Islamists Take Nose Dive in 2013 Issue of “Muslim 500”

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The second wave of the Arab Spring defined the Muslim world in 2013. The Islamist ascent in the first wave triggered a movement against the Muslim Brotherhood in the second wave. The power shift’s importance is apparent in the rankings in this year’s issue of The Muslim 500, an annual publication compiled by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Amman, Jordan which ranks the most influential Muslims worldwide.

Last year, seven of the top 10 Muslims ranked by the publication were Islamists, with Saudi King Abdullah and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan topping the list. This year, the number has fallen to four. Overall, this year’s tally is very negative for the Muslim Brotherhood and very positive for Muslim leaders less hostile to the West.

The opening of the issue includes a blistering critique of the Brotherhood by Professor S. Abdallah Schleifer, a prominent Middle East expert. Notably, he talks about a backlash against the Islamists.

“So if a Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt stood in the beginning of 2013 as the highest expression of the tide of Islamism, it is also possible that the overthrow of that government … may be a sign that this Islamist tidal wave is beginning to recede,” Professor Schleifer writes.

The Muslim 500 identifies three ideological camps in the Muslim world:

The first and largest one is “Traditional Islam” or “Orthodox Islam” and is based on scholarly consensus. The publication says that this represents 96% of the Muslim world and (supposedly) is not politicized. All of the Islamic schools of jurisprudence are included in this category.

This camp includes Islamists like the Saudi King and non-Islamists like the Jordanian King.

The second camp is “Islamic Fundamentalism, ” which is highly politicized and explicitly anti-Western. The fundamentalists describe themselves as “reformers” and are very aggressive. The Muslim Brotherhood, Salafists/Wahhabists and Revolutionary Shiites are included in this category.

The publication says this camp represents 3% of the Muslim world.

The third and smallest camp is “Islamic Modernism.” Adherents consider themselves to be “reformers” but want Islam to become more pro-Western and “progressive.”

In the words of The Muslim 500, “this subdivision contextualized Islamic ideology for the times—emphasizing the need for religion to evolve with Western advances.” It says:

“They thus called for a complete overhaul of Islam, including—or rather, in particular—Islamic law (sharia) and doctrine (aqida). Islamic modernism remains popularly an object of derision and ridicule, and is scorned by traditional Muslims and fundamentalists alike.”

According to the publication, this camp only represents 1% of the Muslim world. The most influential modernist is Queen Abdullah of Jordan. She took 32nd place, whereas last year she was in 37th.

The second most influential modernist is Professor Dr. M. Din Syamsuddin, the chairman of the Muhammadiyya organization in Indonesia. The organization has 35 million members. He is in 33rd place. He was in 39th last year.

It could be argued that the Indonesian organization Nahdlatul Ulama falls into this category. Its leader, KH Said Aqil Siradj, is now ranked as the 15th most influential Muslim. He came in 19th last year.

This year’s most influential Muslim is Dr. Sheikh Ahmed Muhammad al-Tayeb, the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar University in Egypt. He is a traditionalist opponent of the Muslim Brotherhood who endorsed the Egyptian military’s overthrow of President Morsi.

Coming in second is Saudi King Abdullah. Like al-Tayeb, he is a traditionalist that is an opponent of the Brotherhood. He oversees the Wahhabi rule of Saudi Arabia, but Saudi liberals look favorably upon him as a reformer, albeit a painstakingly slow one.

Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei saw his influence grow over the past year, with his ranking moving from sixth place to third. He is an Islamic fundamentalist, specifically a Shiite revolutionary.

Jordanian King Abdullah II moved to fourth place from seventh. He is a traditionalist enemy of the Muslim Brotherhood and outmaneuvered the Brotherhood by building a relationship with his liberal opponents. The opening of this year’s issue points to Jordan as an example of where there is a budding ideological challenge to Islamism.

Moroccan King Mohammed VI slipped by two spots to fifth place. He is a pro-Western, traditionalist adversary of the Muslim Brotherhood that has managed to remain relatively popular.

Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan declined from second place down to sixth. This is a significant development. He was once seen as king of the Islamists, but he faced massive protests this summer. His fate is intertwined with that of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Indonesian President Yudhoyono moved up two slots this year. He is not an Islamist, but he includes them in his governance. He was an opponent of the late President Abdurrahman Wahid, a leading modernist.

Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani, an Iraqi Shiite leader and rival of the Iranian regime, came in eighth place. He is considered a traditionalist. He may not be a modernist, but his ascent is nonetheless good for the West and modernists.

Oman’s Sultan Qaboos bin Said al-Said took ninth place this year. He did not make the top 10 last year. He is allied with the West.

Abu Dhabi Crown Prince General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayad al-Nahyan took the last slot. He was not on last year’s list. His ascent is reflective of the United Arab Emirates’ role in crafting a pro-Western, anti-Iran/anti-Muslim Brotherhood coalition.

Other Islamist powerhouses fell off the top 10 list.

Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohammed Badie ranked fourth last year. He is now in 36th place.

Emir Al-Thani of Qatar, whose government supports Al-Jazeera and the Muslim Brotherhood, used to hold fifth place. His ranking collapsed to 43rd place.

Muslim Brotherhood spiritual leader Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi fell from 16th place to 31st.

Turkish Islamist Fethullan Gulen slid back one slot, from 10th to 11th place. This makes him the most influential Muslim living in the United States.

Meanwhile, the number-one Muslim enemy of the Islamist movement, Egyptian General al-Sisi, debuted in 19th place. He didn’t make the list at all last year.

In summary, The Muslim 500 interprets the Muslim Brotherhood’s backslide as a loss for Islamic fundamentalism and a win for Traditional/Orthodox Islam.

Hwever, by the publication’s own admission, only one school is explicitly pro-Western: The Islamic modernists.


Ryan Mauro is the ClarionProject.org’s National Security Analyst, a fellow with the Clarion Project and is frequently interviewed on top-tier TV stations as an expert on counterterrorism and Islamic extremism.

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Meira Svirsky

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org

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