two-thirds majority ratification regarding its compulsory jurisdiction).

    Specialized organs in the field of economics, information, and law make up the second tier. The third tier consists of ten subsidiary organs, and the last tier consists of several independent institutions like the Islamic Union of Parliaments and the Youth Dialogue Forum which are nominally affiliated with the OIC.

    Islamic Summit.

    The Islamic Summit is the principal organ and the highest authority of the OIC. Regular sessions are held triennially, while extraordinary sessions can be convened at any time at the request of one-third of the membership. Before 2008, ten regular and three extraordinary Islamic Summits were held: the first at Rabat, Morocco (September 1969); the second at Lahore, Pakistan (February 1974), the third at Mecca/Taif, Saudi Arabia (January 1981), the fourth at Casablanca, Morocco (January 1984), the fifth at Kuwait (January 1987), the sixth at Dakar, Senegal (December 1991), the seventh again at Casablanca (December 1994), the eighth at Tehran, Iran (December 1997), the ninth at Doha, Qatar (December 2000), the tenth at Kuala Lumpur/Putrajaya, Malaysia (October 2003), and the eleventh at Dakar in February 2008. The three extraordinary sessions of the Islamic Summit were held at Islamabad, Pakistan (March 1997), Doha (March 2003) and Mecca, Saudi Arabia (December 2005). Islamic Summits are held in one of the member countries, and a pledge to host the next summit meeting is usually made there. At each summit, a chairman is selected who is, by convention, the head of state of the host-state. Three or more vice-chairmen are also elected, giving equitable representation to the Asian, African, and Arab blocs. The usual practice has been that the kings, presidents, and prime ministers not only discuss the problems confronting the Muslim world but also use this forum to defend their countries’ positions on controversial issues or to verbally attack a rival country. The scores of resolutions to be adopted at each summit are finalized in the preparatory meeting of foreign ministers that precedes each summit. The summit concludes with the adoption of a final declaration and a communiqué which contains the summary of all the decisions made.

    Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers (ICFM).

    The Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers (ICFM) is the second principal institution of the OIC. Though the Charter envisages its role to be subordinate to the Conference of Kings and Heads of State, the ICFM has, through convention, arrogated the initiative to itself; it is the de facto decision making body of the OIC. The ICFM holds regular annual sessions; the thirty-fourth was held in Islamabad in May 2007. The ICFM runs the business of the OIC according to the guidelines set by the Islamic Summit. It elects the Secretary General and the four Assistant Secretaries Generals (ASGs) and accepts or rejects the request of a country to join or withdraw from the OIC. The ICFM can expel or suspend a member for violating the Charter and is authorized to discuss and approve the OIC budget. The ICFM also holds a caucus in New York at the start of the annual session of the UN General Assembly in September that deals only with the common diplomatic stands that the Muslims countries will take at the world body. In addition, the ICFM calls emergency or regular summits and/or foreign ministers’ conferences. Emergency sessions have been convened on eleven different occasions in the past four decades on issues ranging from the status of the city of Jerusalem to an emerging situation in Palestine or that during civil war in Bosnia and from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in late 1979 to the U.S. invasion of the same country in the fall of 2003 and the consequent global war against terror, etc.

    General Secretariat.

    The General Secretariat is the third principal body of the OIC. Patterned on the United Nations secretariat, it is the executive and administrative organ of the Organization. The Secretariat is headed by the Secretary General, who has four Assistant Secretaries General (ASGs), each responsible for specific subdivisions: Political Affairs and Muslim Minorities; Social, Cultural and Information Affairs; Economic Affairs and Scientific Cooperation; and one exclusively for Jerusalem and Palestine. These elected posts carry a four-year tenure, re-electable once. Conventionally, the post of Secretary General rotates between the Asian, Arab, and African blocs within the OIC membership, while the four ASGs, at any given time, represent each of these three regions plus the Euro-American bloc.

    The Secretariat supervises the implementation of resolutions and recommendations of the Summits and the ICFMs, coordinates the programs of subsidiary organs and specialized bodies, and assists them in carrying out their tasks. The first Secretary General was Tunku Abdul Rahman from Malaysia (1970–1973), the second Hassan al-Touhami from Egypt (1973–1975), the third Amadou Karim Gaye from Senegal (1975–1979), the fourth Habib Chatti from Tunisia (1979–1984), the fifth Syed Sharifuddin Pirzada from Pakistan (1985–1989), sixth Hamid Algabid from Niger (1989–1997) and the seventh Azzedine Laraki (1997–2001) and the eighth Abdelouahed Belkeziz (2001–2005), both from Morocco. The Turkish incumbent Dr. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu (2005–) is a historian by background. In fact, he is the only person to hold this office who does not have a political background. Of his eight predecessors, three had served as prime minister, one as deputy prime minister, and the remaining four as ministers for foreign affairs in their respective home countries. Their academic and professional backgrounds have been diverse: two were doctors; two were lawyers; two were diplomats; one was an economist; one was a botanist, and one (the incumbent) an academic.

    The OIC General Secretariat supervises the fifteen standing committees of the OIC created by the Islamic Summits or the ICFMs. Of these, four are most prominent:

    • 1.  The al-Quds (Jerusalem) Committee was established to study the situation in Jerusalem and to ensure the implementation of resolutions adopted by the Islamic Summits by various international bodies in Jerusalem. It is chaired by the King of Morocco (King Mohammad VI, r. 1999–present) and is comprised of fifteen elected members: Bangladesh, Egypt, Guinea, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Mauritania, Morocco (Chairman), Niger, Pakistan, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Senegal and Syria. 
    • 2.  Standing Committee for Information and Cultural Affairs (COMIAC) ensures the implementation of resolutions adopted by the OIC with regard to information and cultural affairs. Its goal is to strengthen cooperation among the Muslim states and to propose programs which will improve the capabilities of Islamic states in this sectors. The committee is open to all member states. The President of the Republic of Senegal is the ex-officio chairman of the Committee. Till 2008, eight ministerial level meetings of COMIAC had been held in Dakar, Senegal. 
    • 3.  Standing Committee for Commercial and Economic Cooperation (COMCEC) follows up the implementation of OIC resolutions in the economic and commercial fields, working to strengthen the capacities of and cooperation among Islamic states with regard to economics and commerce. The President of Turkey is the ex-officio chairman of this committee. Till 2008, twenty-five meetings of COMCEC have been held in Istanbul, Turkey.
    • 4.  The goal of the Standing Committee for Scientific and Technological Cooperation (COMSTECH) is the implementation of OIC resolutions with regard to science and technology, as well as improving the scientific and technological capabilities of Islamic states. The President of Pakistan is the ex-officio chairman of COMSTECH. Till 2008, twenty-four meetings of this ministerial committee have been held in Islamabad, Pakistan.

    Among the other OIC committees are the forty-seven-member Islamic Commission for Economic, Cultural, and Social Affairs (ICECS); the eight-member Islamic Peace Committee (IPC) for Iran-Iraq conflicts; the Ad-Hoc Committee on Afghanistan; the Ministerial Committee on the Situation of Muslims in the Southern Philippines; the six-member Committee on Palestine; the Contact-Group on Bosnia and Herzegovina; the Contact Group on Jammu and Kashmir; as well as the Permanent Finance Committee (PFC) and Financial Control Organ (FCO).

    Specialized organs.

    Five specialized institutions have been established within the OIC to work in specialized fields like economics, education, law, etc. Their budgets are independent of the Secretariat's general budget, so they do not receive subsidies as do the OIC subsidiary organs. These institutions are required to generate their own resources, whenever applicable, on a commercial basis. They include the Islamic Development Bank, the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO), the Islamic International News Agency (IINA), and the Islamic States Broadcasting Organization (ISBO). Because of Iraq's fall into chaos, the Islamic International Law Commission to be based in Baghdad has not been established.

    The Islamic Development Bank is working to aid poor Muslim communities, giving interest-free loans to developing Muslim nations and working to promote trade within and between the Muslim world. The creation of an Islamic Common Market is its ultimate goal. The Islamic Dinar (ID), the currency used thus far for accounting purposes only, is equivalent to one SDR (Standard Drawing Rights unit) of the International Monetary Fund. The value of ID has always been pegged with SDR; thus, during the past few years one ID has almost been equivalent to one euro and around 1.4 times the U.S. dollar.

    ISESCO is OIC's functional counterpart of UNESCO. It works for the promotion of Muslim culture and heritage and also undertakes projects for development and enhancement of scientific potential of the Muslim countries. The ISBO and IINA are the OIC's organs in the field of electronic and print information media, respectively.

    Subsidiary organs.

    The OIC has created subsidiary organs to foster political, economic, and cultural cooperation in the Muslim world. They depend on the General Secretariat for direct supervision and financial support. The Directors General of these bodies are nominated by the OIC Secretary General, and their budgets are approved by the annual ICFM sessions. The ICECS acts as a joint General Assembly for most of these organs, and regular coordination meetings are held among the directors general. To date, ten subsidiary organs of the OIC have been created:

    • 1.  Statistical, Economic, Social Research and Training Center for Islamic Countries (SESRTCIC) in Ankara, Turkey 
    • 2.  Research Center for Islamic History, Art, and Culture (IRCICA) in Istanbul, Turkey
    • 3.  International Commission for the Preservation of the Islamic Heritage (ICPICH) in Istanbul 
    • 4.  Islamic Solidarity Fund (ISF) and its Waqf (Endowment) in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia
    • 5.  Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Fund (AQF) and its Waqf (Endowment) in Jiddah
    • 6.  Islamic Fiqh (Jurisprudence) Academy (IFA) in Jiddah
    • 7.  Islamic Center for Development of Trade (ICDT) in Casablanca, Morocco
    • 8.  Islamic Institute (renamed as University) of Technology (IIT/IUT) in Dhaka, Bangladesh
    • 9.  Islamic Foundation for Science, Technology and Development (IFSTAD [now defunct]) in Jiddah [See IWAS below.] 
    • 10.  Islamic Civil Aviation Council (ICAC) in Tunis, Tunisia

    Affiliated institutions.

    At present, there are twelve autonomous Pan-Islamic institutions are affiliated with the OIC. They cannot be called subsidiary organs of the OIC in the strict sense of the word because they are basically a grouping of entities, national institutions, or legal persons belonging to the Muslim countries. For instance, the Islamic Chamber of Commerce for Industry is a union of the Muslim countries’ respective chambers of commerce, the Islamic Solidarity Sports Federation is a federation of National Olympic Committees of member states, and so on. The affilitated institutions span the Islamic world: 

    • 1.  Islamic Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ICCI) in Karachi, Pakistan 
    • 2.  Islamic Solidarity Sports Federation (ISSF) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. 
    • 3.  Organization of Islamic Capital and Cities (OICC) in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
    • 4.  Islamic Committee of the International Crescent (ICIC) in Benghazi, Libya
    • 5.  Islamic Ship Owners Association (OISA) in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia
    • 6.  World Federation of International Arabo-Islamic Schools (WFIAIS) in Jiddah
    • 7.  International Association of Islamic Banks (IAIB) in Cairo, Egypt
    • 8.  Islamic Cement Association (ICA) in Ankara, Turkey
    • 9.  Islamic Union of Legislative Assemblies (IULA) in Tehran, Iran
    • 10.  Islamic Conference Youth Forum for Dialogue and Cooperation in Baku-Azerbaijan
    • 11.  Islamic World Academy of Sciences (IWAS) in Amman, Jordan
    • 12.  Federation of Consultants from Islamic Countries (FCIC) in Istanbul, Turkey


    The OIC believes the security and territorial integrity of any one Muslim state (or community) to be the concern of the whole Muslim world. Moreover, it traditionally treats related crises in any Muslim country as a rallying point for all Muslim states. Palestine, Bosnia, and Cyprus are notable examples in this category. When two Muslim sides are locked in a conflict, the OIC offers mediation services to bring about a peaceful resolution of the dispute, usually without taking sides. The OIC's conflict resolution activities have included the Iraq–Iran war and the Pakistan–Bangladesh conflict, as well as the civil wars in Afghanistan, Somalia, and Tajikistan, where all the warring factions belong to the Muslim faith. The OIC has never played an active part in a conflict where neither party is Muslim; however, the OIC maintains a statutory commitment to fight against imperialism, colonialism, and racism everywhere in the world. In these cases, the OIC confines itself to an occasional adoption of a noncommittal resolution supporting the efforts of a particular organization over an issue, leaving the field open for regional organizations.

    The OIC admitted Palestine (represented by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as a founding member state, and recognized the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people even before the Arab League did so. Again, it was the OIC that gave political and material support to Palestine and gave Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat (d. 2004) a head-of-state status when the West did not, and the OIC internationalized the Middle East problem in the true sense of the word.

    With regard to Cyprus, the OIC believes that the sovereignty was jointly vested to the two communities in 1960, so while giving tacit support to the establishment of a separate republic by North Cyprus, the OIC considers a bizonal, bicommunal, united Cyprus to be the ultimate goal. Bosnia literally owes its existence to the OIC; the OIC demanded military intervention against the Serbs within a month of the start of the hostilities (1992–1995), and was the first international forum to do so. (The OIC broke the UN-imposed arms embargo de facto because Iran, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Turkey were discreetly supplying weapons to the Muslim authorities in Bosnia.) After the Dayton Peace Accord in late 1995, Bosnia publicly thanked the OIC states for assisting it “despite the UN embargo.” The greatest contribution of the OIC to Bosnia, however, was political and diplomatic pressure on the Western powers that eventually pushed the Serbs to agree to the Dayton Accord.

    Although Muslim minorities have no status in the OIC charter and are not represented in the OIC structure, the OIC has helped persecuted Muslim communities, particularly when they have no other recourse. Unlike the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) or the OAU, this has placed the OIC in a unique position, compelled to defend the rights of ethnic Muslim communities in nonmember states. Even the European Union has started taking serious interest in the protection of ethnic minorities in nonmember sovereign states, albeit a couple of decades later. Without deviating from its principle of respect for state sovereignty, the OIC has tried to give voice to pleas of oppressed Muslim minorities against actual or perceived violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the state. Since 1973, the issues regarding Muslim minorities (e.g., Muslims of the Philippines, Muslims of Thailand, or Muslim immigrants in the European Union) has appeared on the agenda of every OIC conference in some form, In dealing directly with the central government of a non-Muslim state, the OIC acknowledges the state's sovereignty and argues on the behalf of the Muslim community, demanding its basic rights or, as the case may be, its autonomy. With the exception of the Indian-held part of Kashmir, the OIC has not argued for the right of secession.

    Politics is not the only arena for OIC's activities. It is working in the fields of culture, information and communication, education, science and technology research, tourism and many other areas. Before 2008, under the auspices of the General Secretariat, there were seven conferences of OIC Ministers of Information (last one at Jiddah in September 2006), three of OIC Ministers of Culture (the last one at Doha in December 2001, and five of OIC Ministers of Tourism (the last one at Baku also in September 2006).


    The OIC's policies on nonalignment, colonialism, and similar issues during the past few decades clearly show that it has always stood for the principles of justice and freedom. The OIC has actively struggled against racism and colonialism when the oppressed community was Muslim, and passively otherwise. During the Cold War, the OIC retained a posture of strict nonalignment, if not outright antagonism, toward the two superpowers. In fact, the radical rhetoric in OIC resolutions distinguishes them from those of other nonaligned organizations, particularly the NAM.

    The OIC's concern for human rights incorporates the humanitarian issues of refugees and war crimes— especially rape as an instrument of war, and the proliferation of land mines. In fact, the OIC has been the only international organization to give voice to the human rights problems of Muslims in Bulgaria, Kashmir, and the southern Philippines. The OIC has been instrumental in the adoption of a coordinated stand on human rights issues by Muslim countries at the UN conferences. It has also tried to coordinate activities of member states to eliminate crimes like drug trafficking, illegal trafficking of women, and terrorism.

    The OIC has started to address the issue of terrorism for at least two reasons. First, many Muslim countries are facing an armed uprising from Islamist opposition parties who often resort to terrorist attacks against “soft targets,” and second, some Muslim states like Iran, Iraq, and Libya have been accused of sponsoring terrorist activities against Western countries and their citizens. This has resulted in very unflattering portrayal of Islam in the world media. The OIC has consistently and strongly condemned all manifestations of terrorism and violence, perpetrated in the name of Islam or otherwise. At the same time, the OIC is highly critical of the negative image of Islam portrayed by the Western media, which it believes is a calculated campaign to malign Muslims while ignoring large-scale state terror employed against Muslims under their control by states such as Israel, India, Myanmar, and Russia with respect to the Palestinian, Kashmiri, Rohingya, and Chechen Muslim communities, respectively. The OIC has repeatedly called for a distinction between legitimate struggles for self-determination and terrorism. The special Islamic summit held in Islamabad, March 1997 made a scathing attack on the Western media for leveling accusations against Islam, its civilization, and its followers.

    With regard to nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, the OIC's consistent policy has been to oppose nuclear weapon proliferation all over the world; it has repeatedly called for establishment of Nuclear Weapons Free Zones (NWFZs) in South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. The OIC has also worked for the elimination of land mines and other destructive left-over war materials.


    The Organization of the Islamic Conference is an active and dynamic organization. If its achievements are rarely acknowledged and its failures seldom mourned, it is because of what has come to be known as “the CNN factor.” The world media do not cover many places, institutions, and events. Although the OIC has not been directly responsible for the final settlement of many disputes, it has contributed, as have many of its regional affiliates. But if two countries are adamant about not coming to terms with each other, there is little any organization can do. The OIC has managed to coordinate the foreign policies of Muslim states in three ways: 1.  by harmonizing their foreign policies; 2.  by formulating a united Islamic vision on international affairs; and 3.  by becoming the spokesman of the Muslim world on issues of Islamic concern.The Organization of the Islamic Conference is trying to adapt to new, modern realities. Significant review of its charter has been considered, as has the change of the organization's name. In 2003, The OIC established a Committee of Eminent Muslim Persons to consider the inclusion of peer review of good governance and of human rights records within the purview of the OIC, to study feasibility of an Islamic Rapid Reaction Force for peacekeeping operations, and to expand the scope of the OIC to environment and climate change issues. Two years later, another eight-member Experts Group on OIC Reforms, chaired by ex-prime minister of Malaysia, Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, was created. Subsequently both commissions have made recommendations. Much to the disappointment of OIC Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanouglu, the thirty-fourth annual meeting of the Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers held at Islamabad (May 2007) failed to reach consensus on the organization's new name or to agree on the contours of a new charter. The discussions and decision have been postponed until the eleventh Islamic Summit conference scheduled to be held in Dakar, Senegal in February 2008.

    For all its failings, the Muslim world has found the OIC to be indispensable. Some scholars in recent decades have gone to the extent of comparing it to the now-defunct institution of the caliphate and deeming it as a modern world replacement of the same. Whatever name, form, or shape, the Organization appears to be here to stay, at least well into the present century. The OIC can be as strong or as weak as the states constituting it. At present, all Muslim states are developing nations, mostly ruled by non-representative, and often repressive, regimes, there is a vested interest in not allowing the OIC to be as powerful and intrusive as, say, the European Union. As the world moves towards greater freedom and tranparancy, the Muslim world can hardly stay immune from the trends. In a few decades hence, the OIC, or its replacement by whatever name called, may well be a m ore potent actor on the international scene than what OIC is today.



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    Saad S. Khan

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