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  • Author: Laila Rifai
  • Publication Date: 06-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Abstract: The religious sphere in Rural Damascus Governorate is poised to become a political battleground as both the regime and the exiled opposition seek to court a new rising group of religious leaders. The uprising in Syria, which began in 2011 and is ongoing, has altered the Sunni Muslim religious landscape of the capital, Damascus, beyond recognition. Ironically, both the regime and the Islamic opposition have achieved an important goal: The regime has fashioned, and asserted control over, a religious establishment previously made up of disparate and competing fiefdoms. Meanwhile, long fractious Damascene religious institutes and individuals, now forced into exile, have united within a single opposition organization, the Syrian Islamic Council (SIC).
  • Topic: Islam, Religion, Syrian War, Sunni
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Elizabeth R. Nugent
  • Publication Date: 09-2020
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Political Science Quarterly
  • Institution: Academy of Political Science
  • Abstract: The economic decline of the Muslim world and the rise of Western Europe has long captured the attention of scholars across disciplines. Explanations largely focus either on Islam, whether its financial institutions or the essence of its teachings, or on Western colonialism as the culprit. In Islam, Authoritarianism, and Underdevelopment, Ahmet T. Kuru puts forward a new explanation rooted in class relations. He takes issue with existing approaches, convincingly demonstrating the intellectual and economic vibrancy of the Muslim world between the eighth and twelfth centuries, undermining arguments about Islam’s incompatibility with progress, and asserting that colonialism occurred too late to explain multiple political and socioeconomic crises. Instead, Kuru identifies the eleventh century as a critical juncture when the Muslim world witnessed the emergence of alliances between Islamic scholars (ulema; singular alim) and the military. These alliances persisted through path dependence and gradually hindered intellectual and economic creativity by marginalizing independent intellectual and bourgeois classes in the Muslim world. In turn, the absence of these classes led to the persistence of authoritarianism and the well-documented underdevelopment in the contemporary period.
  • Topic: Development, Islam, History, Authoritarianism, Book Review, Political Science
  • Political Geography: Europe, Middle East, North Africa
  • Author: Scott M. Thomas, Anthony O'Mahony
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Georgetown Journal of International Affairs
  • Abstract: In February 2019, Pope Francis became the first pope to visit the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Like John-Paul II before him, he has also visited Egypt, and he went to Morocco in March 2019. The pope participated in a colloquium on “human fraternity” and interreligious dialogue sponsored by the UAE-based Muslim Council of Elders—the brain-child of Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, the grand imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar, the most important Sunni Muslim university in the world. The Council of Elders sponsors initiatives to engage young Muslims on Islamist ideology by promoting a more “authentic” interpretation of Islam. Islamist violence—with its beheadings and mass executions—has provoked disgust across the Muslim world and is causing young Muslims to become more distant from their imams and mosques. It is becoming clear to many Muslim intellectuals in Egypt, Iraq, and Lebanon that, in order to defeat Islamism, there needs to be greater dialogue and coexistence with Christians. Pope Francis is attempting to lead the way, extending his “culture of encounter.”
  • Topic: Islam, Religion, Culture, Violence, Catholic Church
  • Political Geography: Europe, Middle East, United Arab Emirates, Vatican city
  • Author: Aaron Y. Zelin
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: By the time IS came to the fore in Iraq and Syria, many of its themes and activities were already second nature to Tunisian jihadis who had heard similar messaging at home. There are a number of reasons why Tunisians joined the Islamic State in Iraq, Syria, and Libya. One underappreciated aspect of this is the way Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia’s (AST) messaging primed members of the group and others in society that were exposed to, attended, or followed online AST activities and events. In my new book, Your Sons Are at Your Service: Tunisia’s Missionaries of Jihad, I describe this process, which I will examine in brief here. In particular, I will explore AST’s motivational framing, which “functions as prods to action.” The major themes AST crafted in its narrative were related to brotherhood, the defense of Islam, the creation of an Islamic state, and “remaining” as an entity.
  • Topic: Islam, Non State Actors, Violent Extremism, Islamic State, Jihad
  • Political Geography: Middle East, North Africa, Tunisia
  • Author: Saeid Golkar
  • Publication Date: 06-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: In 2008, the IRGC established a new branch that remains little known or studied today: the Provincial Guard. Operating in all of Iran's thirty-one provinces plus Tehran city, the IRGC-PG carries out the regime's revolutionary aims at the local level, inculcating conservative religious values, shaping educational curricula, and even sponsoring sports activities. It also delivers military might and security through its Imam Hussein infantry battalions and anti-riot Imam Ali battalions. This pathbreaking Policy Note, written by expert Saeid Golkar, casts the Provincial Guard as a rising actor in Iran's national narrative. If Tehran has its way, the organization will succeed in finally enshrining Iran as an "Islamic society." But domestic precedent suggests this bid will meet more than a little resistance, especially given a regime dealing with economic weakness, a coronavirus pandemic, and a restive, increasingly secularist public emboldened by last year's mass protests.
  • Topic: Islam, Military Affairs, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC)
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East
  • Author: James M Dorsey
  • Publication Date: 10-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Hudson Institute
  • Abstract: It is not the caliphate that the world’s Muslim powerhouses are fighting about. Instead, they are engaged in a deepening religious soft power struggle for geopolitical influence and dominance. This battle for the soul of Islam pits rival Middle Eastern and Asian powers against one another: Turkey, seat of the Islamic world’s last true caliphate; Saudi Arabia, home to the faith’s holy cities; the United Arab Emirates, propagator of a militantly statist interpretation of Islam; Qatar with its less strict version of Wahhabism and penchant for political Islam; Indonesia, promoting a humanitarian, pluralistic notion of Islam that reaches out to other faiths as well as non-Muslim centre-right forces across the globe; Morocco which uses religion as a way to position itself as the face of moderate Islam; and Shia Iran with its derailed revolution. In the ultimate analysis, no clear winner may emerge. Yet, the course of the battle could determine the degree to which Islam will be defined by either one or more competing stripes of ultra-conservativism—statist forms of the faith that preach absolute obedience to political rulers and/or reduce religious establishments to pawns of the state.
  • Topic: International Relations, Foreign Policy, Islam, Politics, Ideology
  • Political Geography: Russia, Iran, Indonesia, Turkey, Middle East, Asia, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Qatar, United Arab Emirates
  • Author: Sadia Rafique, Khalid Manzoor Butt
  • Publication Date: 12-2020
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Journal of Political Studies
  • Institution: Department of Political Science, University of the Punjab
  • Abstract: Social movements are considered by sociologists as agents of social change. They are not isolated entities but an outcome of prevailing circumstances and at, the same time, result from continuity with the historical roots. Moreover, the mobility of contemporary movements can only be shown in comparison with previous kind of collective actions. Two revolutionary movements within one century (Constitutional Revolution 1905-06 and Islamic Revolution1979), and eight years’ IranIraq war (1981-89) and globalization have significantly contributed to the evolution of distinctive nature of contemporary Iranian society. This makes it an interesting subject for research in general, and particularly the case of social movements and their transformation. The paper aims to give an overview of Iranian social movements from the constitutional movement to the recent Green movement of 2009. The intention is to find out, first, whether there was any continuity in social movements during this period; secondly, to investigate the differences of the recent Green movement from the previous social movements of modern-day Iran. An overview of social structure, the state-society relationship, causes of mobilization and the outcomes of each movement will be studied. Moreover, the complex relation between state and social movements that emerged overall will also be examined. The Touraine/Melucci model has been applied in Iranian milieu
  • Topic: Islam, Religion, Social Movement, State, Revolution, Society, Mobilization
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East
  • Author: Benjamin Augé
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Institut français des relations internationales (IFRI)
  • Abstract: Until recently, Saudi Arabia was the country out of the Gulf countries that had the greatest number of diplomatic missions in Africa. Although it is now outstripped by Qatar, which has been striving since the beginning of the Emirati-Saudi embargo that started in June 2017 to open a large number of diplomatic posts in Africa. The Saudi diplomatic network was formerly established in predominantly Muslim states (in the Maghreb, West Africa and in the Horn of Africa) and in South Africa. The kingdom can mainly rely on experienced diplomats, who have maintained a presence in Africa since the 1970s, boosted after the 1979 Iranian Islamic Revolution and the desire to prevent a spread of Shiism on the continent. Nowadays, Saudi Arabia is also clearly involved in Africa as elsewhere, to counter the influence of its Qatari neighbor.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Islam, Soft Power, Trade Policy
  • Political Geography: Africa, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Gulf Nations
  • Author: Sonia Boulos
  • Publication Date: 05-2020
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Journal on International Security Studies (RESI)
  • Institution: International Security Studies Group (GESI) at the University of Granada
  • Abstract: The perception of Islam as antithetical to European human rights values is widespread in Europe. Such perceptions complicate the task of integrating Muslim minorities across Europe. While incrementing respect to human rights norms among migrant communities is an important element of any integration policy, this goal should not be perused by forcing migrant communities to adhere to human rights norms based on purely secular grounds. The drafting history of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the ultimate proof that human rights can be justified from different political, philosophical and religious perspectives. While European States cannot compromise their commitment to human rights, even in relation to migrant communities, still, they must allow other narratives on the importance and the meaning of human rights to emerge. Muslim migrant communities must be allowed to engage in intra-group religion-based dialogues to reevaluate their stance on human rights and to debate their meaning. After being given the opportunity to engage in internal debates on the significance of human rights, Muslim migrant communities should also be engaged in cross-cultural dialogues with the rest of community to generate a wider agreement on the meaning and the application of human rights. This two-fold strategy is consistent with the principle of subsidiarity, which suggests that for human rights be effective they must be seen as legitimate by all those small groups that are close to the individual. Such legitimacy cannot be imposed from the outside, it must emerge from within these small groups. However, for these intra-group and cross-cultural dialogues to succeed, the separation of religion and State cannot be understood as the complete exclusion of religion from the public sphere. Individuals of different philosophical or religious convictions must have an equal access to public debates on the centrality of human rights in the European legal order.
  • Topic: Human Rights, Islam, Religion, Culture, Integration
  • Political Geography: Europe
  • Author: Murat Ülgül
  • Publication Date: 12-2020
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Novus Orbis: Journal of Politics & International Relations
  • Institution: Department of International Relations, Karadeniz Technical University
  • Abstract: What is the relationship between religion and empire, and what role do religious ideas play in the empire-formation process? This paper focuses on these questions by analysing the role of Islam in the formation of the Umayyad and the Ottoman Empires. Although the literature about these Islamic empires is extensive enough, they generally provide a rich historical narrative without theorization. To fill this gap, I use constructivist theory in the analysis and point out that religion as a structural force helps states to turn into empires over time. Nevertheless, following the agent-structure debate, I also argue that the individual characteristics of these states are essential to understand how religion affected their policies and how they interpreted the religion. The findings show that as the Umayyad Empire was not recognized as legitimate by various sects in religious terms in the seventh and eighth centuries, religion played less of a regulatory role in imperial policies and its rulers did not hesitate to adopt ruthless stratagems and a divide-and-conquer strategy. On the other hand, the Ottoman Empire benefited from religion in its conquests and its policies were primarily restricted by religious norms and values. As a result of this dependence, ruthless stratagems were adopted less often, and Ottoman policies were heavily shaped by religious norms and values.
  • Topic: Islam, Religion, Empire, Constructivism, Ottoman Empire, Umayyad Empire
  • Political Geography: Middle East