Survey says world’s top 10 intellectuals are Muslims

June 25, 2008

Foreign Policy July/August issue coverThe bimonthly U.S. international affairs journal Foreign Policy has just published a survey of the world’s top 20 public intellectuals and the first 10 are all Muslims. They are certainly an interesting group of men (and one woman) but the journal’s editors are not convinced they all belong on top. In their introduction in the July/August issue, they wrote: “Rankings are an inherently dangerous business.” It turns out that some candidates ran publicity campaigns on their web sites, in interviews or in reports in media friendly to them. So intellectuals who many other intellectuals might have put at the top — say Noam Chomsky or Richard Dawkins — landed only in the second 10 or in a much more mixed list of post-poll write-ins.

“No one spread the word as effectively as the man who tops the list,” the introduction said. “In early May, the Top 100 list was mentioned on the front page of Zaman, a Turkish daily newspaper closely aligned with Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen. Within hours, votes in his favor began to pour in. His supporters—typically educated, upwardly mobile Muslims—were eager to cast ballots not only for their champion but for other Muslims in the Top 100. Thanks to this groundswell, the top 10 public intellectuals in this year’s reader poll are all Muslim. The ideas for which they are known, particularly concerning Islam, differ significantly. It’s clear that, in this case, identity politics carried the day.”

From the Fethullah Gülen websiteStill, the results are interesting. Fethullah Gülen, pictured at right by his website announcing the survey result, heads a network of schools and media that is probably the world’s largest moderate Muslim movement. He may be one of the most influential Muslims that non-Muslims have never heard of. We ran a feature about him just last month.

Second was Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi economist who won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for the microcredit project run by his Grameen Bank. So he’s not an unknown and he’s here for his secular work rather than anything religious.

Abdolkarim SoroushFour other Muslim religious personalities made the top 10 — Youssef al-Qaradawi (3), the spiritual head of the Muslim Brotherhood and weekly preacher on al-Jazeera satellite television, Amr Khaled (6), a popular Egyptian television preacher, Abdolkarim Soroush (7 — pictured at left), an Iranian reformist theologian and Tariq Ramadan (8), the Swiss-born scholar popular among young European Muslims. Soroush, who is much more philosopher than activist, is probably the only one we have not written much about.

Several top-tenners besides Yunus made the list for their secular work. Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish novelist who won the 2006 Nobel Prize for literature, came in fourth. Next was Aitzaz Ahsan (pictured below), the Lahore lawyer whose lawyers’ protest movement is possibly the Aitzaz Ahsan cheered by fellow Pakistani lawyers, 23 Feb 2008/Mohsin Razastrongest voice of secular civil society in Pakistan. Ninth and tenth places went to Ugandan-born cultural anthropologist Mahmood Mamdani and Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian human rights lawyer who won the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize.

What do you think of this survey? Do you think these 10 are the world’s top public intellectuals? If not, who would you nominate?


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Bernard Lewis and Ayaan Hirsi Ali as top intellectuals?? I guess if you consider frothing rants against Arabs/Islam a criteria.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Author Naomi Klein should have appeared on the list. They certainly deserve it.

Posted by Nu’man El-Bakri | Report as abusive

It’s time that the West realise that there is more to the Muslim world than islamists, radicals and terrorists. Gulen has been an advocate of education, community service and dialogue between nations and inspires Muslims and humanity world-wide to come together to work for the common good.

He needs more air-time in the main stream press/media so more hear his message of peace and inclusion.

I look forward to more people understanding who Gulen is and what he stands for!

Posted by johnUK | Report as abusive

[…] survey of the top 20 (public) intellectuals has all of the top ten as Muslim scholars. […]

Posted by Stones Cry Out – If they keep silent… » Things Heard: e23v3 | Report as abusive

So let’s go ahead and take a look at what each has published and to what extent that published work has made impacts in a broad range of venues. When we define “intellectual” we must admit that part of what it means has to include to what extent that person has changed the way we think. Have the top ten changed the way we think?

Posted by Tarren Wappe | Report as abusive

To be honest I don’t see how declaring belief in ghosts, Gods, fairies or any fictional character should qualify you as an intellectual.
I’d like to see credentials from the rational world please.

Posted by Paul Winter | Report as abusive

Well, I think this tells us who reads Foreign Policy…I’ve never heard of the website before, nor any of the top 10 intellectuals. But then, I’m not an intellectual myself, I’m a taxpayer 😉

Posted by Gail Spurlock | Report as abusive

a total joke – ten of twenty “public intellectuals” are Muslims – and Stephane Colbert an intellectual?

A joke up-and-down. And by the way, it is Hirshi and Lewis who inspired “frothing” from their opponents, Islamists and their allies on the anti-Occidental left. No frothing on their part.

Posted by r.b. glennie | Report as abusive

Though he destroyed over 5000 Hindu temples, even Aurangzeb is glorified in the Muslim world…

check him out


Who own this Journal… Sunnis…?

Posted by Ramesh Naidoo | Report as abusive

Aitizaz Ahsan and ‘the strongest voice of civil society in Pakistan’. LOL. What a stinking joke.
Another good example of Lazy Boy journalism, where ‘jounalists’ like the ones credited with this fantastic report, sit relaxingly on their couches, with a glass of favorite wine on the side table. And they are surfing the internet to compile their ‘expert’ reports.
Are these not the same Lazy Boy jounalists who were telling King Geroge Bush that Iraqis will be welcoming the US Marines with flower petals?
How right these couch jounalists were about Iraq!
And how right they are about this so-called list?

Posted by Ahmed | Report as abusive

Well i am happy that the cat is finally out of the bag….
Such things are usually supressed by the western world.. But im happy for its not been suppressed…
I thought it has been published by a muslims website… But to my surprise its not so… WELL GREAT GOING…

Posted by Rooh Afza | Report as abusive

Well i think Aitzaz deserve to be top on the list. He is leading the lawyers movement and i think the last long march has shown the strengh of this movement that the peoeple belive in the rule of law in their country to solve all other major problems like terrorism and corruption. .

Posted by Hashim | Report as abusive

I agree it’s not an independent survey; it seems to be a “pre-meditated” survey in which only secular “intellectuals” are rated on the top. Interestingly, Aitzaz Ahsan has never been counted as an intellectual, if the surveyor means the “intellectuals.” He is a mediocre lawyer, a fiery orator, what else! He is more known as an agitator who led the movement for the restoration of a corrupt judge who was sacked by a more corrupt dictator. Except Karadavi, other intellectual in the list are pro-west, but none of them so far has made any substantial contribution in the Muslim part of the world or the whole world.

Posted by ZAkir Naik | Report as abusive

Aitezaz Ahsan can not be rated as top secular intellectual, simply because he is not an intellectual but an opportunist who joined the anti government band wagon driven by a very strong Islamic Party (JI). The party is apparently opposed to US presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan and hence is at forefront of all anti governmental movement.
In my view, President Perwaiz Musharaf should be decribed as an intellectual who inspite of belonging to Army, has dedicated himself to revival of democracy, freedom of media, propagating tolerance and good governence. He has been facing difficulties due to his adherence of values which are described as Pro west.

Posted by Ahsan | Report as abusive

it is a great news to know.

Posted by Quran | Report as abusive

well done muslims.

Posted by John | Report as abusive

WEll i think you got who are muslims, they are not terorists. if you think that Gulen cannot be, read his books and then talk about him. How you are saying islam is false without reading Holy Quran. Read it and then talk. Because Judgement Day is coming soon.

Posted by Labi | Report as abusive

Jealousy by the non-muslims is quite evident and quite expected. Bring one of your so called intellectuals for a debate with any one of the muslim scholars mentioned on the list on ANY debatable topic. Or even have one of them make an impact to a majority of people not just in North America, but outside of the land. You’ll see for yourselves and you know that.
Read your Bible first.. you people don’t even do that. You just want to supress us Muslims when you sense us getting to the top. Opinions without knowledge is vain.

Posted by Humaira | Report as abusive

i love Atizaz Ahsan.

Posted by Sala | Report as abusive

So, Tom Heneghan, writes this blog post titled “Survey says world’s top 10 intellectuals are Muslim” but goes into no further detail about how this survey results were reached. Well, guess what folks? FP readers voted in the top 10.

“In our last issue, we named the world’s top 100 public intellectuals and asked readers to vote for those they deem most deserving of the top honors. Now, 500,000 votes later, we reveal the results of the reader poll. Plus, members of the Top 100 name the intellectuals they believe should have made the list.”

No, this blog doesn’t point that out; the author just rags on Foreign Policy and insinuates that they had made some grave mistake. It’s interesting to note that Tom pointed out the ‘Muslim-ness” of the top ten but the bios on the article itself made that connection for only about five out of the ten public intellectuals. This blog post is sounding more and more like something a la “Jew-Watch” right now.

Posted by FMNYC | Report as abusive

Poor Indians ranting the same old theory. Come on get life get over rapes first.

Posted by MarshNIC | Report as abusive

I’m a white American who was raised a Christian, but this seems like a pathetic attempt to dismiss Islamic intellectuals. When non-Muslims make the top 10 list, does the Western MSM do detailed investigative research to see which of them promoted themselves on their websites? I doubt it. Sure, people game polls. They do it all the time, but it has nothing to do with being Muslim.

Posted by MarmaladeINFP | Report as abusive

The foreign Policy in the world differ but having Muslims as the top Intellectuals in the world is something great and I knew it is coming. BTW, Studying Islam itself has some components of Foreign policies…dating 1400 years ago…Kudos

Posted by NORKENYA | Report as abusive

@Ramesh Naidu:
With all due respect, Since we are talking of intelligence here, I would like to point out several flaws in your rather terse argument or more aptly accusation.
I would like to know the source from which you managed to form your opinion. Well I am quite sure the major contributors were the Indian School Text Books which have been highly “saffronised”.
True that many Muslim prefer Aurangzeb over Akbar in India and the the Hindus vice-versa. The sole reason for this is Aurangze ruled India in a True Islamic way which is pious, scholarly, saintly, un-biased, liberal, magnanimous, tolerant, competent, and far-sighted. Yes he demolished Temples but why? And why only a select few?
The reason is because these temples became the centre of rebellion. And to crush rebellion any sane ruler, even in todays world, will tell you to hit the centre.
Many Hindu Scholars have come forward against this saffronised version of history. You can read about it here: ad.php?296658-Default-Mughal-Emperor-Sul tan-Aurangzeb-Alamgir-Bad-Ruler-or-Bad-H istory

Posted by PrinceAli | Report as abusive

Interesting that an Islamist-funded entity would pick the top 10 intellectuals in the world as Muslim. What is to be gained by such a myopic “pat on the back?”

If you TRULY believe these results – open the survey up PUBLICLY across the Internet and see what the whole world thinks – not a closely knit group. Only by OPEN dialogue and discussion will Muslims and the rest of us discover that we truly do have more in common than we think.

Posted by Channing | Report as abusive

Well, as far as Intellectuals go we should add Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. However, as this is a minority community in this kind of survey he may not ‘land’ sufficient votes. Intellect, however, is not a ‘majority-issue’.

Posted by RafiqT | Report as abusive

The wicked love their own. I am watching everyday as this so called “religion of peace” butchers and slaughters non Muslims and other Muslims all over the world. Those belong to such an evil ideology are no friends to the civilized world.

Posted by RobertJK | Report as abusive

I fail to understand as to why name has been ignored when, BY THE GRACE OF ALMIGHTY ALLAH(S.W.T) I am one and only person in the world who is a qualified Alim(Moulve/Muslim Priest) with Degrees in Science and Law.
Amicus Curiae, Supreme Court of India

Posted by Md.Zia-ul-Haque | Report as abusive