The Summit of Heads of State is the highest decision-making body within the Organization of the Islamic Conference (also known as OIC by abbreviationfinder). These summits have been held every three years since 1991. A Council composed of the Foreign Ministers of the Member States meets annually to decide how the OIC’s objectives and policies are to be achieved.
Decisions within OIC are made by a two-thirds majority. The administrative work is carried out by the General Secretariat of Saudi Arabia under the direction of a Secretary-General appointed by the Council of Foreign Ministers for a four-year term.
There is a commission dealing with economic, cultural and social issues, and a number of standing special committees for areas such as economics, information, science and technology.
The OIC has also set up special bodies to resolve conflicts involving the Muslim population, such as Afghanistan, the Philippines, Kashmir, Kosovo and Sierra Leone. The Al-Quds Committee (Al Quds = Jerusalem in Arabic) monitors the implementation of the organization’s decisions regarding Jerusalem.
In 1981, it was decided that an Islamic Supreme Court would be formed to resolve conflicts between Muslim countries. A few years later, a number of lawyers met to create a set of rules, but the process soon stalled. A Supreme Court is a sensitive chapter for several countries. Member States belong to different schools of law within Islam and a court could hand down judgments that run counter to their own country’s interpretation of Islam.
In 1975, the Islamic Development Bank was formed following a decision by the OIC’s finance ministers. The bank would facilitate economic and social development for members and other Muslim groups in accordance with Islamic law, sharia. The bank does not charge any interest, as sharia does not allow this. However, it can get a return through, among other things, profit sharing, commissions and fees. The Islamic Solidarity Fund was established in 1972.
The fund, which is based in the OIC’s general secretariat, will meet the needs of Muslim communities by building, for example, mosques, hospitals and schools. In addition, the fund organizes emergency relief when needed.
Several other bodies in economics, trade, technological development and culture have also been formed. Two media organizations, the International Islamic News Agency and the Islamic States Broadcasting Organization, both based in Saudi Arabia, are funded by the OIC.
The states in the Middle East have dominated the organization on several levels, among other things through the resources that they have been able to transfer to poor OIC countries, mainly African, with the support of their oil wealth. However, this dominance has begun to be questioned.
Among the African states, which constitute a majority within the OIC, there is a growing desire to define their own needs.
The fact that some of the Member States are members of competing organizations has sometimes disrupted the work of the OIC. Malaysia and Indonesia, members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEANs), for example, have sought to be more cautious than other OICs in condemning the ASEAN member Philippines for its policies against the country’s Muslim guerrillas.
There are also other reasons for division within OIC. For example, Iran, Iraq and Libya have wanted to pursue a tougher policy towards Western states than Saudi Arabia, which has strong ties to the West.
Economic and cultural cooperation
The economic cooperation within OIC has resulted in a number of cooperation agreements in trade, economics and industry. A number of committees and special bodies have been formed to drive the collaboration forward. In reality, most cooperation agreements have not yielded any results, but in the early 1990’s more than twenty of the Member States signed an agreement to coordinate their customs duties. The agreement entered into force in 2003. The plan is to establish a common economic market in the long term.
The economic development of the poor Muslim states has been given special importance, among other things through aid programs, primarily in science and technology. For these states, the opportunity for financing through soft loans or cooperation projects offered by the Islamic Development Bank and the Islamic Solidarity Fund has also been important.
Great emphasis has been placed on education in Islamic communities. OIC has funded or partially funded universities in Nigeria, Uganda, Malaysia and Bangladesh. The OIC also supports a large number of Muslim schools and cultural centers around the world to promote knowledge of Islam and the Arabic language. Special resources are set aside to help people in Muslim countries affected by war or natural disasters. Food aid is sent, for example, to the drought-stricken countries in the Sahel belt in Africa. Victims of the wars in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Chechnya have received support, as have those affected by the Christmas 2004 tsunami.
The conflict in Afghanistan has occasionally infected relations between certain Member States. In the second half of the 1990’s, Afghanistan did not participate in OIC meetings, as the Taliban regime was recognized by only three Member States. The warring parties in the conflict, however, had observers on site at the Qatar summit in 2000. A few months later, the OIC sought to persuade the Taliban regime to change the decision to destroy statues, as these images of animals and humans were considered anti-Islamic. The attempt failed and a number of UNESCO World Heritage-listed statues were destroyed.
Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 became a source of division within the OIC. The majority of member states’ foreign ministers condemned the invasion and demanded that Iraq withdraw from Kuwait. Twelve heads of state refused to personally attend the December 1991 summit in protest against the presence of representatives of Jordan and the PLO (which supported Iraq in the conflict).
The subsequent US and British bombings of Iraq were condemned, and the OIC repeatedly called for the lifting of international sanctions against Iraq and Libya. During the recharging ahead of the US invasion of Iraq in the spring of 2003, the OIC distanced itself from any plans to attack Iraq or any other Muslim state.
The war in the former Yugoslavia is another issue that has received a great deal of attention from the Islamic Conference. The OIC repeatedly tried to get the UN to lift the arms embargo on Bosnia, as this was considered to affect the Muslim forces in the first place. The OIC has supported the peace agreement established in 1996 and is cooperating with the UN to ensure lasting peace.