By Jennifer Schuessler

As published in Paper Cuts, a blog affiliated with the New York Times.

Turkey, its hopes dashed at the recent Euro Cup, can take comfort in having come out on top of an even more prestigious contest: Prospect magazine’s poll to determine the world’s greatest living intellectual.

And the winner is … Fethullah Gulen, a 67-year-old Turkish Sufi cleric currently residing outside of Philadelphia. Can half a million respondents be wrong?

Apparently, Gulen owes his victory to the same sort of national mobilization campaign that almost got Ataturk, the father of the Turkish Republic, elected Time Magazine’s Man of the Century back in 2000. (At one point, Ataturk even led Bob Dylan in the race for greatest artist and entertainer.) But in contrast to the staunchly secularist Ataturk, Gulen — who has a reported 5 million followers, and is an influence on Turkey’s governing Justice and Development Party — has spent his life promoting interfaith dialogue and preaching the reconciliation of science and modern institutions with religious faith. Come to think of it, are there many more urgent intellectual projects out there these days?

Interestingly, the top ten finishers in the Prospect poll are all from Muslim backgrounds, including Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Tariq Ramadan, Orhan Pamuk and Abdolkarim Soroush. (Who? Read this.)

Further down the list (complete results here), the list yields some strange pairings. Samantha Power (#73), the author and human rights advocate, will no doubt be delighted to have edged out the Singaporean strongman Lee Kuan Yew (#74). And Christopher Hitchens (#27) will no doubt be pleased to have smoked Pope Benedict XVI (#32).

But Richard Posner (#85) — not to mention my colleague Barry Gewen, who sang Posner’s praises here and pondered the death of the public intellectual here — may be puzzled at his finish well to the rear of Malcolm Gladwell (#77), whom he skewered in a memorable review in the New Republic back in 2005. The last time Prospect did the poll, in 2005, Posner ranked #32. (Gladwell was shut out entirely.) Then again, Posner’s own 2002 study of public intellectuals — his own equations placed him at #70 — was subtitled "A Study in Decline."


Dave August 4, 2008 - 6:41 pm

Another take on the results
The “10 Top Intellectuals of the world are Muslims” and Islamic reformation
The recent 2008 survey for the 100 world’s public intellectuals came up for the first time with the top 10 being Muslims-very strange for a group of people who for the ordinary every day people (in contrast to their elites) on a world basis are not noted for their general level of formal education, scientific understanding and rational thinking. As well the comments of the sponsors of the international quest suggested that this result has more to do with Muslim tribal instincts, their hero worshipping of their particular Ulama and their ability to use the western internet rather than any original intellectual genius amongst most (not all- I’ll come back to this latter) of the ten as understood by rationalist. However having said this, there has been a lot of pride amongst Muslim Bogglers ( who unfortunately to a T lack any intellectual ingenuity to explore their religion compared to their respective Ulama hero-a tendency of the Muslim community in general: leader followers/adorites) who continue with the Muslim tendency to have tremendous pride in seeing great things said about Islam in western press in contrast what is said about the same thing in the Islamic press as only this infidel confirmation can confirm their own thoughts.
This identification of Muslims that are honored by western media as being the worlds intellectual leaders may have some benefits in loosening the hold fascist islamic ideologue Ulamas over the last 100 years have had on the Muslim community collective intellect
Un like western society the Muslim civilization has a great respect for their intellectual Islamic superiors. This I hypothesis is that because of the lack of general education amongst most Muslims, the near in intelligibility of the Islamic holy book (Koran) and the general desire to follow the commands of Allah in their daily lives, there developed within the Muslim community total adoration and extreme respect for their specific Ulama and Islamic learning/science ( which is distinctive from real science as western rationalist see science) in general to help them understand their holy books (Koran and Sunna) and to live their lives as they believed Allah wanted them to.
This reliance on the Ulama to guide their total lives did the Moslem community well especially in its golden years but has caused them mayhem and their current problems over the last 250 years. This from my readings mostlikely was due to the non advancement of the Islamic sciences during the later period of the golden age and the resultant stagnation of tradition Ulama training. The resultant frustrations of the Moslem with their lot has lead some of them to loose their faith in their traditional trained Ulama. This in turn has lead some of these to become the Ulama themselves or to follow these nontraditional Ulama.
These new Ulama, though ignorant of the traditional ways of the official Ulama, tended to be trained in the sciences (technology and engineering) and humanities (liberal arts, philosophy) of the of the west and so were frustrated with the state of the Moslem and the lack of the fruits of these studies to Islamic civilization but had inklings of the grandeur and glory of Islam in their childhood days as young children playing in the house and at the feet of their farther. Deluded by these childhood images of Islam and their frustrations as religious very western educated adults, these men sought simplistic ways to re create the glory days of the ways of the original calphate as seen with the first four companions. Lacking the traditions, training and history of the original Ulama they bastardized the holy books to their own thinking and acting as little gods created mayhem and death for their Muslim brothers (eg in the form of Banna and Qutb etc) and their fellow men in the world. These people tended to ignore the traditional Islamic intellect of nearly 15 centuries of Muslim civilization and go straight to the holy texts to interpretate them in their own puny way and drag other less educated religious Muslims with them
There has been a number of Muslims who have attempted to use the Islamic sciences to revise or reform Islam. However, as shown below, these have not been to the benefit of the ordinary Muslim and in most cases been condemned by their Moslem brothers and posterity as being un Islamic Some of these Johnny come lately new Ulama and the type of havoc they placed on their Muslim brothers in particular and the world in general includes
• Wahhab: Return of a brutal form of the Islamic trilogy -ruler, Ulama and poor ruled -of the Umayyad caliph to the 20th Century areas of Saudi and the Taliban
• Banna: Development of Islamic politicalisation of the Muslim laity mainly in Egypt
• Qutb: Development of Islamic Terrorism of the Moslem laity in Arab countries
• Khomeini: Development of the politicalisation of the Ulama to Islamic Rule in Iran
• Mawdudi: Failed to do a Banna in India/Pakistan though the current political elite could help to achieve his dream if they do not restore order in the Tribal Areas of Pakistan
As the world’s Muslims have a real problem with Western rationalism, secularism and modernity, individualism and lack of any state regulated religious facade to the public sphere and morality and totally reject any hint of these elements in any way in assisting them to adapt to the real world of human rights (includes woman rights) and human legislative activity and sovereign states and become part of it so that the rest of mankind can benefit from their involvement. This means that Muslims are more in tune to change if it is within an Islamic frame work.
Of all the traditional ways by which the Ulama interpretated the holy books. Ijtihad has the most potential to bring out the true meaning of Islam but unfortunately it is the most neglected and unused of the Islamic sciences in modern times and is sometimes thought not to be even available less operational into days times. From the literature this seems to be due to the fact that there are no highly intellectual Ulama amongst the 1.3 billion Muslims of the world (these people are called mujtahid (of the al mutlaq kind)or mujaddid depending on how much they change/renovate Islam and the mujtahid of the century is called a Tajdid and there has not been any of these since al Maraghi al Jurjawi.
Now the sixty four dollar question is that given that these ten religious Muslims have been given the seal of approval from the world as being the top 10 intellectuals of man kind surely some of them are Mujtahid if not the, Allah be praised, the Tajdid of the 21st Century!!!.
I have looked at the 10 and read some of their books and come up with the following initial thoughts (which could change with further reading, study and discussion)
Gulen: Yes especially as he has an organization already- in fact he could be the new eponym of a new Islamic School. I have not read much of his work. Seems to be very quiet. His followers made him number 1 on the intellectual hit parade so has a good following. Be interested to know why people (both Islamists and secularists).don’t like him
Yunus: No. Seems to be more of an economist of the poor. Though may have corrected the Islamic confusion of equating riba with modern day interest rates. Not thought to have a real understanding of Islamic sciences. May have got to the top spot by the gratitude of the 6 million odd woman he helped to get out of the poverty women suffer in patriarchal Islamic and other religious societies.
Al Qaradawi No Is a modern official Ulama but of limited intelligence and follows the Islamic line that has caused the modern day Moslem current predicaments. Muslims need a mujtahid not more of the same. Not too sure where he would have got his votes. I suspect the Moslem Brothers and Al Jazeera viewers may have got together and got him a few votes but cannot think of any other group who would vote for him.
Pamuk No. His vote seems to be the results of the competition between the Gulens and Non Gulen followers in Turkey
Ahsan. No just a lawyer and a politian. Like all Pakistani political elite may regret leaving the North West provinces un controlled and left in the hands of Islamically ignorant tribal leaders.
Khaled No. Knows where the money is but does not in any way is he an intellectual. Seems to know what the young Muslim wants. Be interested to compare him with Al Qaradawi.
Soroush Definitely. Read a few of his books in English and has a web page which I am going through.
Ramadan Definitely. Read most of his books. Is a soppy person. Women love him. Is intelligent and mostlikely knows more about Islamic sciences that the average Saudi Ulama and is intelligent at the same time. His intellect is inhibited by his Banna links so not as intellectually independent as Soroush.
Mamdani No seems to be a recent arrival to Moslems problems
Ebadi No A disillusioned female Islamic lawyer. Got booted out of the legal club by the menstrual fearing men. Mostlikely got the feminist vote.
Ali No A disillusioned female social worker. like Ebadi got the pointed end of the large male Islamic boot and like her sister in Iran told the pricks to get fucked and got fame because of it. Well deserved fame I might add as these Islamic men tend to kill people who cross them especially up start women who think they are equal to men. Ditto for her vote
There is one other Moslem that I have read and should be on the list and that is An Naim a follower of Mohamed Taha the real Luther of Islamic reformation in my mind before the Islamist in Sudan killed him. An Naim has gone out in the field to fight the good fight for true Islam.
So it looks as if we have 3-4 potential Mujtahids who have been recognized as such by the world which is more than what can be claimed by the current Ulama at the Islamic universities in Saudi, Iran, Egypt. India and Pakistan and even by historical accepted Mujtahids. Will they be up to the task to save the Muslim from him/her self and integrate the Islamic civilization into the rest of man kind during the 21st century so that both may benefit?

Hello there, You have done an excellent job. I’ll definitely digg it and in my opinion suggest to my friends. I'm confident they'll be benefited from this web site. April 4, 2012 - 7:31 am

It’s the best time to make some plans for the long run and it’s time to be happy. I have read this post and if I may I wish to suggest you few fascinating things or suggestions. Perhaps you can write subsequent articles referring to this article. I wish to read more issues approximately it!

Leave a Comment


We use both our own and third-party cookies to enhance our services and to offer you the content that most suits your preferences by analysing your browsing habits. Your continued use of the site means that you accept these cookies. You may change your settings and obtain more information here. Accept