Speaker: Usaama al-Azami
The Arab revolutions of 2011 were a transformative moment in the modern history of the Middle East, as people rose up against long-standing autocrats throughout the region to call for ‘bread, freedom and dignity’. With the passage of time, results have been decidedly mixed, with abortive success stories like Tunisia contrasting with the emergence of even more repressive dictatorships in places like Egypt, with the backing of several Gulf states.
Focusing primarily on Egypt, this book considers a relatively understudied dimension of these revolutions: the role of prominent religious scholars. While pro-revolutionary ulama have justified activism against authoritarian regimes, counter-revolutionary scholars have provided religious backing for repression, and in some cases the mass murder of unarmed protestors.
Usaama al-Azami traces the public engagements and religious pronouncements of several prominent ulama in the region, including Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Ali Gomaa and Abdallah bin Bayyah, to explore their role in either championing the Arab revolutions or supporting their repression. He concludes that while a minority of noted scholars have enthusiastically endorsed the counter-revolutions, their approach is attributable less to premodern theology and more to their distinctly modern commitment to the authoritarian state.
Usaama al-Azami read his BA in Arabic and Islamic Studies at the University of Oxford, and his MA and PhD in Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University. Alongside his university career, he also pursued Islamic studies in seminarial settings in which he has also subsequently taught. He has travelled extensively throughout the Middle East, living for five years in the region. He is also an enthusiastic teacher who is very eager to support the formation of research scholars, and always welcomes students with such aspirations to get in touch with him.
Usaama al-Azami is primarily interested in the interaction between Islam and modernity with a special interest in modern developments in Islamic political philosophy. His first book, Islam and the Arab Revolutions looks at the way in which influential Islamic scholars responded to the Arab uprisings of 2011 through 2013. His PhD, which is a separate project which he hopes to develop into a monograph in the near future, is entitled "Modern Islamic Political Thought: Islamism in the Arab World from the Late Twentieth to the Early Twenty-first Centuries". In it, he explores how Arab ulama of a mainstream "Islamist" orientation have engaged Western political concepts such as democracy, secularism and the nation-state, selectively adapting and assimilating aspects of these ideas into their understanding of Islam. His broader interests extend to a range of disciplines from the Islamic scholarly tradition from the earliest period of Islam down to the present.
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