From scientists, to artists, to kings, “The Muslim 500” list of the world’s most influential Muslims was released this week, with a section on extremist leaders who have garnered notoriety over the past year.
The makers of the list set out to ascertain the influence Muslim individuals have on their worldwide community of 1.7 billion, be it cultural, ideological, financial or political.
Split into 13 categories, the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Jordan picked figures from across a spectrum of fields, including politics, celebrity, sports, science and technology.
“These are different areas in which people exercise influence, and that’s what this list is all about: charting who the Muslims with influence are,” chief editor of the list, Professor S Abdallah Schleifer, told Al Arabiya News.
The top spot goes to Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud, due to his being the “absolute monarch of the most powerful Arab nation.”
The list accords him the place in light of Saudi Arabia being home to Islam’s two holy cities of Makkah and Madinah, which millions of Muslims visit throughout the year, as well as the kingdom’s oil exports.
Rounding out the top three are Dr Ahmad Muhammad al-Tayyeb, grand sheikh of Al-Azhar University and grand imam of Al-Azhar mosque, and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
The top nine are all political leaders and royals, including Morocco’s King Mohammed VI and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“There have been some criticisms of the list in that it is very focused on royalty and there are not enough women on it,” said Muddassar Ahmed, who was on the list’s social issues section as chief executive of Unitas Communications Ltd, a leading British reputation management consultancy.
However, “my view is that, sadly, I think it is an accurate reflection of where power lies in the Muslim world.”
Ahmed told Al Arabiya News: “At the same time, I think it’s important that such lists are produced for a number of reasons, because [first of all] it’s aspirational. When Muslims feel as though they’re powerful as a community, it inspires them to be able to contribute more to the world around them. So I think lists like these are confidence-boosters, and are important for people to realize that Muslims are having an impact.”
The list also pays tribute to pop royalty, with British boy band One Direction’s Zayn Malik nabbing a spot in the celebrities and sports stars section.
The band has topped charts worldwide, and is involved in a number of charities. Malik has over 13.2 million followers on Twitter and over 17.3 million on Facebook, the list states.
Explain why pop-culture icons are on the list, Schleifer said: “Influence comes in many different ways. For instance, entertainers have a tremendous amount of influence if they wish to exercise it. This is true even if they don’t follow a conscious program, simply because they have huge followings of people.”
The list features a section on the world’s most influential extremists, with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi at number one due to the group’s sweeping territorial gains in recent months.
But why include extremists in a list ranking Muslim pioneers? “They too have influence, a negative influence but a major one,” said Schleifer.
“Extremism is a major problem in the Muslim world. We’d be burying our heads in the sand if we acted as if it didn’t exist.”