Why leadership of the Muslim world cannot be hijacked
An Islamic “mini-summit” in Kuala Lumpur this month was initially intended to bring together five countries, but Indonesia and Pakistan withdrew, leaving host country Malaysia, Turkey and Qatar, joined at the last minute by Iran. Many people have suspicions about the covert objectives that might have prompted these counties to participate.
The clear common denominator is political Islam, with the Shiite version represented by the hardline Wilayat Al-Faqih doctrine of the Iranian regime, and the Sunni version represented by the Muslim Brotherhood, which has close ties with Turkey and Qatar.
Organizations such as the Brotherhood use populist religious slogans and raise issues that play on the heartstrings of the devout in order to serve their narrow political agenda. They seek to mobilize a public eager for idealistic victories. For example, Palestine is one of the most popular causes cynically exploited by the Brotherhood and similar organizations. Hypocritically, however, some of the participants in the Kuala Lumpur meeting prefer not to reveal their political, economic and commercial ties with Israel.
One of the decisions taken at the meeting was to launch an English-language satellite channel “to counter Islamophobia in the West.” In fact, the actions of these countries in supporting terrorist groups and establishing sectarian militias are the strongest factors in defaming and slandering Islam and Muslims around the world.
This facade of religious devotion on Malaysia’s part is used to hide the truth, which is that Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is a 94-year-old man trying to attain any personal accomplishment that will promote his reputation beyond Malaysia, and create a positive legacy. The satellite channel was his advisers’ proposal. At this point, the significance of Qatar’s participation in the meeting becomes more understandable; Doha will make the largest financial contribution to this proposed channel.
Since most of these countries have adopted a negative position on Saudi Arabia for ideological reasons, the aim of this meeting and similar ones is clear —to marginalize existing international Muslim entities such as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the Muslim World League, and the Islamic Bank, all of which are headquartered in the Kingdom.
Tehran’s sudden decision to participate in the meeting is, in my opinion, evidence that countries such as Turkey, Qatar and Malaysia are helping the Iranian regime to overcome the sanctions imposed on it. It cannot be ruled out that the participating nations, especially Turkey and Qatar, will fund the regime in Tehran under religious or ideological pretexts. This view is strengthened by a proposal from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to create a cryptocurrency specifically for Muslim countries.
The meeting’s most important role, in my view, was revealed by an unnamed Malaysian diplomat quoted on the Free Malaysia Today news site: “The Kuala Lumpur summit ended the myth of Saudi Arabia’s leadership of the Islamic world because of its status as the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques.”
Tehran’s sudden decision to participate in the meeting is, in my opinion, evidence that countries such as Turkey, Qatar and Malaysia are helping the Iranian regime to overcome the sanctions imposed on it.
Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami
The Malaysian prime minister — who spoke by phone with King Salman before the meeting, and said Malaysia was a small country that could not assume the role of Saudi Arabia in the Islamic world — appears not to have learned from the Iranian experience. After the 1980-1988 war with Iraq, and the failure of the Iranian regime’s project to export its revolution by military force, Ayatollah Khomeini and his advisers considered alternatives. One idea, the “Umm Al-Qura” (Mother of all Settlements) theory , was proposed by Mohammad-Javad Larijani, one of four brothers who play a significant role in the regime’s decision-making circles. This theory suggested that Qom be redefined as the religious capital for all Muslims, and Tehran their political capital. Larijani argued that achieving such a tectonic shift in moving the center from Saudi Arabia to Iran would make Iran the leader of the Islamic world and spearhead a move toward striking the “forces of arrogance,” the Iranian regime’s name for the US and its allies.
Unfortunately for the Iranian regime, the plan was stillborn — even though in their naivety and desperation the Khomeinists celebrated and considered it a critical part of their agenda to export the Iranian revolution. This failure was inevitable because Makkah, a sacred city for 1.5 billion Muslims around the world, cannot simply be replaced with a historically unknown city such as Qom, no matter how good the marketing campaign or how much Iranian mullahs may wish for this to happen. Muslims who pray toward Makkah five times a day will not be persuaded to shift toward Iran, and Qom in particular, just because Iran’s leadership wishes them to do so.
The four countries who took part in the Kuala Lumpur meeting did so to achieve their own objectives with the use of a metaphorical Islamic “umbrella,” but they also share an aim — to damage the position of Saudi Arabia across the Islamic world.
Just as the Umm Al-Qura theory failed, so did the Kuala Lumpur meeting. Islamic leadership is not merely about slogans, but actions and practices, and each country shouldering its responsibilities. If Turkey, Iran and Qatar genuinely want to help Muslims, they should stop supporting militias and terrorist organizations that kill Muslims in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, and Libya — and instead start contributing to the work of existing Islamic organizations.
- Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami is head of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah). Twitter: @mohalsulami