World’s top Muslims list appears with Erdogan only #3. Who should be #1?

November 28, 2011

(King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (R) and Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (L) pose for pictures before a meeting in Ankara August 8, 2006. REUTERS/Umit Bektas)

An annual list of the world’s 500 most influential Muslims has appeared and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, the man who made Turkey’s “Muslim democracy” a model for many Arab Spring protesters, did not win the top spot. Not #2 either. Erdogan came in at #3, a notch down from his 2010 ranking as number two.

The Muslim 500: The 500 Most Influential Muslims 2011, the third list in this series started in 2009 by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Amman, named Saudi Arabian King Abdullah as the #1 Muslim in the world and Morocco’s King Mohammed VI as #2. It said the Arab Spring had had no impact on Abdullah’s influence, had boosted Mohammed’s and had no effect on Erdogan’s. Fourth and fifth places in the list went to Jordan’s King Abdullah and Iran’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei.

The list is available here as a PDF download or a hard copy to order. Give us your view on the  “most influential Muslim of 2011” in the poll at the bottom of this post.

In this year of enormous change in the Arab world, I think Erdogan should have been #1. And it seems I’m not alone. In its 2011 Arab Public Opinion Poll published on Nov 21, the Brookings Institution in Washington wrote: “Turkey is the biggest winner of the Arab Spring. In the five countries polled, Turkey is seen to have played the ‘most constructive’ role in the Arab events. Its Prime Minister, Recep Erdogan, is the most admired among world leaders and those who envision a new President for Egypt want the new President to look most like Erdogan. Egyptians want their country to look more like Turkey than any of the other Muslim, Arab and other choices provided.”

My choice for #2 was actually ranked sixth — Emir of Qatar Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. The Muslim 500 spells out its reasons for saying his influence rose during the Arab Spring in a description so clear that should have merited him the second spot. It said the emir “has driven much of the Arab Spring through the coverage given by Al-Jazeera, the financial support given to protesters and political support to Libya. He is arguably the biggest enabler of the Arab Spring.” The entry on him also notes that Qatar had jet fighters flying with NATO to enforce the no-fly zone over Libya and also won the 2022 soccer World Cup.

When the first Muslim 500 came out in 2009, I thought it was too heavily weighted towards the traditional monarchies but still a useful “Who’s Who” for the Muslim world — especially for all the names listed lower down. I still think that. So when I got a copy of the list at the Catholic-Muslim Forum in Jordan last week, I asked the editors how they came to their conclusions. Chief Editor Abdallah Schleifer, professor emeritus at the American University in Cairo, said the list aimed to show the impact the leaders have on the Muslim world. “If you just based it on mass media in the West, the outstanding Muslims would be a bunch of terrorists,” he told me. The frequent mixing of political and religious power in the Muslim world meant heads of state had more influence than non-Muslims might consider.

In his introduction to the book, Schleifer wrote: “The achievements of a lifetime are given more weight than achievements within the current year. This means that our lists of names will change gradually, rather than dramatically, year-on-year.”

“We have to acknowledge that heads of state have lots of power and influence,” Aftab Ahmed from the Royal Institute said. Apart from their political influence, they can also appoint religious leaders in the country and thus shape the way Islam is preached and practiced in their countries.  The Centre’s researchers collected information from media in the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds and provided their synthesis to an editorial committee. While most of the top names might seem predictable, having a list of 500 names left a lot of leeway to bring in new names lower down.

Do you agree with this? Who would you say has been the most influential Muslim of 2011? Vote below and enter any alternative names in the comments section.


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It is quite interesting to see that Erdogan is the only Muslim leader in the top 10 to be in office by popular vote.

This alone should have instilled him at #1.

Posted by Aydin1 | Report as abusive

I have no comments on the list of 50. I am very disappointed in the background information given on Islam, namely the schools of interpretation within Islam. Only three Shi’a schools are mentioned and ‘Ismailis’ are equated with ‘seveners’ which is not accurate. Most Ismailis are not seveners and went on to follow Imam’s through the Fatimid Era. In fact today the second largest sect of Shi’a, the Nizari’s, follow their 49th Imam who is number 22 on this list! I find it astounding that such a large oversight was made in a publication with such wide-reach.

Posted by merch786 | Report as abusive

A very good article.
Although Erdogan is head of a government which may well be the model for many Muslim countries to emulate, there are also many Muslim countries which will follow another path [because of their history and culture]. This is maybe why the Moroccan King is number two. He is also providing a model for many Muslim monarchies to follow.

The Saudi King has a huge religious network which touches the lives of virtually every Muslim. The Qur’an printed in Saudi is in most Muslim houses or mosques, the Saudi inspired religious centres are everywhere, and of course the King influences the millions of pilgrims who visit Makkah and Madinah every year. Then of course there is the financial clout – the aid given to various Muslim nations.
While I believe Erdogan to be a more inspiring leader, I still think the Saudi King is more influential.


Posted by AbuSiraj | Report as abusive

All Praise be to Allah, we don’t need another dodgy think tank like the Royal Strategic Islamic Studies Centre which is corrupt Arab version of Chatham House & Rand Corporation put together!
If these guys of this phony think tank were really honest, and I mean really, they would have put Shaheed (Martyr) Mohammed Bouazizi on top of their list, Mohammad Bouazizi who acted as the trigger for the Uprising in the Arab World.

Posted by RyadAlly | Report as abusive

must have been the undisputed erdogan

Posted by Babul | Report as abusive

Who cares!!!

As a Somali-Muslim I’d be more interested to read 100 most influential Somalis instead of these alien group of people!

With exception of Erdogan’s latest drive to help Somalis, the so called “Muslim influential club” have not made a difference in the lives of over 5 million Somalis!

With all their “Muslim influence”, they have failed to allow their fellow Muslim-Somalis in their countries as equal citizens!

Instead, western countries such as Canada, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Netherlands, US, UK, and Australia have opened their doors to Somali refugees, gave equal citizenship, and access to jobs and education.

Muslim leaders in the so called 500 club have failed hypocritical immigration policies which are contrary to all things Islam!

So I say, shove it!

Posted by momo519 | Report as abusive