In Rivals in the Gulf: Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Abdullah bin Bayah, and the Qatar-UAE Contest over the Arab Spring and the Gulf Crisis (2021), David Warren elucidated how the ulama in the Middle East played an important role in shaping Islam to fit the foreign policy objectives and state-branding of Arab Gulf states, such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Qatar. Aside from these countries, other Muslim-majority governments also have a powerful incentive to insert Islam into their foreign policy, use religious ideas to increase their prestige, and promote their interests abroad – to deploy, in other words, what Peter Mandaville and Shadi Hamid call “Islamic soft power”. These include traditional and nascent centres of Islamic scholarship such as Egypt, Morocco, Turkey, as well as Iran. From a broader perspective, the competing religio-political clamour for “soft power” could be seen as a global competition for a larger “mindshare” or hegemony of Muslim minds.
About the Speakers
Prof Peter Mandaville is currently a senior advisor for the religion and inclusive societies team at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), where he also leads an initiative focused on the security and peacebuilding implications of religion in the external relations of great powers. He brings 25 years of academic, think tank and government experience focussing on the intersection of religion, international affairs, and the Muslim-majority world. This includes his time in the US State Department (2011-2012) where he was involved in shaping US’ response to the Arab Spring, and in the Office of the Secretary of State (2015-2016), where he helped set up the new Office of Religion and Global Affairs. Previous affiliations have included the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Pew Research Center. He is the author of Transnational Muslim Politics: Reimagining the Umma (2003), and Islam & Politics (2014), as well as several co-edited books, numerous journal articles, book chapters, op-eds and commentary pieces in outlets such as Foreign Affairs, the International Herald Tribune, The Guardian, The Atlantic Online and Foreign Policy. He is also a professor of international affairs in the Schar School of Policy and Government and the director of the AbuSulayman Center for Global Islamic Studies, both at George Mason University. In addition, he is Senior Research Fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University.
Dr Usaama al-Azami is Departmental Lecturer in Contemporary Islamic Studies at the University of Oxford. He completed his BA in Arabic and Islamic Studies at the University of Oxford, and his MA and PhD in Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University. He has also pursued and taught Islamic studies in seminarial settings. He research interests include, inter alia, the Arab uprisings, the ulama and contemporary politics; contemporary debates in Islamic political philosophy, law, and ethics; and post-colonial and decolonial studies. He is the author of Islam and the Arab Revolutions: The Ulama Between Democracy and Autocracy (2021), and is currently working to develop monographs on “Modern Islamic Political Thought: Islamism in the Arab World from the Late Twentieth to the Early Twenty-first Centuries” and “Yusuf al-Qaradawi and the Issue of Takfir”.