Islamic civilization was once the bastion of wisdom and knowledge. The Islamic empire that rose from a small pocket in the center of the Arabian Peninsula reached its zenith under the rule of Umayyad caliph, Al Walid. At its peak, the Islamic empire stretched from the Iberian Peninsula in the West to Central Asia in the East. The Islamic world was a leader in philosophy, art, science and architecture. Muslim Spain gave birth to some of the world’s most imminent scholars like Ibn Rushd, also known as Averroes in the West, and Al Andalusi. The Islamic Empire significantly contributed to the field of medicine. Avicenna, known to us as Ali Sina, wrote his masterpiece work in the form of Canon of medicine which paved the way for medieval scientists to unveil major breakthroughs in the eradication of major diseases. The remnants of the marvelous architecture of the Ottoman Empire can be found in modern day Istanbul in the form of Sultan Ahmed mosque.
Today the Muslim world is indulged in brutal proxy wars. Saudi Arabia is supporting anti-Iran groups in Iraq and Syria, and Iran is supporting the Shia across the Middle East. The primary objective of the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) is to safeguard the interests of Muslims across the globe and also promote unity among Muslims, but it seems as though it is largely dysfunctional. The Muslim world needs a strong effective body similar to that of the European Union (EU) to integrate all Muslim countries economically and politically. Currently, the OIC is facing criticism from Islamic countries, primarily from Iran, for its tilt towards Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, the Islamic world is facing the crisis of governance. The Muslim world is ruled by dictators, kings and democratically elected leaders. So far, there is no consensus on choosing a single form of government. The citizens of Islamic nations that are led by monarchs and dictators enjoy relatively low level of freedom as compared to the nations that are led by democratically elected leaders. The literacy rate of the Islamic world is very low as compared to the West. According to some estimates, the total number of PhDs in Japan is more than all the Muslim countries combined. The poor literacy rate is contributing to the rise of non-state actors. Terrorism has destroyed several historical cities in the Muslim world. Aleppo, Damascus, Homs, Baghdad and Tripoli were once home to beautiful Islamic architecture but are now either destroyed or facing daily terrorist attacks. Instead of supporting one another, Muslim countries are engaged in brutal proxy wars against each other leading to the creation of a power vacuum. The rise of Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) was a direct result of the Muslim world in supporting and building post-Saddam Iraq. In addition to that, the OIC failure in finding an immediate solution to the Syrian crisis led to the intervention of foreign powers. Recently, the alliance of 39 Islamic countries was formed under the auspices of Saudi Arabia, with the objective of tackling the challenge of growing terrorism in the Muslim world. However, strategists believe that the aim of the alliance is to contain Iran instead of eradicating terrorism. Any alliance without taking Tehran on board will not be effective as Iran holds an important position in the Muslim world.
Turkish President Erdogan has taken several steps to protect the rights of the Muslims. Erdogan has strongly condemned the brutal killing of the people in Rohingya at the hands of Myanmar’s army. Besides this, Ankara has also called on Israel to halt the construction of homes in Palestinian homeland. The Muslim world needs a strong military organization similar to that of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which can efficiently tackle the menace of terrorism. The biggest hurdle in the Islamic world’s unity is the Saudi-Iran rivalry. Tehran and Riyadh have diverging interests in the region. Both sides consider themselves to be true leaders of the Muslim world. Saudi Arabia wants to oust of Bashar Al Assad while Iran considers Assad as the major ally in the region.
Pakistan can play an important role in easing the tensions between the Riyadh and Tehran as the country is home to the second largest Sunni population after Indonesia, and has the second largest Shia population after Iran. The sectarian configuration of Pakistan makes it the best choice for mediating between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Apart from Pakistan, Turkey should play its due role in uniting the Islamic world as well.