WASHINGTON The Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center in Jordan and Georgetown University have just released a book featuring the world's 500 most influential Muslims
, saying the aim is to help people understand the different ways Islam and Muslims impact the world today. "A group of researchers investigated who are the most visibly influential Muslims out there," Dr. John Esposito, professor of religion and Islamic studies at Georgetown University and co-author of the book, told IslamOnline.
"The issue is not how orthodox they are. The criterion is how influential these people are in their particular area."
The book, "The 500 Most Influential Muslims 2009", starts with an overall top 50 influential Muslims list, and then surveys the remaining 450 most prominent Muslims in 15 categories, from politics to religion, media, arts, science and development, but without ranking.
The top ten spots are all occupied with political and religious leaders.
Topping the list as the most influential Muslim in the world is Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdelaziz, the custodian of the two Holy Mosques.
Click to read the book
He is followed by Iran's Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, King Abdullah II of Jordan and Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Al-Azhar Grand Imam sheikh Mohammad Sayyed Tantawi, Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, head of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, and Egyptian Mufti Ali Gomaa also made it to the top 10 ranks.
Each name in the list comes with a short biography.
"This book is not only for Muslims but for non-Muslims who do not know much about Islam and the Muslim world and how diverse it is," explains Esposito.
The book has been released by Jordan's Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center in concert with Georgetown Universitys Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.
It was co-edited by Professor Esposito and Professor Ibrahim Kalin of Georgetown University.
Authors expect criticism because the word influence is a tricky concept.
"When I mentioned this list to people I know, many told me that no matter what you do, there are going to be critics," says professor Esposito.
"We have received positive reactions, but there are also others who expressed concerns on why so and so were left out," he admitted.
"There may be cases also that some say a certain person is not influential."
Esposito said those who disagree that the Saudi king is the most influential Muslim must look at the kingdom's weight not only as the birthplace of Islam and home to its two most holy shrines but also as an economic player on the world stage.
"Whoever is king of Saudi Arabia, he is influential because the country is influential."
He also defended the fact that the list is full of heads of states and governments.
"It is natural because some of those people are influential because they are corporate leaders."
Esposito also expects the names of Osama Bin Laden, the leader of Al-Qaeda, and Ayman Al-Zawahiri, his right-hand man, to raise eyebrows.
"It is not about whether you like these people or not. It is about their influence, even if it is a bad one."
Al-Qaeda duo came under a section of the book called Radicals.
Women had their own category in the book.
It features 43 names, a number some might consider a tiny percentage in a 500-name list.
"We will have to revisit that number in the coming versions," says Esposito, asserting that the list is the first in an annual survey of top Muslim personalities around the world.
He urged readers to send in suggestions for next years list.
"This is a new initiative, one that will be reviewed and redone every year.
"I think in the following versions there are names going to be added or missed. These things are subject to change definitely."