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Drivetime amongst 500 of the most influential Muslims in the world

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“The publication you have in your hands is the first of what we hope will be an annual series that provides a window into the movers and shakers of the Muslim world. We have strived to highlight people who are influential as Muslims, that is, people whose influence is derived from their practice of Islam or from the fact that they are Muslim”.

“We think that this gives valuable insight into the different ways that Muslims impact the world, and also shows the diversity of how people are living as Muslims today”.

So says the introduction of a new book, The 500 Most influential Muslims in the World – 2009 (published by the Royal Islamic Strategic Centre and Georgetown University’s Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Centre for Muslim-Christian Understanding).

Okay. But when you discover your name there under the Media category, it’s time to reel with amazement. Me?

I got the news earlier today via Canadian journalist Nazim Baksh, who e-mailed Shaikh Seraj Hendricks in South Africa, who e-mailed me. I was dumbfounded.

But so was Shaikh Seraj Hendricks, who did not know that he was also on the list!

All-in-all twelve South Africans were recognised: Prof Farid Esack, Maulana Igshan Hendricks, Prof Ebrahim Moosa, Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, Ferial Haffajee, Zainul Abdidin Cajee, Zain Bhika, Hashim Amla,  Minister of Economic Development Ebrahim Patel and Naeem Jeenah.

Of course, there have been omissions. For example, where is Ebrahim Rasool? And the authors of the publication – with Prof John Esposito at the helm – freely admit this, adding that “influence” in itself is a tricky concept.

But to see twelve South Africans in this list, I think, is quite an astounding achievement – especially if one considers that there are over 1,5 billion Muslims in the world, and that we constituted 12% on the list.

To say that I’ve been humbled by this experience is an understatement.

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  1. congratulations to you shafiq for this unparalled is an honour.we will all make supplication to ALMIGHTY ALLAH for all of you.may you continue to trailblaze and to set the benchmarks in your chosen fields.

  2. Congrats on making the list Shafiq, but I must say the title of the book should have been The 500 Most influential Muslims in the (Muslim) World.

    If you look at a list that has diabolically opposed personalities such as King Abdullah and Mr Khameini as #1 and #2 respectively then it looks more like a grocery list, than a pecking order.

    But perhaps I have a missed a very important point here?

    1. Thanks Zahir, interestiing point. I think the influence wasn’t weighted in terms of good/bad, just influence – something itself hugely difficult to define.


  3. This list is rather silly if you ask me. Most of the politicians listed have no influence in their own right (except maybe to acquire wealth from their countries natural resources) but rather rely on foriegn powers for their influence. Found a hilarious take on this here: King Abdullah “Overjoyed” About Being Named Most Influential Muslim in the World

  4. In my opinion there are some on this list who shouldnt be there,and there are some who didnt even make it,the likes of Mufti Abdul Kader Hoosen,Moulana Sulaiman Moola,Moulana Yunus Patel,just to mention a few…

    1. It was an “academic” exercise. How do you define “influence”? Difficult, isn’t it? Yes indeed, so many deserving candidates.

  5. There will always be controversies around lists such as these, particularly by those who are unaware of the processes involved. Academics know exactly how arduous these processes are. You need recommendations from numerous international institutions, then these have to be ratified and cross-referred. This point was driven home to me by an academic friend at Georgetown University who was following the issue for a number of months. I can also feel that my local imam down the road is deserving of a spot. Well, that requires a recommendation with the necessary supporting motivations. Not an easy job. The bona fides of the individual or institution who does the recommendation will also be checked. But no matter what might be said, and the hydra of jealousy is also a terrible one, the fact is that you people have written yourselves into the history books. There are many deserving people yes, but no nay-sayer can strip the listed people of their achievement. As a South African I am proud of our twelve. You people work hard and deserve the simple Islamic courtesy of our congratulations. Admittedly, and even in the opinion of educated critics, most of the top ten constitute what we call “political correctness”. But who can deny, even if I personally disagree with the Saudis, that the Saudi regime excersises massive influence in many parts of the world. At least 80% of the masajid in the USA have been built by them.
    Grats to you and the others. Maybe I should leave the peanut gallery, pick up my axe, and do my own bit for a change. Even Nobel Prize winners are not free of spiteful invective. The controversy around Barrack Obama’s Peace Prize is just one amongst a scrap of others.

  6. I fully agree with wishlist. There are many of us who would like to see our personal favourites on that List, especially those groups with whom we identify. This List is not about personal piety. It is about intellectual output, particularly by those in the scholarly and media categories. If you want your favourites listed then make sure you know what the criteria for admission are. Other than that our comments lapse into mere spurts of bitterness, or, worst still, just silly envy. I have laughed and cried in response to some comments on other international forums. Even those students whose teachers have made it have shouted “unfair” because they should have been a bit higher up the list! We might argue that while some should not be there; but we have to equally argue why those we prefer should in fact be there. And there will be a battey of renowned scholars that you have to convince of your case. The next round of recommendations have already started so get your facts in order to get past that battery. If we are not satisfied with those panels then maybe we should convince them that we would do a better job. We could start by submitting our CVs to that effect and preparing ourselves for an academic grilling. Before we start punting our personal favourites maybe we should offer our services instead. That would be a nice test. Apart from some of the politicians most of that List comprises some of the most outstanding minds in the Muslim world. The problem with many in our Muslim communities is that we simply do not recognise greatness. This, in my humble opinion, is the achilles heel of some Muslim communities. Too much sectarianism and envy. Congratulations to you Shafiq, and all the others for standing us proud on this side of the continent. In many parts of the Muslim world local Muslims are celebrating their countrymen’s achievemnts. Part of the problem of this community, and I by no means mean all – in fact the majority are not like that – is that we are mired in a stultifying envy of our geniune achievers. I wonder if Muslims alone were in charge of handing out Media Prizes whether you would have received the Vodacom award for best journalist in your category. Just a thought given the lack of generosity of spirit on the one hand, and the parochial mentality on the other, that I notice in many of my fellow Muslims.

  7. These lists are always a bitter pill to swallow. Like that first book we all want to write, getting recognised at this level is subliminally etched in our personalities. We all want recognition for ourselves, our close associates, or those whom we revere. If not, we stumble into a state of confused alienation. People need to get a handle on this. Prof Espisito has given a reasonable explanation of the difficulties of the choices. If we can provide an objective counter-argument to that then fine. The rest is personal opinion and lay commentary.
    Mabruk to all the achievers. I have read a number of scholarly analysis of the list and it appears that the choice of certain politicians have not gone down too well with many. This is a once in a lifetime achievemnt and you and the rest can feel justifiably proud. There are so many armchair critics, so little geniune achievers. Listening to you every afternoon interviewing hundreds of personalities around the globe makes me wonder what size shoes you where. Mine will turn to dust after a few days. I have read a hadith to the effect that we should honour people according to their achevements and social status. I hope that I am generous enough to comply with that hadith. Congratulations to our magnificent 12 :P.

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