In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section International Law and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation

  • Introduction
  • General Overview
  • OIC’s Relationship with International Law
  • International Human Rights
  • International Environmental Law

International Law International Law and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation
Salim Farrar
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 October 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199796953-0232


The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is the second biggest international organization after the United Nations. It comprises fifty-seven full member states, representing one-quarter of the global population, and it is the only international organization whose unifying feature is its religious and Islamic identity. As such, it represents an anomaly in international relations and largely explains why the organization has not figured in the majority of mainstream publications on international law until relatively recently. Established in the wake of universal Muslim outrage following the burning of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in 1969, the OIC has provided a political platform for predominantly Muslim states to promote “Islamic solidarity.” But it has also provided a forum to develop consensual positions on many international matters—from international trade and the development of Islamic banking and halal food networks to peace and security, hate speech, and the protection of Muslim minorities. The OIC now forms a considerable bloc of countries at the UN and, with the presence of both Russia and China as observers, it has capacity to wield considerable influence on the world stage and to co-sponsor common agendas. For much of its existence, however, the OIC has been a peripheral grouping and a marginal player. Although it has forty-eight subsidiary and specialized organs, the organization itself is often dismissed as a talking shop and is without any enforcement legal machinery. No committee is endowed with powers to mirror the UN’s Security Council nor has the OIC established any legal body to issue binding legal rulings on member states. The International Islamic Court of Justice, the intended Islamic World Court, seated in Jerusalem, has never operated and even its statute is yet to be ratified by the required two-thirds of OIC members. In spite of its known weaknesses and historical failures, under the leadership of its current and previous secretary-general, the OIC has sprung to life. Since arming itself with a new “fit for purpose” Charter in 2008, the OIC has shown a greater willingness to engage in key areas of international law, including humanitarian law, peace-making, human rights, international terrorism, and, more recently, environmental protection and climate change. If concerns were formerly expressed at the OIC’s apparent ambivalence toward international law, the recent case brought against the government of Myanmar for committing genocide against the Rohingyas by the Gambia in the International Court of Justice (ICJ), with the full backing of the OIC, and the ICJ order in January 2020 against Myanmar for preliminary relief provides evidence of increasing engagement with international law and of success when doing so.

General Overview

Until its reform and new charter in 2008, the OIC was largely neglected in the academic literature, especially in terms of public international law, reflecting its marginal and peripheral status. The few books available that focused on the OIC were (and still are) in political science (see Al-Ahsan 1988, Khan 2001, and Sheikh 2003). The only work focusing on the legal framework from that era is Moinuddin 1987 which, though otherwise dated, remains useful because of the sections on international investment law. For the most recent works, the starting point for most researchers should be Ihsanoglu 2010, which provides an excellent overview of the OIC as well as an insider’s insight into the reform process as seen from the very top. The most comprehensive and up-to-date generalist text is Kayaoglu 2015, which can be regarded as a modern primer on the OIC. It remains a work in international political relations but has excellent coverage of the different areas that fall within the OIC’s fields of competence and relates to public international law. The book is particularly strong on the OIC’s record on human rights and provides useful material on its relationships with international bodies, such as the UN, European Union (EU), African Union (AU), and Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). The only areas omitted, but which have become increasingly important in the contemporary context, are environmental protection and climate change, sexual orientation, and global health. The most useful bibliographic works post-2008 are Khan 2018 and Mahmoudi 2017. The former is in political relations but has comprehensive, logically organized textual references across a vast subject matter. The latter is in international law and is closest to the current work but includes several Iranian references, which balances the Saudi Arabian bias prevalent in many of the more recent publications by the official OIC news agencies. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) website remains a useful repository and essential resource for official agreements and declarations made by OIC member states. The majority of the critical works on the OIC, both before and after 2008, have focused on its manipulation by key member states, conflicting mandates, and apparent inability to resolve intra-Muslim conflicts for lack of any enforcement machinery. For perspectives on the OIC before 2008, see Al-Ahsan 1988 and Sheikh 2003. For critical insights on the post-2008 framework, see Ahmed and Akbarzadeh 2019, Al-Ahsan 2019 and Bacik 2011. Faseke 2019 provides an interesting case study on the impact of the OIC on the laws of a recent member state. For further references on national case studies, see Khan 2018.

  • Ahmed, Zahid Shahab, and Shahram Akbarzadeh. “Sectarianism and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).” Territory, Politics, Governance 9.1 (2019): 76–93.

    DOI: 10.1080/21622671.2019.1643779

    Provides a critical analysis of the OIC’s ideological orientation post–Arab Spring, detailing its shift from official neutrality to open support for the geopolitical objectives of Saudi Arabia and hostility toward Iran. Authors employ critical discourse analysis to OIC documents and media reports, with a focus on three case studies: OIC cancellation of Syria’s membership in 2012, 2016 OIC summit resolution against Iran, and the 2018 Yemen crisis.

  • Al-Ahsan, Abdullah. The Organization of the Islamic Conference: An Introduction to an Islamic Political Institution. Herndon, VA: International Institute of Islamic Thought, 1988.

    A short booklet on the establishment and history of the OIC and one of the first introductions to the OIC. The author views the OIC as an attempt to politically revive the Muslim Ummah but is compromised by its structuring based on the modern nation-state. It includes case studies on Muslim minorities, such as the Muslim Moros in the Philippines and the Muslims in Thailand. Critical of its functioning and the selective handling of disputes, the author points to the political manipulation of the OIC by key member states.

  • Al-Ahsan, Abdullah. “The OIC at Fifty: Between Hope and Despair.” Al-Sharq Strategic Research, 9 January 2019.

    A critical historical and political review of the OIC, arguing for a change of location of the head of the OIC from Saudi Arabia to Turkey to catalyze OIC activity on the international stage.

  • Bacik, Gokhan. “The Genesis, History, and Functioning of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC): A Formal-Institutional Analysis.” Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 31.4 (2011): 594–614.

    DOI: 10.1080/13602004.2011.630864

    This article provides a useful critical analysis of the new membership criteria of the 2008 Charter and explains the weak performance of the OIC in terms of its lack of enforcement machinery.

  • Faseke, Babajimi Oladipo. “Nigeria and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation: A Discourse in Identity, Faith and Development, 1969–2016.” Religions 10.3 (2019): 156.

    DOI: 10.3390/rel10030156

    This article critically discusses Nigeria’s tense relationship with the OIC, from initial observer status to full membership and the aftermath. As a case study on the potential impact of the OIC on the laws of nation-states, the author illustrates unresolved tensions between the OIC’s secular and religious identities at the international level and how national actors have manipulated particular features for their political gain.

  • Ihsanoglu, Ekmeleddin. The Islamic World in the New Century: The Organization of Islamic Conference. London: Hurst, 2010.

    The author served as secretary-general of the OIC between 2005 and 2014. Though diplomatically silent on the roles played by key member states, it provides valuable insight into the historical background of the OIC, the impetus for reform, and the initial stages of the reform process leading to the 2008 OIC Charter. The book contains chapters on conflict resolution and Muslim minorities and provides background on the defamation of religions debate.

  • Kayaoglu, Turan. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation: Politics, Problems, and Potential. London: Routledge, 2015.

    DOI: 10.4324/9781315751467

    The most thorough, detailed, and comprehensive treatment of the OIC up to the Arab Spring and its immediate aftermath, providing historical, contextual, political, and legal information and analysis as well as critical commentary. Relevant legal content is in chapter 3 on the structure of the OIC and in chapter 6, which discusses international human rights. The author focuses on the decade of implementation of the Ten-Year Programme of Action (TYPA), 2005–2015. The book adopts a balanced perspective while remaining sensitive to Islamic concerns and the broader objectives of the OIC.

  • Khan, Saad. Reasserting International Islam: A Focus on the Organization of the Islamic Conference and Other Islamic Institutions. London: Oxford University Press, 2001.

    Before Kayaoglu 2015, this was the most detailed introduction to the OIC. Though comprehensive, largely uncritical, and now dated, it provides coverage of the OIC’s organs and functioning.

  • Khan, Said S. Organization of Islamic Cooperation. In Oxford Bibliographies in Islamic Studies. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018.

    DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195390155-012

    A comprehensive reference work up to 2018 on the OIC from the perspective of international politics. A very good first port of call to identify relevant texts on the OIC given the relative paucity of information available for an international organization, and on the OIC’s relationship with individual states.

  • Mahmoudi, Said. Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) (previously known as the Organization of the Islamic Conference). In Oxford Public International Law. Edited by Anne Peters. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.

    Concise, analytical overview of the OIC within the framework of international law. Includes a particularly useful discussion of the OIC 2008 Charter and the reframing of its objectives in light of member state commitments under international law. Written from an Iranian perspective, the author is supportive of the OIC project, but critical of the influence of Arab states and its failure to achieve core objectives.

  • Moinuddin, Hasan. The Charter of the Islamic Conference and Legal Framework of Economic Co-operation among Its Member States. Oxford: Clarendon, 1987.

    An early foray into the OIC and one of the few that focuses on the legal framework as well as mentioning how the OIC purports to incorporate elements of the classical Islamic Siyar. Although now dated, it documents the promotion and protection of investments by the OIC which will be of interest to international investment law lawyers.

  • Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

    The official online portal of the OIC, providing information on the OIC organs, declarations, conferences, and news. It includes the most recent editions of the OIC Journal. It is the primary source for legal documents on the OIC.

  • Sheikh, Naveed S. The New Politics of Islam: Pan-Islamic Foreign Policy in a World of States. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203220337

    Written from a political economy perspective, Sheikh argues that the OIC is used as a vehicle to advance the national interests of its three most powerful states: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Pakistan, notwithstanding the OIC’s Pan-Islamic rhetoric. Though now dated, Sheikh’s critical analysis provides a useful lens through which to view current developments.

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