Transformations within Islam
9.00 – 11.00
Chair: Lars Berger, University of Leeds
Sufism in Jerusalem: Institutional Deterioration and Subversive Transformations
Kenny Schmitt, Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, Exeter University
Sufis have strong spiritual connections to Jerusalem. Within Islam, Muhammad’s night journey – al-Isra’ wal-Mi’raj – is a baseline typology for mystical encounters with the divine. As such, Jerusalem has had a long history of significant links to Sufi institutions. But what about Sufism in Jerusalem today? Since 1967, when Israel occupied East Jerusalem, the city has experienced massive upheavals and transformations. How has the conflict impacted Sufi institutions and practices? All Sufi institutions have perished except two: the Zawiya al-Naqshbandi and the Zawiya al-Afghaniyya. I argue that these two institutions have survived for distinct and overlapping reasons which are linked to their position and approach to the Israeli State. The Zawiya al-Naqshbandi has survived by forging alliances with Jewish individuals and groups, intentionally cultivating interfaith relationships to promote peace-building and reconciliation. This path has kept the Israel State at bay, but it has also alienated the Zawiya from many Palestinians who view peace-building and reconciliation as Zionist tools to foster servile attitudes toward the occupation. The Zawiya al-Afghaniyya has taken a different approach. They have combined political-quietism with subversive transformations that promote links to the Palestinian community. By hosting large celebrations for minor Islamic holidays (al-Isra’ wal-Mi’raj, Mawlid n-Nabiyyi, and Hijra), the Zawiya has created a bridge, linking traditional Sufi practices with broadly accepted religious traditions in Palestinian society.
A Symbol of Inequality? Arab Perceptions of the Veil
Lars Bergerand, Professor Graeme Davies, University of Leeds
The question of what the veil represents has produced countless academic inquires and stirred much political debate. With existing research focusing mostly on the perception and framing of the veil among non-Muslims or on small-n investigations of possible motivations to veil among Muslim women, this paper aims to offer broad conclusions about the drivers of Muslim public support for the veil. Utilizing Arab Barometer data, it tests the empirical validity of claims that liberal Western representations of the veil misrepresent it as a symbol of inequality by ignoring its role as a symbol of female empowerment. In doing so, this paper contributes to the growing body of literature which examines the factors that help determine public opinion on women’s rights and gender equality across the Arab and Muslim world as well as in comparison to other parts of the world. The analysis does not aim to contribute to ongoing debates over the attempts of governments around the world to regulate the various manifestations of the veil. Instead, this paper lets Muslim Arab women and men speak for themselves. By shedding light on why some Arab Muslim women and men think that women should veil, this analysis highlights the wider social context in which Arab women decide whether or not to veil, particularly the role which religiosity and Islamist ideology as well as individual opinion on and structural measures of gender equality might play.
The ‘Ulama in Flux: From Opposition to Co-optation in the Wake of the Egyptian Coup
Usaama al-Azami, Markfield Institute of Higher Education
This paper attempts to map the networks of individuals and institutions associated with the Sunni ‘ulama that have emerged as politically significant in the wake of the Arab revolutions, and tries to understand both the motivations for, and the implications of the shift of power from oppositional ‘ulama to ‘ulama who enjoy establishment patronage. The institutions that will be considered include the Azhar of Egypt alongside a number of younger, lesser-known bodies, namely the Tabah Foundation, the Council of Muslim Elders, and the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies (FPPMS), all of which are based in Abu Dhabi, in the UAE. While the focus is on the Arab world, the transnational nature of some of the institutions that have been created in recent years give this brief study a global dimension. Thus individuals considered here include Western Muslims such as ?amza Y?suf, who serves as the Vice President of the UAE based FPPMS. Other scholars include: ?Al? Jum?a, the former Mufti of Egypt; A?mad al-?ayyib, the current Grand Imam of al-Azhar; ?Al? al-Jifr?, the Director of the ??bah Foundation; and ?Abdull?h b. Bayyah, the President of FPPMS. With particular regard towards the fluidity of traditional norms, I will explore how individuals and institutions deploy a scholarly discourse as a means of wielding legitimate religious authority under the auspices of the morally ambiguous modern state in a way that weaves together a pre-modern Islamic commitment to political quietism, and an impressive engagement with new media in myriad forms.
Radicalism, Reform and Migration: The Transformations of Shaykh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr
Robert Riggs, University of Bridgeport
This paper posits that the late Shaykh Nimr represented the nexus of regional political competitions, transnational religious knowledge networks, inter-generational tensions in contemporary Shi‘ism, and radical post-revolutionary Shi‘i politics. As both a receptor of these trends and an innovator, he underwent significant transformations in his ideology and activities that ultimately culminated in his 2 January 2016 execution by the Saudi authorities. He spent earlier periods of his life on educational migrations to Iran and Syria, grappling with changing theories on the roles of religious leadership within political regimes and how that connected with Human Rights theories. In doing so, he placed himself within the ever-changing Shi‘i religious and educational pilgrimage networks. Returning to his homeland in eastern Saudi Arabia, his influence grew in proportion to his advocacy for greater religious freedoms for his Shi‘i compatriots. Nimr underwent a complex process of sectarian identity formation, which played a significant role in a widening gap between himself, his Sunni compatriots, and even different constituencies within the Shi‘i community in Saudi’s Eastern Province, and holds relevance as a corrective to monolithic historiographies of the Saudi Shi‘a as a united community. Applying social movement theory and framing him within the processes of Globalization shows the complex intersection of religion and politics within a marginalized community. In doing so, this paper constructs a more complete picture of a community experiencing internal and external dynamic processes of evolution and conflict. The paper uses primary source material from the speeches and writings of Nimr and secondary literature.