After weeks of haggling over a name for presidential candidate in the period leading up to the August election, the two main Turkish opposition parties, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), agreed on a joint candidate: former Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Secretary-General Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu.
In a visit to the MHP on Monday, the CHP proposed İhsanoğlu, who served as secretary-general of the OIC from 2005 until 2013.
After deliberations, both parties announced İhsanoğlu as their candidate in the presidential election scheduled to take place this August.
İhsanoğlu assumed the top spot at the Islamic Organization in 2005 after an election, and launched a war against inertia at the organization which, despite having 55 member states, including oil rich Gulf countries, had not been an influential player in the international politics.
Developing better relations with the Western world formed the core of his two terms in post-9/11 world in which Islam has been at the center of fierce debates in the Western capitals. Fighting Islamophobia, interfaith dialogue, denouncing violence are among topics that defined his legacy.
More important than that, transforming the much-criticized organization was at the front of his agenda.
“Among others, two developments that took place in October [in 2013] illustrate İhsanoğlu’s achievements. One was the EastWest Institute (EWI) Lifetime Achievement Award presented to İhsanoğlu; the other was the first ever UN Security Council (UNSC) meeting to consider greater cooperation between the UN and the OIC,” wrote Mehmet Kalyoncu, a political analyst, on Today’s Zaman in an op-ed article as he reflected on legacy of İhsanoğlu.
Prof. Dr. Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu is a Turkish academic, diplomat and currently the Secretary-General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the second largest intergovernmental organisation after the United Nations. He is known in particular for his qualities as diplomat, international officer, academician, intellectual, founder and member of academic institutions, author and editor of numerous publications, and advocate of intercultural dialogue.
He is the first ‘democratically elected’ Secretary General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). After taking the office as the ninth Secretary General in January 2005, he coordinated the preparations, drafting, adoption and implementation of an essential ‘reform’ program for the OIC aiming to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the 57-member Organisation. Based on two core guiding concepts of moderation and modernization, the reform program incorporated the universal norms, values, and practices such as democracy, good governance, rule of law, freedom of expression, respect for human rights, women’s empowerment and participation in political process, protection of minority rights, and freedom of religion.
Being at the helm of the sole intergovernmental international organization representing the whole Muslim World, Secretary General İhsanoğlu took major steps bringing about significant shift of paradigm in the OIC which included, inter alia, such essential instruments as the ‘Ten-Year Programme of Action to Face the Challenges of Twenty-first Century’, the new ‘OIC Charter’, changing the name and the logo of the organisation, establishment of the ‘Executive Committee’, adoption of the criteria for membership and observer members, establishment of new departments in the General Secretariat such as humanitarian and family affairs departments, establishment of new institutions within the OIC system e.g. the ‘OIC Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission’ (IPHRC), the ‘Science, Technology and Innovation Organization’ (STIO) and the ‘Special Organ for the Development of Women’.
Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu has gained international recognition for his major contribution to the rapprochement between cultures, particularly between the Muslim world and the West. He is one of the signatories of ‘A Common Word’, an open letter by Islamic scholars to Christian leaders, calling for peace and understanding. On the other hand, his recognition as an international diplomatic personality as well as an accomplished academician came from Kings, Heads of State and Government and other important diplomatic, corporate and academic actors and entities in the form of receiving highest civilian awards, medals and honorary doctorates from around the world. He has been awarded, among others, the prestigious Alexandre Koyre Medal for his contribution to the study of history of science as a world-renowned science historian. ‘İhsanoğlu Gold Medal’ award was initiated by the International Union of History and Philosophy of Science (IUHPS) for the name of İhsanoğlu.
İhsanoğlu was born to a Turkish family on 26 December 1943 in Cairo, Egypt, where he later studied science at the Ain Shams University, receiving his BSc in 1966. He obtained his MSc in 1970 from Al-Azhar University and his PhD from the Faculty of Science at the Ankara University in 1974. He conducted his post-doctoral research and studies in Exeter University, United Kingdom, 1975-1977. Prof. İhsanoğlu has served from 1980 to 2004 as the founding Director General of the Research Centre for Islamic History, Art and Culture (IRCICA), an intergovernmental research centre and subsidiary organ of the OIC. He was the founder and Head of the Department of History of Science at the Faculty of Letters of Istanbul University from 1984 to 2000. He is also the founding Chairman of Turkish Society for History of Science (TBTK) and ISAR Foundation. He further served as the President of International Union of History and Philosophy of Science (IUHPS) between 2001 and 2005. His special interest focuses on history institutions of learning in Islam, scientific and cultural exchanges between Islam and the West. He was lecturer and visiting professor at various universities, including Ankara University’s Faculty of Science (1970-1980), University of Exeter, United Kingdom (1975-1977), Inonu University, Malatya (1978-1980), Istanbul University (1984-2000), Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich, Germany (2003).
He is member of various international societies; scientific councils, advisory boards of numerous academies, centres and institutes, and editorial boards of many journals in a number of Islamic and western countries. He wrote numerous books, articles and papers in Turkish, English and Arabic on science, history of science, Islamic culture, Turkish culture, relations between the Muslim world and the Western world, and Turkish-Arab relations, some of which were translated to several eastern and western languages.
İhsanoğlu founded jointly with Prof. Celal Tuzun ’Research Institute for Organic Chemistry’, when he was a faculty member at the Faculty of Science of the University of Ankara. İhsanoğlu is the founder and first chair of the first Department of History of Science in Turkey, which he established at the Faculty of Letters of the University of Istanbul (1984-2000).
The scholarly positions he fulfilled also include: Visiting professor at Ludwig Maximilians University, Munich, Germany, 2003; Lecturer and associate professor at Ankara University, Faculty of Science, Turkey 1970-1980; Research fellow at the Department of Chemistry of the University of Exeter, United Kingdom 1975-1977. Earlier, at the very beginning of his career İhsanoğlu was lecturer of Turkish Literature and Language at Ain Shams University, Cairo, Egypt, 1966-1970, research assistant at the Faculty of Engineering and Science, Al-Azhar University, Cairo, 1966-1970 and part-time cataloger of printed and manuscript Ottoman books, Cairo National Library, Dept. of Oriental Catalogues, Egypt, 1962-1966.
As part of his academic career İhsanoğlu also has the following positions: Member of the ‘Academie Europea’; Member of the ‘Academie Internationale d’Histoire des Sciences’, Paris; Member, ‘Academy of Sciences of Tatarstan’, Russia; Honorary Member of ‘Gesellschaft Der Freunde Islamischer Kunst und Kultur e.V.’, Munchen, Germany; Honorary Member, ‘Hungarian Orientalistik Society’, Budapest; Correspondent Member, ‘Arab Language Academy’, Cairo; ‘Royal Academy of Islamic Civilization Research’, Jordan; Member, ‘International Society for History of Arabic and Islamic Sciences and Philosophy’, Paris; Governing Board Member, ‘Centre of Manuscripts’, Library of Alexandria, Egypt, 2003, Advisory Board Member, ‘Tufts University’, ‘Fares Centre for Eastern Mediterranean Studies’, Boston; Member of the Scientific Committee of ALECSO (Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization) for the preparation of “Encyclopaedia of Renown Arab and Muslim Scholars”, 2001; Member of the Board of Publications and Translations of the Ministry of Culture, Turkey, 1974-1980 and 1999 – ; Advisory Board Member, Centre of Islamic Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, England, 1998-; Advisory Board Member, Centre for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES), Harvard University, USA, 1992-1996; ‘OMETAR’ Project Director (Archive for Research on the History of Ottoman Civilisation), IRCICA, Istanbul, 1995-; Member of Scientific Council and Board of Consultants of Encyclopaedia of Makkah al-Mukarrama and Medina Al-Munawwara, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, 1994- ; Member of Advisory Board and Experts Board of Al Furqan Islamic Heritage Foundation, London, 1991- ; Project Director and editor of UNESCO’s Work on Various Aspects of Islamic Culture, 1988- , published in 2004; honorary Member, Egyptian History Society, Cairo; Member, Tunisian Academy of Sciences, Letters and Arts ’Beit al Hikma’, Tunis; Member, International Society for History of Medicine, Paris, France; Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Islamic-American College, Chicago. He has an excellent command of English and Arabic in addition to Turkish and a working knowledge of French and Persian.
In 1970s, Prof. Dr. Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu took part in Turkey’s various diplomatic and cultural missions and committees formed for conducting international consultations or talks at bilateral and multilateral levels.
Prof. İhsanoğlu was the founding Director General of the Research Centre for Islamic History, Art and Culture IRCICA, an intergovernmental research centre and subsidiary organ of the OIC. When IRCICA started its activities in 1980, it has become the first international organization established in Istanbul. İhsanoğlu as the head of diplomatic mission in this organization and as a cultural diplomat has served more than twenty-four years in promoting intercultural dialogue, relations, tolerance and understanding.
İhsanoğlu participated in various projects, activities and committees of UNESCO, and acted as the project director and editor of UNESCO’s Work on Various Aspects of Islamic Culture, in 1988, published in 2004.
İhsanoğlu was appointed ’Ambassador at Large’ by the first President of Bosnia and Herzegovina Alija Izetbegovic in 1997 in recognition of his services to Bosnia-Herzegovina. He is also serving as ’Honorary Consul’ of the Gambia since 1990.
İhsanoğlu lived the most significant leap in his diplomatic career in 2004 when he succeeded to win the election for the position of the OIC Secretary General among three candidates. He has become the first by-vote-elected Secretary General of the OIC.
In his current position, since January 2005, as the Secretary General of the 57-member Organisation, the second largest organisation after the UN, Prof. İhsanoğlu initiated new schemes and strategies of action with regard to promotion of understanding, tolerance, principles of human rights, democracy, and establishment of dialogue between the OIC’s Member States and with other countries and communities of the world.
The Heads of State and Government of the OIC Member States, convened at their 11th Islamic Summit Conference (Dakar, Senegal, March 2008), unanimously decided to renew İhsanoğlu’s mandate for another term of office.
Within the framework of his mission as Secretary General of OIC, Prof. İhsanoğlu took several initiatives to reform the OIC’s agenda and strategies in various fields, with the motto: ”modernisation and moderation”. As of his first year in the office, he guided the preparation of the ’Ten-Year Programme of Action to Face the Challenges of Twenty-first Century’ which was adopted by the OIC Member States at their Extraordinary Summit Conference in Mecca, December 2005. Through this programme and the new Charter of the OIC which was adopted by the Eleventh Summit Conference in March 2008, he introduced the application of some concepts and principles for the first time in the OIC. Thus, for example, – the issue of human rights was introduced to the new Charter of the OIC and the Ten-Year Programme of Action. The new Charter of the OIC stipulates the establishment of an independent Permanent Commission on Human Rights to promote the civil, political, social and economic rights enshrined in the Organisation’s covenants and declarations and in universally agreed human rights instruments; – definition of and action to combat the problem of terrorism was introduced to the Ten-Year Programme of Action (Chapter VI on Combating terrorism); – objectives were adopted in the same Programme of Action emphasizing cultural dialogue (Chapter III on Islam- The religion of moderation and tolerance).
İhsanoğlu attached importance to increasing the role and effectiveness of the OIC in solving problems and contributing to progress and cooperation among the OIC Member States in various areas of development, including science and technology, transport and communications, tourism, and fostering trade among the Member States, with particular attention to the least developed countries (LDCs) among them.
The achievements realised during his tenure in the field of economic and commercial cooperation is of particular significance. First, he had assigned priority to the entry into force of the cooperation agreements and the statutes of some institutions in the field of economy and trade, pending for signing and ratification. As a result, a number of agreements and statutes which would govern the OIC’s ’Trade Preferential System’, entered into force after completion of the necessary number of ratifying countries. The OIC aims to increase the level of intra-OIC trade up to 20 percent of the OIC total by 2015. He has also initiated the OIC cotton programme to help develop economies of, in particular, the West African Member States of the OIC. A similar program in the domain of tourism was also developed which secured active participation of the OIC Member States. He gave importance to transport projects, such as the ’Dakar-Port Sudan Railway Project’, the ’Dushanbe – Mazari Sharif – Herat Railway link, etc.
At the same time he made efforts to enhance the OIC activity in conflict resolution and peace-building in its Member States and in the world. In view of stopping the sectarian conflicts in Iraq he initiated and coordinated the signing of a ”Makkah Al-Mukarramah Declaration on the Iraqi Situation” by Iraqi scholars of Sunni and Shia traditions with a view to interdict and outlaw sectarian killing in Iraq, and declaring such practices as crimes, prohibited and proscribed by Islam (2006). Based on another initiative of İhsanoğlu towards reinforcing mutual understanding between schools of thought and belief, the International Islamic Fiqh Academy (IIFA) elaborated a practical plan to deepen the dialogue between the Islamic schools of thought (2008) which would lead to series of meetings of scholars (ulema) from the Member States. This could be achieved mainly due to the reform process, initiated by İhsanoğlu and adopted at the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) held in Baku in 2006, which aimed at restructuring and developing the work of the Academy to commensurate with such challenges faced by the Islamic world.
As İhsanoğlu assumed the office on 1 January 2005, he immediately launched an emergency appeal to the OIC Member States to provide the victims of the destructive earthquake and the following tsunami that hit South and South Asia on 26 December 2004 with humanitarian aid. He also took necessary measures to coordinate and channel the relief efforts. In view of the huge scale of such disasters and the resulting severe humanitarian crisis situation which go well beyond the capabilities of the affected countries, İhsanoğlu focused on establishing a unit within the OIC General Secretariat to coordinate relief efforts. As a result, the Humanitarian Affairs Department (ICHAD) was created in 2008. It has been formally coordinating and channelling the successful humanitarian assistance programmes under the OIC umbrella, including the programmes in Indonesia-Banda Aceh, Niger, Sudan-Darfur, Afghanistan, Yemen, Gaza and Pakistan. In Pakistan, Prof. İhsanoğlu inaugurated the construction of the first phase of a project totaling 600 housing units funded by the OIC in six provinces in the country on 11 January 2011.
The first phase, comprising 100 housing units, one school and one community centre in DG Khan Village in the Punjab province, has been completed and the houses were handed over to the beneficiaries in April 2012. The second phase consisting of 125 houses, one school, one community centre and a mosque in Dadu, in the Sindh Province is under construction.
İhsanoğlu also gave importance to enhancing the role of the OIC in treatment of global issues. He initiated schemes of action with regard to promotion of understanding, tolerance, principles of human rights, democracy, and establishment of dialogue between the OIC’s Member States and with other countries and communities of the world. These strategies address North-South/East-West relations with a problem-solving approach aiming to promote proper mutual understanding among the different faiths and cultures. Another main objective of İhsanoğlu was to develop cooperation between the OIC and other international organizations; in the first place, the UN. During the period of the United Nations General Assembly Meetings in September 2010, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for the first time referred to the OIC as ”a strategic and crucial partner of the United Nations” and said that it “plays a significant role in helping to resolve a wide range of issues facing the world community”. During İhsanoğlu’s tenure the OIC also initiated cooperation in the field of health with the WHO, the Global Fund and the US Government. Furthermore, for the first time OIC Ministerial Conferences were held on health (twice), women (three times), children (twice, in cooperation with UNESCO). Furthermore he ensured the organization for the first time of NGO Forums within the OIC system. – his lectures at universities in Europe and the USA, including Padua University (Italy), Oxford University (UK), Columbia University, Georgetown University and New York University (USA). His lecture delivered on 29 January 2007 at the Institut Francais des Relations Internationales (IFRI), titled “Is Islam an Intruder to Europe?” touched on the numerous positive interactions between Europe and Muslims over the centuries which helped develop sciences and values in all fields. He delivered a speech at SIPA, Columbia University on 18 September 2008 on the subject of ”The OIC’s New Charter, and Its New Visions and Objectives, as well as its Increasing Role in International Conflict Resolution and Prevention”. On 25 September 2008 he delivered a speech at the ‘Centre for Dialogues: Islamic World-U.S.-The West’ of New York University, on relations between Islam and Europe. He gave a lecture, on 21 May 2009, at the University of Damascus, titled “The Organization of the Islamic Conference and 21st Century Challenges”. He addressed the issue of the Islamic action at present and in future in a lecture titled ”The Future of Islamic Action” delivered at the Cairo Book Fair on 7 February 2010. He delivered a speech at the 1037th Wilton Park Conference focusing on Science Diplomacy on 24 June 2010, and a lecture on ”Building Bridges: Intercultural Dialogue Identities and Migration” at the Assembly Hall of the United Nations in Geneva on 16 September 2010. He also lectured at the ‘World Leaders Forum in Columbia University’ on 24 September 2012 on ‘The Islamic World in the New Century’, which is the title of his book published by Columbia University Press.
– his addresses and statements in forums of dialogue, such as the international conference on the Role of Education for Intercultural Understanding and Dialogue which was inaugurated on 21 October 2008 in Copenhagen and co-organized by the Danish Centre for Culture and Dialogue of the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, UNESCO, the OIC General Secretariat, ISESCO, ALECSO, UN Alliance of Civilizations Secretariat, Anna Lindh Foundation and Council of Europe; and at the Ministerial Segment of the Third Annual Forum of the Alliance of Civilizations held in Rio de Janeiro on May 28-29, 2010.
– his addresses at international bodies: the UN General Assembly (New York), sessions of the UN Human Rights Council, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Strasbourg) and the OSCE Permanent Council, among others. He gave special importance to promoting relations with European intergovernmental organisations: the European Union, the OSCE, the Council of Europe and others, and opened with them lines of communications, particularly in fields of mutual interest.
– his collaborative efforts; he initiated and supported the OIC’s participation at the British Council project ‘Our Shared Europe’;
– at the initiative of the OIC General Secretariat, Wilton Park Conference was held in London on 2 May 2006 on the theme of “Challenging Stereotypes in Europe and the Islamic World: Working Together for Constructive Policies and Partnerships” that brought together senior policy-makers from Europe and OIC Member States, officials from the UN, EU and OSCE and the Council of Europe with representatives of Muslim communities, academics and experts to seek to open a new era of political dialogue between Western governments and their Muslim counterparts by focusing on the role of the media in promoting dialogue between the West and the East.
İhsanoğlu was active in promoting intercultural and interfaith dialogue around the world in general and between the European and the Muslim worlds in particular from the 1980s onwards and increasingly from the 1990s when the question of encounters of cultures in the age of globalisation came to the fore more evidently. Before assuming the post of OIC Secretary General, from 1980-2004 İhsanoğlu was the founding Director General of the Research Centre for Islamic History, Art and Culture (IRCICA, Istanbul), an intergovernmental research centre and subsidiary of the OIC. In that context he actively participated in intercultural and interfaith forums, including the following:
Spoke on behalf of the Muslim participants at the Religious Summit Meeting on Mt. Hiei, 3-4 August 1987, Kyoto, Japan, organised under the auspices of the Japan Conference of Religious Representatives with the collaboration of the World Conference on Religion and Peace and the Japan Religious Committee for the World Federation, with five hundred participants
Meetings of the Inter-Religious Dialogue on Business Ethics and Monotheistic Religions in the Contemporary World, Saint George’s House in Windsor Castle, U.K., 1987
Conferences of the Global Forum of Spiritual and Parliamentary Leaders on Human Survival, 1988- , organised by the Global Forum of Spiritual and Parliamentary Leaders on Human Survival and attended by spiritual leaders from all major religions
Global Forum on Environment and Development for Survival (Moscow, 1990) hosted by the Supreme Soviet, the Religious Communities of the Soviet Union, the Soviet Academy of Sciences, and the International Foundation for the Survival and Development of Humanity, under the patronage of President Mikhail Gorbachev, and attended by two hundred parliamentarians from around the world and religious representatives, scientists, environmentalists, together with two hundred of their counterparts from within the Soviet Union.
Convened and chaired a meeting of the leaders of the different faiths represented in Turkey on the occasion of the visit of Mrs. Hillary Rodham Clinton, then First Lady of the USA, to Istanbul on 28 March 1996. The following representatives of religious communities were present: the Grand Mufti of Istanbul; the General Secretary of the Bishops’ Conference in Turkey; the Greek Orthodox Patriarch; the Metropolitan of the Syrian Orthodox Community; the Chief Rabbi of Turkey; the Armenian Patriarch in Turkey; the Chaldean Archbishop.
His activities also included the following:
he established international research programs including a congress on ’Islamic Contributions to Universal Civilisation’ covering sciences, philosophy and arts, and instituted series of lectures on historical or current issues pertinent for relations between Europe and the Muslim world.
in his lectures and addresses he stressed the importance of producing objective research and creating public awareness on cultural interactions between peoples. This is reflected in the following quote from İhsanoğlu’s lecture at Padua University, Italy, on the occasion of the University’s presenting him with the title of Dr. h.c. (11 Dec. 2006): “History of science offers an immense and fertile field of study from where one can infer evidence of the innumerable common elements inherent to the various cultures and civilisations. Highlighting these factors as the substrata of a shared legacy of mankind can bring an element of rapprochement into a world that is fraught with controversies and conflicts. It can help to combat stereotypes and misinformation, in particular those related to Islam and the Muslim world. Therefore, it is both a moral and an academic duty to create consciousness in public opinion on the common heritage of mankind. An objective history of science is most effective to this aim.”
As OIC Secretary General since January 2005 İhsanoğlu carries on with advocacy of dialogue. While he underscores with pride the particular features of the Muslim world, he objectively points to the socio-economic reforms urgently needed in order to achieve progress in the course of development and pass its benefits to the man in the street. He unfailingly supports the rights of Muslim minorities, ardently calls for the respect of human rights at global level, and clearly expresses his views on these subjects in his writings and speeches.
İhsanoğlu has been active in the treatment of global issues concerning solidarity, tolerance, development and dialogue. Combining his background in science and humanities and his experience with both the western and the eastern cultures, he coordinated projects relating to research, restoration and preservation of cultural heritage with participants from various disciplines and cultural backgrounds. These activities contributed in spreading and reinforcing awareness among peoples, especially youth, on concepts relating to shared history and heritage.
In this global context Prof. İhsanoğlu underlines the need to move forward from ’definition’ to ’action’ in the efforts to bridge the gap of understanding between cultures, particularly where such need is felt in the context of relations between the Western and the Muslim worlds. He views this gap as one that has been built over time by preconceived attitudes, misperceptions, misgivings, prejudices and ignorance and above all, the failure to recognize its perilous implications. He stresses the need for a strong and determined collective political will to address the challenge: the first and foremost action would be to determine the priorities and to bring focus of the international community to the core of the issue, which is accepting the reality of the peaceful coexistence in diversity.