The story so far: On June 5, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Secretariat “condemned and denounced” the comments on Prophet Muhammed made by two national spokespersons of the BJP. Referring to it as part of “growing spate of hatred and defamation of Islam in India”, it sought that the perpetrators are bought to justice and held accountable.
In response, spokesperson at the Ministry of External Affairs Arindam Bagchi stated that India rejected the OIC Secretariat’s “unwarranted” and “narrow-minded” comments. He added that the views expressed by the two individuals did not reflect the views of the Indian government and relevant authorities had initiated strong actions against them.
India’s association with the 57-nation grouping has not been easy. Even though the country has good relations with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia, its membership and engagement has been constantly challenged by Pakistan. In 1969, Islamabad’s opposition to Indian participation at the first OIC Plenary resulted in the Indian delegation being turned back from the venue at the last minute.
Fifty years later, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj addressed the OIC Plenary of Foreign Ministers in Abu Dhabi as a guest of honour. The invitation was extended by the UAE’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Bangladesh, too, wanted India to be accorded the ‘observer’ status in 2006 — again opposed by Pakistan.
Political analyst Ketan Mehta of the Observer Research Foundation wrote in 2019 that Islamabad’s apprehension stems from the fear that India’s involvement in the grouping could influence the opinion of other Muslim states — not boding well for its influence.
What is the grouping about?
The OIC claims to be the “collective voice of the Muslim world”. It was established at a 1969 summit in Rabat (Morocco) after what it describes as the ‘criminal arson’ of Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. The OIC endeavours to establish solidarity among member states, support restoration of complete sovereignty and territorial integrity of any member state under occupation; protect, defend and combat defamation of Islam, prevent growing dissention in Muslim societies and work to ensure that member states take a united stand at the U. N. General Assembly, Human Rights Council and other international fora.
The OIC has consultative and cooperative relations with U. N. and other inter-governmental organisations to protect the interest of Muslims, and settle conflicts and disputes involving member states, among them being the territorial conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan and the status of Jammu & Kashmir.
Presently based in Jeddah, the organisation plans to permanently move its headquarters to East Jerusalem once the disputed city is ‘liberated’. Moreover, it aspires to hold Israel accountable for ‘war crimes’ and violations of international law.
The organisation adheres to a charter that lays out its objectives, principles and operating mechanism. First adopted in 1972, the charter has been revised multiple times in line with emerging conditions in the developing world.
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The present charter was adopted in March 2008 at Dakar in Senegal. It enshrines that all members be guided and inspired by the noble Islamic teachings and values alongside committing themselves to the purposes and principles of the U. N. charter. Member states are expected to uphold and promote good governance, democracy, human rights, fundamental freedom and the rule of law — settling disputes through peaceful means and refrain from the use of threat or force.
In addition, the OIC carves out a Ten-Year Programme of Action. Last instituted for the decade ending 2025, the PoA calls for measures to combat all aspects of terrorism globally. It also talks of implementing social schemes to eliminate two-thirds of extreme poverty and spurring industrialisation, investment, trade and overall economic and social growth among member states.
How does OIC function?
U. N. members with a Muslim majority can join the organisation. The membership is to be ratified with full consensus at the OIC’s Council of Foreign Ministers. The same provisions apply for acquiring an observer status. All decision-making in the forum requires a quorum defined by the presence of two-thirds of the member states and complete consensus. In case a consensus cannot be reached, decisions shall be made by a two-thirds majority of members present and voting.
The OIC is financed by the member states proportionate to their national incomes. Should a member fail to meet their obligations such that the amount of arrears equals or exceeds the amount of contributions due from it for the preceding two years, their voting rights are suspended. The member is only allowed to vote if the Council of Foreign Ministers is satisfied that the failure is due to conditions beyond the member’s control.
The Islamic Summit, composed of Kings and heads of state, is the supreme authority of the organisation. Convening every three years, it deliberates, takes policy decisions, provides guidance on issues relevant to the organisation and considers issues of concern to the member states.
The Council of Foreign Ministers is the chief decision-making body and meets annually to decide on how to implement the OIC’s general policies. They take decisions and resolutions on matters of common interest, review their progress, consider and approve programmes and their budgets, consider specific issues bothering member states and recommend establishing a new organ or committee.
In addition, this council also appoints, for a period of five years, the Secretary General, who is the chief administrative officer of the grouping. The Secretary General follows up on implementation of the decisions, directs attention to competent organs’ specific issues of concern, creates a channel for coordination among the varied organs and submits annual reports on the work undertaken. Former Foreign Affairs Minister of Chad, Hissein Brahim Taha, is the current Secretary General, taking up the role in November 2021.
The OIC also has standing committees for cooperation on information and cultural affairs, economic and commercial matters, scientific and technological initiatives and for Jerusalem.
Criticisms of the OIC
Brookings Institution analyst Turan Kayaoglu wrote in 2020 that the OIC had become a premise for ‘window dressing’, more interested in the rights of Muslim minorities in places such as Palestine or Myanmar than the human rights violations of its member states. The author noted that the body lacks power and resources to investigate human rights violations or enforce its decisions through signed treaties and declarations.
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Experts have also pointed to the fact that the organisation is largely restricted to arbitrating in conflicts where both parties are Muslims. This is because the organisation is centred around Quranic values, which, it believes, makes it a qualified arbitrator. The according of observer status at the U. N. to the Palestine Liberation Organisation is considered among its major successes.
Al Sharq Forum analyst Abdullah al-Ahsan, in an article in 2019 — the 50th anniversary of the organisation — noted that the OIC has failed to establish a cooperative venture among its members, who were either capital-rich and labour-scarce countries or manpower-rich and capital scarce. “...the organization has not evolved to become a significant player either in international politics or in the area of economic cooperation,” Mr. Al-Ahsan wrote.
- The 57-nation Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) claims to be the 'collective voice of the Muslim world'
- The OIC has consultative and cooperative relations with U. N. and other inter-governmental organisations to protect the interest of Muslims, and settle conflicts and disputes involving member states
- The OIC is financed by the member states proportionate to their national incomes