Turkey now influences Muslim world, including in India, may displace Saudi as global leader

File Photo: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

By Deepak Sharma

Recent changes in policies of Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich Gulf countries may lead to a substantial increase in Turkey’s influence over Muslims in the Indian subcontinent.

When Saudi Arabia called to avoid “passionate emotions and fiery enthusiasm” towards Jews, it was a marked change in tone for someone who has shed tears preaching about Palestine in the past.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, has also promised to promote interfaith dialogue as part of his domestic reform.

The prince had earlier stated that Israelis are entitled to live peacefully on their land on condition of a peace agreement that assures stability for all sides.

“Saudi Arabia and Israel‘s mutual fear of Iran may be a key driver for the development of ties,” said Houchang Hassan Yari, professor of economics at the Sultan Qaboos University in Oman.

He said under pressure from the United States, Saudi Arabia may also follow the example of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to fully normalise relations with Israel.

“Any normalisation by Saudi with Israel will open doors for Iran, Qatar and Turkey to call for internationalising the two holy mosques,” he said

The US President Donald J. Trump recently said he believes Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest exporter of crude and the custodian of Islam’s holiest site, will follow Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates in fully normalising relations with Israel.

This left a large section of Muslims in India and other countries in the sub-continent, who generally regard Saudi Arabia as the leader of Sunni sect, confused and perplexed, as the majority of them hearing about Israel’s aggression against Palestine and portrayal of the Jewish nation as a staunch enemy of their faith.

Turkey’s emergence of the global leader of Islam

Change in the Arab world’s relationship with Israel and the emergence of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey President, as a global leader in the Islamic world has led to a substantial increase in Ankara’s influence over the Muslims across the world, particularly in the Indian subcontinent.

Over the past few years, Erdogan has taken several steps including taking a tough stance over the Rohingya refugees and converting Hagia Sophia museum to a mosque, which resulted in a dramatic rise in Turkey’s influence in the Muslim world, Yari said.

Moreover, Erdogan has sided with Qatar in its ongoing dispute with the UAE and Saudi Arabia, closely engaging in regional hotspots against the two Arab majors, and has been hard at work to mobilise non-Arab Muslim countries, and all these steps made Erdogan a hero in the eyes of common Muslims in the subcontinent.

Erdogan’s ambitions are expected to further complicate the situation in the Islamic world that is already witnessing increasingly divisive trends that include sectarian strife between Shias and Sunnis, Arabs versus non-Arabs and apprehensions around the political Islam of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Before World War I, Turkey was regarded as the leader of the Islamic world but defeat in the war and subsequent emergence of Kemal Ataturk resulted in Turkey opting to become a secular state.

However, with the emergence of Erdogan as an extremely popular and powerful leader, Ankara has gradually shifting towards Islamisation and is trying hard to regain the leadership of the Islamic world, Yari said.

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