The Muslim 500:  The World’s 500 Most Influential Muslims - updated 11/29/12

Sheila Musaji

Posted Nov 25, 2012      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
Bookmark and Share

The Muslim 500: The World’s 500 Most Influential Muslims

by Sheila Musaji

A book listing the 500 most influential Muslims in the world has been published since 2009 by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Amman.

The Muslim 500 website says in their forward to the 2011 list:

This publication sets out to ascertain the influence some Muslims have on this community, or on behalf of the community. Influence is: any person who has the power (be it cultural, ideological, financial, political or otherwise) to make a change that will have a significant impact on the Muslim World. Note that the impact can be either positive or negative. The influence can be of a religious scholar directly addressing Muslims and influencing their beliefs, ideas and behaviour, or it can be of a ruler shaping the socio-economic factors within which people live their lives, or of artists forming popular culture. The first two examples also point to the fact that the lists, and especially the Top 50, are dominated by religious scholars and heads of state. Their dominant and lasting influence cannot be denied, especially the rulers, who in many cases also appoint religious scholars to their respective positions. This doesn’t discount the influence from other sectors of society.

The publication selects Muslim individuals from a range of categories of influence, 14 in total: (Scholarly, Political, Administration of Religious Affairs, Preachers and Spiritual Teachers, Philanthropy/Charity and Development, Social Issues, Business, Science and Technology, Arts and Culture, Qur’an Recitors, Media, Celebrities and Sports Stars, Radicals, and Issues of the Day).

How to measure this influence is of course the most challenging aspect of the publication, and the one where opinions diverge the most. Influence can sometimes be gauged on a quantitative basis; the number of people influenced, the amount of sales etc, but more often it is related to the qualitative and lasting effect of that influence. 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.

This list acts as an opportunity to shed some light on the many challenges and pioneering triumphs that are present at the very crux of shaping the Muslim community.

Preparing any such list, for any group, would be challenging.  Three years of publication makes this a relatively new effort that will take some time to work out a balance.  It is already being widely talked about within the Muslim community, and outside of the Muslim community, which means that it is a needed effort.

I was personally very pleased to see an excellent “Introduction to Islam” and the text of “The Amman Message” included in the book.  It was also encouraging to see that the heads of two Sufi Tariqas were included in the top 50 - Shaykh Nazim al-Qubrusi, of the Naqshbandi-Haqqani Sufi Order (#48), and Sheikh Ahmad Tijani Ali Cisse, of the Tijaniyya Sufi Order (#26). 

The 2011 list has received a lot of publicity because of the choice for the top five. [Note:  only the top 50 are ranked, the remaining 450 are listed by category.]  For example, Tom Heneghan of Reuters writes in the article World’s top Muslims list appears with Erdogan only #3. Who should be #1?.  He says

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.

The Green Prophet, a site about Muslim environmental efforts wrote that they were pleased that the 2011 list includes several Muslim environmentalists, including: The Green Grand Mufti of Egypt, Sheikh Ali Goma’a, Fazlun Khalid, Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Nasheed Mohamed, and Qaboos bin Sa’id Aal Sa’id.  The article notes that:

The Green Grand Mufti of Egypt is a progressive and influential faith leader across the world who has issued statements and fatwas regarding the environment. He has highlighted the role that faith can play in confronting the ecological crisis by providing moral ways and principles for dealing with the current environmental problems. According to Moshe Terdman, a writer at Green Prophet:

Sheikh Ali Gomaa has been outspoken on environmental sustainability. On November 2, 2009, on his speech at the Alliance of Religions and Conservation conference at Windsor Castle, Sheikh Ali Gomaa said that “it is a religious duty to safeguard our environment and advocate the importance of preserving it. Pollution and global warming pose an even greater threat than war and the fight to preserve the environment could be the most positive way of bringing humanity together.”

... Fazlun Khalid is the founder of the first green Islamic organisation, the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences. He has written books on the green ethics of Islam, Green Guides for Muslims and was also involved in a unique project to stop destructive fishing practices in Zanzibar by informing the local who were Muslims of their duty of protect nature.

Other influential green Muslims include Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, an Islamic Studies professor at George Washington University, who was one of the first to research the religious commitment towards the natural environment and has lectured widely on historical perspective of Islamic environmentalism. Nasheed Mohamed, who is the president of the Maldives and is known as one of most environmentally conscious leaders on the world stage, was also part of the Muslim 500. The Sultan of Oman, Qaboos bin Sa’id Aal Sa’id was given a honourable mention for his work protecting the Arabian Oryx and Dimaaniyat Islands which is the breeding ground of several migratory birds and sea turtles.

The 2012 edition of the Muslim 500 was just released.  You can download the PDF at this link  The 2012 edition notes “What’s new”:

This year we have an expanded introduction (more than double the size of last year’s) surveying the major events in the Muslim World from the past year. We have also expanded and reformatted our Issues of the Day section, now approximately five times larger than previous issues. For the first time we feature exclusive pieces by distinguished guest writers.

We have also added write-ups about major initiatives that have reached notable milestones in the last 12 months (see A Common Word on page 115
and on page 159) Last year we added an obituary section but fortunately this year none of our previous listees have passed away (as of printing), making it unnecessary to include for the 2012 edition.

Last year we introduced a specific section on each profile of the Top 50 on how the Arab Spring affected them. We have updated this section under the new title ‘Arab Summer?’ Our website [] which was launched last year has already proven to be a popular destination. We have recently updated the Influence feed which shows the latest news on many of the Top 500. We welcome your feedback and will take nominations for the 2013 edition through it. Please subscribe to our newsletter through the website to keep posted of updates relating to our publication and website.

This edition contains a great deal of useful information.  Those sections that I found most helpful were:  Prof. Schleifer’s introduction, the description of “Major Doctrinal Divisions in Islam”, and the “Issues of the Day”.  (A brief overview of Islamophobia that I had written also appears in the book on page 170 in the “Issues of the Day” section.) The “Appendix” contains many useful informational charts, and a glossary of terms.

According to the Huffington Post the World’s ‘500 Most Influential Muslims’ 2012 Dominated By U.S.

There are more Muslims from America than any other country on this year’s “The Muslim 500: The World’s 500 Most Influential Muslims”.

...  Sheikh Hamza Yusuf Hanson, a California-born convert who founded Zaytuna College, an Islamic college in Berkeley, Calif., and is a leading Islamic authority in America, ranked No. 42, two places ahead of Seyyed Hossein Nasr, an Islamic studies professor at George Washington University known for his work in Islamic philosophy.

America’s roughly 2.6 million Muslims are a tiny fraction of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, but they took 41 spots on the 500 list. Countries with the next highest number of names were Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Kingdom, with 25 Muslims each, followed by Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, with 24.

“Compared to the global Muslim population, the representation of U.S. Muslims in this list is disproportionate, but yet representative in the way they shape global discourse,” said Duke University Islamic studies professor Ebrahim Moosa. ...

Here are the North Americans (U.S. and Canada) listed in the Muslim 500 between 2009 and 2012 .  The year they first appeared on the list is after their name.  Some individuals have been on the list every year, some have been included in one year and not in another.  I believe that that is simply a function of the restriction of maintaining the number included at precisely 500, and does not have anything to do with any change in the importance of their contributions.  In the four editions published to date 110 individuals from North America have been included.

Abdul-Jabbar, Kareem 2011
Abdullah, Umar Faruq 2009
Abdul-Rashid, Imam Talib 2009
Abdur-Rauf, Feisal 2009
Abou el Fadl, Dr Khaled 2009
Ahmed, Ahmed 2011
Ahmed, H.E. Amb. Akbar Salahuddin 2009
Ali, Baba 2009
Ali, Javed 2011
Ali, Mohammad Shamsi 2009
Al Alwani, Dr Taha Jaber 2009
Al-Hibri, Dr Azizah 2010
Ali, Imam Mohammad Shamsi 2010
Al Ninowy, Sheikh Muhammad bin Yahya al Husayni 2010
Alshareef, Muhammad 2010
Amanat, Omar 2009
Amanullah, Shahed 2009
Amr, Hady 2009
Assilmi, Amina 2009 (Amina passed away in 2010)
Awad, Nihad 2009
Ayoub, Dr Mahmoud 2009
Badawi, Dr Jamal 2010
Baksh, Nazim 2010
Bazian, Dr Hatem 2011
Butt, Suhail 2010
Cader, Rushdi Abdul 2009
Canon, Anas 2009
Carson, Andre 2011
Chakaki, Mohamad 2009
Chappelle, Dave 2009
Cheema, Dr Tariq H 2009
Chittick, Dr William 2011
Clay, Mohammad Ali 2009
Crane, Dr. Robert Dickson 2012
Delic, Imam Dr Zijad 2010
Delorenzo, Sheikh Yusuf Talal 2009
Doueiri, Dany 2010
El Erian, Dr Mohamed 2009
El Hibri, Fuad 2009
Ellison, Rep. Keith 2009
El-Messidi, Tarek 2012
Estes, Sheikh Yusuf 2009
Friedlander, Shems 2012
Ghazi, Abidullah 2009
Godlas, Dr Alan 2009
Gouverneur, Aisha (Gray Henry) 2009
Hammad, Suheir 2009
Hanson, Sheikh Hamza Yusuf 2009
Helminski, Sheikh Kabir 2009
Hendi, Imam Yahya 2012
Hooper, Ibrahim 2011
Hussain, Rashad 2009
Idriss, Shamil 2009
Al Islam, Amir 2009
Jackson, Sherman 2009
Jobrani, Maziar ‘Maz’ 2011
Kabbani, Sheikh Muhammad Hisham 2009
Kavakçı, Prof. Dr Hafiz Yusuf Z 2009
Kavakçı, Prof. Dr Merve 2009
Keller, Sheikh Nuh 2009
Khan, Mansur 2009
Khan, Salman 2012
Kheddar, Cherifa 2010
Khera, Farhana 2009
Kutty, Faisal 2010
Latif, Imam Khalid 2009
Lekovic, Edina 2009
Magid, Imam Mohamed 2009
Mandvi, Aasif 2011
Al Marayati, Salam 2009
Mattson, Ingrid 2009
Mehdi, Anisa 2010
Memon, Javed 2009
Mogahed, Dalia 2009
Mohyeldinn, Ayman 2011
Mos Def 2009
Mujahid, Abdul Malik 2011
Musaji, Sheila 2012
Nashashibi, Rami 2009
Nasr, Prof. Dr Seyyed Hossein 2009
Nawaz, Zarqa 2010
Niaz, Robina 2009
Nyang, Sulayman S 2009
Obeidallah, Dean 2011
Omar, Manal 2009
Oz, Dr Mehmet 2009
Pandith, Farah 2009
Patel, Dr Eboo 2009
Perez, Hamza 2010
Qazi, Dr Mahmood Ahmad 2010
Rabbani, Sheikh Faraz 2012
Riaz, Dr Khalid 2009
Sachedina, Professor Abdulaziz 2009
Schleifer, Prof. S. Abdallah 2009
Al Shabazz, Ilyasah 2009
Shakir, Imam Zaid 2009
Siddiqui, Prof. Dr Muzammil H 2009
Sulaiman, Amir 2009
Taylor, Tayyibah 2009
Usman, Azhar 2009
Valiante, Wahida 2010
Wadud, Prof. Dr Amina 2009
Wahhaj, Siraj 2009
Webb, Imam Suhaib 2010
Wharnsby, Dawud 2011
Wolfe, Michael 2009
Zakaria, Fareed 2009
Zakariya, Mohamed 2009
Zarabozo, Sheikh Jamaal al-Din M. 2010
Zewail, Ahmed 2009

I would very much like to see a gathering of all 110 of these individuals for a conference to discuss the particular issues of importance to the North American Muslim community, and to make some recommendations for community building in the 21st century.