Introduction: The Organization of Islamic Cooperation, formerly known as Organization of the Islamic Conference and popularly known as the OIC, was born on the basis of a resolution adopted at a Muslim summit held on September 22–25, 1969 in Rabat, Morocco in response to an arson attack on the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. In 1972 at a conference of Islamic foreign ministers, the OIC formalized its charter. During the almost half-century of its existence the institution has grown a great deal: it is now “the second largest intergovernmental organization after the United Nations” with 57 members representing over 1.5 billion people.[1] During the Cold War in a bipolar world scenario, the institution was hardly visible in international politics, but now almost all major countries and international organizations maintain direct liaisons with the OIC. However, where does it stand in terms of contemporary international politics? Has it fulfilled its expectations? What was its potential fifty years ago, and how much of this potential has been realized? Are there new opportunities for the group? What are the difficulties in the institution achieving its full potential? In this article, we will survey and analyze the OIC’s major activities in order to find out.

Born at a juncture of history when most newly independent Muslim majority nation-states were ideologically divided, traditional religious identity provided the OIC with a unique platform. Member countries declared in the charter their commitment “to be guided by the noble Islamic values of unity and fraternity, and affirming the essentiality of promoting and consolidating the unity and solidarity among the Member States in securing their common interests at the international arena; and to adhere our commitment to the principles of the United Nations Charter, the present Charter and International Law.”[2] Member states also wanted “to achieve close cooperation and mutual assistance in the economic, scientific, cultural and spiritual fields, inspired by the immortal teachings of Islam.” The Muslim desire for unity is based on Qur’anic guidance which was first accomplished under the leadership of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in the 7th century CE.[3] The idea survived until the early 20th century through the institution of the khilafah (Caliphate). However, a new situation emerged in 1923/24 when the institution was abolished by the Turkish Grand National Assembly. Muslim leaders responded to the abolition by holding conferences and discussions on the idea of Muslim unity. Two conferences were held in 1926; one in Cairo (May 13–19) and the other in Makkah during the annual pilgrimage (hajj) (June 7–July 5).[4] One of the major difficulties in creating a platform of Muslim unity was that most of the Muslim world at that time was directly or indirectly under European colonial domination. However, following WWII, when many independent Muslim-majority nation states appeared on the world map, a new more conducive environment was created, and the OIC was established. The arson attack came as a catalyst in this regard.

Among its members, there were capital-rich, labor-scarce countries on the one hand and there were manpower-rich, capital-scarce countries on the other. Their co-operative ventures could have become a model for development for the rest of the world. However, that has not happened: the organization has not evolved to become a significant player either in international politics or in the area of economic co-operation. In this paper we will briefly analyze the expectations the institution has generated, the obstacles it has encountered and the achievements it has carried out since its establishment and their consequences.