CMEPF: Making Modern Mullahs in Britain

The Cambridge Muslims in Europe Postgraduate Forum will meet on Tuesday 1 December 2015. The main presentation will be from Alyaa Ahmed Abbiary, who will be discussing some of her ethnographic fieldwork in two of the leading Islamic educational institutions in the country. This event is part of a series featuring visiting postgraduate speakers discussing their research and its wider academic context, organised by Cambridge Muslims in Europe Postgraduate Forum and kindly sponsored by the Centre of Islamic Studies. Newcomers are welcome; we kindly request that you contact the organisers ( / in advance. Further details are below.

Introductory Article:

“Educating the ‘Ulama: Centres of Islamic religious training in Britain”, Sophie Gilliat-Ray, Islam and Christian–Muslim Relations (2006), 17:1, 55-76.

Presentation Abstract:

Among the many criticisms afforded the British Muslim ‘community’, particular censure is reserved for its Imams and religious leaders, both by non-Muslim wider society and their own co-religionists. A common refrain is disappointment that they are in the main, born and educated abroad, have a poor command of English and an even worse understanding of British society and connecting with the youth. Over the last 30 years several institutions have been established to train home-grown religious specialists, but many of them have been similarly criticised as ‘backward’ and ‘out of touch’. In the last decade, there has been a huge interest in nurturing a cohort of ulema (Islamic scholars) for whom cultural literacy is as important as religious literacy. My research explores the personal and pedagogical experiences of this emerging trend, with reference to fieldwork conducted with seminary students and aspiring Islamic religious professionals, in Cambridge and London.


Alyaa Ebbiary is a PhD candidate at the Department of Anthropology in the School of Oriental and African Studies. She is researching Islamic education and advanced religious training institutions within the British Muslim community, with particular attention to pedagogical practices and knowledge transmission. Her academic background is Anthropology and Middle Eastern Studies (BA, Manchester University) and Religious Studies (MA, Lancaster University), and she has also trained as a teacher (PGCE, University of Cambridge). She has been a research assistant at University of East London, Lancaster University, and the Lokahi Foundation.