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News Analysis

7 of Top 10 'World’s Most Influential Muslims' Are Islamists

Mon, December 3, 2012

Ryan Mauro

The Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre has released this year’s list of the 500 “world’s most influential Muslims” and of the top 10, seven are Islamists. The unfortunate reality is that Islamism is indeed mainstream thought in the Muslim world and non-Muslims have a lot of ground to make up in the struggle over the direction of the Muslim world.

The most influential Muslim is Saudi King Abdullah. He is hailed as a reformer but that is by Saudi standards. Under his rule, Sharia is still the law of the land in an especially puritanical form. By setting this example and teaching that this is Allah’s vision for governance, Saudi King Abdullah is still promoting the Islamist ideology. He is in his late 80s and he just underwent major back surgery, prompting some to worry about what the future holds for his country.

In second place is Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan. He has sharply moved the secular, pro-Western country of Turkey in an Islamist direction, expertly using the doctrine of "gradualism." The rate of his implementation of the Islamist agenda has sped up as the strength of his political party has increased. The former ally of Israel is now an adversary, with Erdogan stating that Hamas isn’t a terrorist organization but a “resistance” group.

He has remained popular since becoming the Tukish prime minister in 2003, defying the pattern of Islamists losing popularity once they come to power. However, a new poll shows a dip in his support. Erdogan’s government occupies two spots in the top 50, with President Gul taking 24th place.

The Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohammed Badie, who essentially declared jihad on the U.S. and pro-Western Arab governments in 2010, is in fourth place. This makes the Muslim Brotherhood the strongest international movement in the Islamic world.

It’s interesting to see that Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi is in 11th place, even though his name recognition is so high. This is because Morsi is a product of the movement that Badie leads. Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi, the senior Brotherhood cleric known for his vitriolic preaching, took 16th place. Khaled Mashaal, the leader of Hamas, a branch of the Brotherhood, is in 48th place.

Fifth place went to the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani. He does not preside over an Islamic state, but his government is subsidizing the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood while enjoying the status of a U.S. ally.  His country is home to Sheikh Qaradawi and Al-Jazeera. A 2009 State Department memo said that Qatar’s counter-terrorism cooperation is “considered the worst in the region.”

Following Qatar is Iran, specifically Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Not much needs to be said about the threat posed by his influence. Notably, Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s name does not appear in the top ten. That’s because Khamenei holds the real power. The Iran-backed Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is in 28th place.

In eight place is Sheikh Ahmad Muhammad Al-Tayyeb, president of Al-Azhar University in Egypt. This is the most powerful Sunni religious institution, which endorsed Umdat al-Salik’s Reliance of the Traveler that teaches Muslims the ins and outs of Sharia Law. Al-Tayyeb calls for international laws against “defamation” of religion, a nicer sounding way of outlawing criticism of Islam. The draft constitution of Egypt approved by the Islamists requires that the government consult with Al-Azhar scholars on “matters related to Sharia.”

Finishing off the top ten is Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish Islamist who lives in Pennsylvania. His charter school network in America, the largest in the country, is under FBI investigation. His influence has been instrumental in spreading Islamism in Turkey. Although his preaching is on the less extreme end of Islamism, he has made multiple worrisome statements.

For example, in 1999, he preached in favor of “gradualism” in Turkey. He said, “You must wait until such time as you have gotten all the state power, until you have brought to your side all the power of the constitutional institutions in Turkey.” He told the audience to “discard the thoughts and feelings I expressed here,” because he is “trusting your loyalty and secrecy.”

The three non-Islamists that made the top ten are King Mohammed VI of Morocco in third place, King Abdullah II of Jordan in seventh place and Indonesian President Yudhoyono in ninth.

Yudhoyono is not an Islamist but he has brought Islamists into his government and has suppressed religious minorities. As a result of his soft stand, Islamism is increasing.  He also supports international laws curbing speech against Islam, saying freedom of expression is “not absolute.” He was an opponent of Abdurrahman Wahid, the Indonesian president from 1999 to 2001 and a Muslim reformer against Islamism.

Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and Imam Mohammed Magid, president of the Islamic Society of North America, also made the top 500. Both groups were established by the Muslim Brotherhood.

The most influential American on the list is Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, who came in at 42nd place and has a mixed record. He is the co-founder of Zaytuna College, America’s first Islamic college, along with two outspoken Islamists: Zaid Shakir and Hatem Bazian, chairman of American Muslims for Palestine.

In 1995, Sheikh Yusuf called Judaism a “most racist religion.” The following year, he made an unequivocally anti-American statement.

“[U.S.] is a country that has little to be proud of in its past and less to be proud of in the present. I am a citizen of this country not by choice but by birth. I reside in this country not by choice but by conviction in attempting to spread the message of Islam in this country. I became Muslim in part because I did not believe in the false gods of this society whether we call them Jesus or democracy or the Bill of Rights,” he said.

In an undated interview, he complained about “what happened in the 19th century with the abdication of Islamic Law and the usurpation of its place by Western legal systems.” He also accused the U.S. of trying to “unite the world” so “everybody will have the same banal perspectives on the world.” He stood against the “dominant world order, which is a capitalistic, Western world order.”

On September 9, 2001, he said that the U.S. is “facing a very terrible fate,” “stands condemned” and “has a great tribulation coming to it.”

He changed his tune after 9/11. In October 2001, he said that Muslims are treated better in the U.S. than in most Muslim countries, and “I don’t want to contribute to the hate in any shape or form. I now regret in the past being silent about what I have heard in Islamic discourse and being part of that with my own anger.” He admitted in 2006 that he had been “infected” by anti-Semitism.

In September 2012, he argued for limitations on free speech, saying anti-Muslim hatred is a “present and imminent danger.”

The list of the world’s most influential Muslims is a reminder of the road long ahead for anti-Islamist Muslims and the non-Muslims who support them.

Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org's National Security Analyst and a fellow with the Clarion Fund. He is the founder of WorldThreats.com and is frequently interviewed on Fox News.