This week, over 40 heads of state, representing the Muslim world, met in Istanbul at a Summit of the second largest intergovernmental organization in the world: the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
The theme of the Summit was unity - it is no coincidence that the OIC has ‘Cooperation’ in its name.
The Summit sowed the seeds of rapprochement across the Muslim world, based on mutual understanding and respect, and shared goals around peace, development, and education for stability and counter-extremism.
If the last two decades have shown the Muslim world anything, it is that we cannot depend on others to do things for us - we must get our own house in order. Too often, ‘intervention’ by outside powers is seen as a continuation of colonial policies, with only short-term aims around resources and tactical, rather than strategic aims.
Islamic rapprochement and unity is long overdue - the Summit committed to this in its final communique. Sectarianism is the gateway to extremism, division, and destruction of millions of lives - as we have seen in Syria.
Tough on extremism
The Heads of State were tough on extremism and tough on the causes of extremism. The largest exporters of extremist recruits tend to be states whose citizens face the greatest socio-economic difficulties. Many so-called ‘revolutions’ and examples of civil unrest in the Muslim world have begun not with political demands per se, but with demonstrations about food prices or cost of living. That is why the OIC Heads of State committed to further increase intra-OIC trade, which has already been growing by 4% annually. OIC member states include some of the wealthiest, and some of the poorest nations on earth - mutual trade will create safety and security for all Muslim countries. The Conference also welcomed the establishment of the Islamic Organization for Food Security, a new specialized institution of the OIC. National and global security starts with food security.
Since Muslims are the biggest victims of terrorism, it is Muslims who should be motivated to do the most to fight itMaha Akeel
Tragically, many Muslim countries lack high quality education - that is why the OIC has already established four universities, in Bangladesh, Niger, Uganda and Malaysia. The Conference supported efforts to widen access of women to these institutions.
As well as educating our people, we must create jobs for them through development - that is why the Conference commended the increase of the Islamic Development Bank’s Authorized Capital from 100 Billion Islamic Dinars. It also supported various member states in contributing to the Islamic Solidarity Fund for Development, which is currently scaling-up its micro-finance and vocational training, with a target capital of $10 Billion.
All of this political and economic effort is essential to resolve conflicts in the Muslim world and fight extremism. The biggest victims of extremists like ISIS are Muslims. There is no room for double standards on terrorism, which the Head of State unequivocally opposed in all its forms.
The Conference invited member states to join the Islamic Military Coalition to combat terrorism. Since Muslims are the biggest victims of terrorism, it is Muslims who should be motivated to do the most to fight it. At the Summit, an ‘Islamic Interpol’ was also agreed upon to fight terrorism, headquartered in Istanbul. At the intersection of Europe and Asia and with input from various member states, this will be a game changer in fighting the roots and branches of terrorism.
The roots of terrorism inevitably lie in its financing, which is often disguised as charitable activity. The Conference welcomed the hosting of a workshop on this problem. It is essential to entice charities towards the official financial sector so that financial regulations can protect against their abuse by extremists.
The other side of extremism is Islamophobia - each problem feeds off the other. The OIC holds annual Islamophobia observatories, and the Conference called on member states to be proactive in fighting Islamophobia through both mainstream and social media. It is on unregulated social media that the enormity of the danger of Islamophobia is most evident - for example in the hashtag #stopislam trending recently.
Many anti-extremism efforts ultimately lie in working with Muslim youth - the majority of ISIS recruits are aged 15-24. This why the OIC has a dedicated youth wing which held its first ever Young Leaders Summit this week - all its recommendations were welcomed by the Conference.
All these OIC efforts towards solidarity, development and counter-extremism crystallized in positions on resolving conflicts and preserving the territorial integrity and sovereignty of states including Palestine, Syria, Kashmir, Libya, and Yemen - and protecting Muslim minorities in Myanmar and the Philippines.
The Conference is committed to a 10-year strategic plan for the Muslim world - and it is working to ensure that there will be more security, development and - above all - unity, for the Muslim world in the next decade than there has been in the previous one.
Maha Akeel is the Director of the information department at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation