As an inaugural endeavor, The 500 Most Influential Muslims–2009 challenged the definition of influence in the Muslim world while reporting on the contributions of those leaders and change-agents who have shaped social development and global movements in the past few years. With around 150,000 downloads of the e-book, it is no surprise that the list of Muslim leaders has been both widely scrutinized and praised.
Major critiques of The 500 Most Influential Muslims–2009 address the methodology which informed the selection process of influential candidates. The individuals in this publication have been nominated and selected because they are influential as Muslims, deriving their influence from their religious identity. They are considered influential because their work impacts all fields of work and particularly, the religious endeavors of the Muslim world. Their influence and accomplishments have been weighed against others in their respective fields and the heralds who have made it to the top ranks this past year are profiled in the following pages.
However, like any other superlative-themed ranking, there is bound to be a degree of subjectivity and this publication is no exception. Comparing the work of leaders across continents and diverse fields of work is a mammoth task structured on the premise that there is no absolute common measure between the people in these pages. Despite this reality, the benefit of such a list is that it elucidates the multiplicity of challenges and successes facing the Muslim world and the beacons at the forefront of these developments.
In many cases, the leaders’ influence is derived from political and religious authority–which is common to most of the individuals in the top 50. These people possess powerful positions but it is the potency of their work and the roles they play in the lives of the average citizen that garner influence. Naturally, heads of state and leading scholars comprise the highest ranks. Leaders from last year’s edition, such as His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Sa‘id al Sa‘id or US Representative Keith Ellison, are presented again for 2010 because they continue to affect global society through their capacities as political leaders. The other major criterion that warrants inclusion is if the leaders have had a major impact on the world in the past year.
In total, we present 500 leaders in 15 categories of influence–Scholarly, Political, Administrative, Lineage, Preachers, Women’s Issues, Youth, Philanthropy, Development, Science/Technology/Medicine/Law, Arts and Culture, Media, Radicals, International Islamic Networks, and Issues of the Day. Changes in rank, and new entries are denoted by corresponding icons. Leaders are listed in alphabetical order by country and name.
Disclaimer and Invitation to Participate
We thank all those who submitted nominations for The 500 Most Influential Muslims–2010. RISSC will continue to keep the process as open as possible and we ask you to please submit nominations at www.rissc.jo.
Demography of Influence
Influence in the Muslim world is particular to its context. There is not a clear hierarchy or organized clergy for Muslims through which they identify a leader, such as a Patriarch for Orthodox Christians or a Pope for Catholics. Islam as a religion is based on the individual’s relationship with God, without an intermediary. Influence in the Muslim world is derived from two sources: scholarship, and respect and trust. Scholars are able to educate the masses or give esteemed opinions, and respected and trusted persons carry the weight of social and historical capital as leaders in their societies.
As you will see, three types of people–monarchs, religious scholars, and leaders of religious networks–dominate the Top 50 list. Monarchs are well represented because of the influence they gain from their political power, the length of time they spend in office, their lineage in light of the institution of monarchy, and the deeply rooted establishments that they may inherit. Religious scholars are also strongly present in the list because they may be able to make religious rulings, and due to the simple fact that Muslims, of every hue, need figures from whom they can source concrete answers to practical questions. In a globalized world, networks of people and of institutions permeate our international society and accordingly have great power because of their ability to affect people’s lives, whether it be through funds or services. The Muslim world is no different and leaders of Islamic networks are represented in the top rungs of our list of 500.
The one clear exception to this rule however is Amr Khaled who through sheer force of popularity and innovation–as the Muslim world’s first televangelist– exerts tremendous influence as a Muslim. Khaled has been able to chart his own course as a key figure in the Muslim world through the vehicle of mass media, and although as a layperson his religious authority is still somewhat limited he remains the great ‘start-up’ of the list.
Another important exception is Fethullah Gülen, a preacher, thinker and educator. Although, he assumed the leadership of a religious movement started by Said NursÃ® (1878-1960) and thus leads an expansive network, he has gone on to become a global phenomenon in his own right. Gülen’s popularity and authority in Turkey have been the driving force of the social movement that is widely thought to have brought around the social and eventually political changes of which politician Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been the ultimate heir–that is the enfranchisement of Muslim politics in Turkey.
Geography is also an important issue in terms of influence, with the Middle East and North America and Europe holding disproportionate influence in relation to the quantity of Muslims in these regions. It is important to clarify that individuals from the Middle East have a disproportionate influence in the Muslim world, due to the fact that the region has many of the oldest and most well-esteemed institutions for Muslims, and most importantly is home to the holy sites in Mecca and Medina. Europe and North America are host to a large proportion of the world’s most highly respected educational institutions and draw talented, influential people from around the world, with global outreach through their wealth and high academic standing. Many important international institutions are also based in Europe and North America, which adds to this asymmetry.