The Ka’aba, the House of Allah in the holy city of Makkah al-Mukarramah, is the undisputed heartbeat of the Ummah. Later this month it will be the scene of the annual gathering of the Ummah for the Hajj, as tens of millions of Muslims from all over the world set aside their worldly concerns and strive to purify their hearts of all but their love of Allah and their commitment to Islam, Allah’s guidance to humanity for life in this temporary and transient world. Much as we might deplore the gaudy commercialization of the Holy City and the environs of the House of Allah under Saudi control, nothing can devalue the collective spiritual power and individual spiritual impact of the gathering of Muslims, in the simplicity of the ihram, on the plains of Mina and Arafat, and as they perform their tawaaf of the Bait Allah.
Last month, however, the Holy City was host to a very different gathering of Muslims from all over the Ummah, the “Kings, Heads of State and Government, and Emirs of the Member States” of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the club of Muslim countries established after the burning of the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem in 1969. They gathered in the opulence of the al-Safa Palace, part of the Saudi development around the Haram al-Sharif, for an “Extraordinary Summit” from December 7-8 in response to a call by Saudi king Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz at last year’s Hajj that the leaders of the Muslim world should meet to review the situation of the Ummah and propose comprehensive solutions to their shared problems. Such was the concern felt by the Saudi authorities about the state of Ummah that, although OIC summits are usually held every three years, with the last one, the tenth, having been held in Malaysia in 2003, this one was organized in only 12 months.
The stated object of the summit was to formulate a “Ten-year Programme of Action”, based on the recommendations of two bodies, the Commission of Eminent Persons (CEP), established at the suggestion of the 2003 summit, and the Makkah Forum of Scholars and Intellectuals. These bodies met in September last year to draft a proposed Programme of Action, which was approved by the Extraordinary Summit after two days of unleavened talk, in the form of the Makkah Declaration, which is supposed to form the basis of the OIC’s work for the next ten years (see pp. 21-23 below).
Over the last thirty-odd years, the OIC has earned a well-deserved reputation for impotence and irrelevance, demonstrated perhaps by its utter failure to take any effective action on the issue that it was originally created to address: the zionist threat to al-Quds (Jerusalem). For all the fine sentiments expressed in the build-up to last month’s summit, there is little in the Makkah Declaration to suggest that that is likely to change; for which we should perhaps be suitably grateful, considering that anything the OIC achieved would undoubtedly be designed to further the interests of the rulers of the Muslim nation-states and the West-dominated world order to which they owe their prime allegiance, rather then the principles of Islam and the needs and concerns of the Ummah.
The Makkah Declaration reads, in fact, more like the confused and apologetic ideas of a student Islamic society in some American university, influenced more by current Western perceptions of Islam and a desire to prove that Islam is not irrelevant to the modern world, than a statement of Islamic principles and the concerns of the Ummah. It opens with an assertion of the “lofty essence of Islam” compared to today's world of “muddled concepts, misguided values and pervasive ignorance”, but then tempers this reassertion of Islamic values with a call for a “fresh vision to turn the tide”, as though tacitly admitting that Islam is something old-fashioned and out-of-date. This impression is confirmed when the Declaration goes on to echo Western calls for a “reform process” to end distortion of “the loftiest tenets of our Islamic faith enshrined in its intrinsic call for love, peace, harmony and the civilised way out (sic.)”. The echoes of Western calls for an Islamic equivalent of the Reformation and depoliticization of Christianity are unescapable. Yet there is no mention anywhere of Islam’s principles of justice and social order based on the the principles of Shari’ah or the model of the Prophet (saw); these are clearly issues that would be a lot more difficult to justify to non-Muslim friends.
The fact that the Declaration is designed to appeal to the West more than to Muslims is confirmed by many other points. Surely, for example, Muslims need to address the challenges facing the Ummah in the fifteenth century after the Hijra, rather than those of “the Twenty-first Century”? The preamble to the Declaration pays lip-service to the Hijri calendar, but this is lost in the text, a clear indication of its West-centric worldview. Understandably perhaps, the Declaration mentions few issues explicitly, but those it does mention are telling: the rejection of “terrorism, extremism and violence”, the need for “harmony with the achievements of human civilization” (read: Western-style modernity), and the “ideals of dialogue, moderation, justice, righteousness and tolerance.” The problems the Ummah faces are those of illiteracy, disease and poverty; there is no mention of imperialism, exploitation or foreign occupation. The only nod to any concerns Muslims may have about the realities of the modern world is a safe and uncontroversial reference to Islamophobia “as a form of racism and discrimination”.
If genuine representatives of the Ummah, as will gather in Makkah for the Hajj later this month, were to formulate an alternative statement of the challenges facing Muslims, it would no doubt include many similar points; but it would also recognise the broader historical context of Western hegemony in which these issues have arisen, and the reality that our problems can only be solved by breaking the Western stranglehold over the world, rather than accepting it and working within its structures and historicist assumptions.
It would, of course, be unrealistic to expect the OIC to express any such understanding, for it is based on the nation-state structure that is a key part of the West’s attempts to subordinate and integrate the Ummah into its world order. All the Makkah Declaration does is remind us of the reality that the Muslim nation-states are the West’s first line of defence against Islam, the Ummah and the global Islamic movement, and that, because they are so central a part of the problems we face, they can never be part of any solution.