Rethinking Transnational Islamic Movements within & across the Middle East & Europe
A Public Symposium, jointly hosted by:
Centre of Islamic Studies, the University of Cambridge &
Centre for the Study of Islam in the Contemporary World, the University of Edinburgh
6th March 2024
The Cavonius Centre
University of Cambridge
Contributing to an Islamic religious revival – a resurgence in the practice and public expression of Islam – since the 1920s, Islamic movements have worked to shape the way that many Muslims around the world relate to Islam and/or partake in Islamic activism. Islamic movements such as – or inspired by – the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, the south-Asian Jama’at-e-Islami and Tablighi Jama’at, Saudi/Wahhabi-centered Salafi organizations, and Sufi brotherhoods, have all played an important role in shaping how actors embedded in Muslim-majority and Muslim-minority contexts view and relate to, inter alia, the state, (institutional) politics, the legacies of Western colonialism, ‘traditional’ Muslim practices, and other Muslim sub-groups. Further, in the context of globalization and thus a growing number and range of interactions between people and societies at a global level, these movements are increasingly transnational dynamics shaped by global linkages and flows of material resources, ideas, preachers and laypeople.
Yet these global movements and their exponents in Europe and the so-called Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region – the focus of this symposium – are not static. Instead, they have evolved in significant ways across these geographical contexts. Indeed, the past two decades in particular have witnessed a series of important developments and events such as the 2011/12 ‘Arab Spring’, the emergence of a host of digital Islamic ‘public spheres’, and the challenges of global jihad (ISIS, al-Qa‘eda), but also COVID, which have undoubtedly impacted, and in many cases been impacted by, these evolving transnational Islamic movements. Scholars have variously invoked notions of Post-Islamism (Bayat 2013; Roy 2014), Post-Tariqa Sufism (Sedgwick 2021; Cizmeci, 2023), and, more recently, Post-Salafism (Blanc and Roy 2021; Blanc and Eyre forthcoming) to capture important transformations taking place within these movements. However, there remains a tendency within the academic literature to study (the shifts within) these different movements, including those operating in the MENA and Europe respectively, somewhat independently of one another. This symposium, therefore, seeks to advance comparative analysis of wider patterns of change, continuity, similarity, and difference across these different contemporary globalized Islamic movements embedded in these two regions.
In this way, this public symposium brings together policy-researchers, Islamic activists, and scholars working in a range of disciplines to discuss a series of important questions of interest to researchers, policy-makers, Islamic activists, and the media. These questions include:
- How is a globalized Islamic discourse selectively drawn on by different Islamic movements embedded in these different political and historical contexts?
- To what extent and, if so, how have these groups’ practices and discourses played an important role in the transformation of Muslim-majority and Muslim-minority societies?
- What challenges do these actors face, for example, from state power and sovereignty, and from other social movements groups and competing Islamic trends?
- How have recent shifts within these Islamic movements affected, and been affected by, changes to religious authority in the Muslim world?
- How do these transformations relate to broader local, national, and global forces and to what extent are categories such as Post-Islamism, Post-Tariqa Sufism, and Post-Salafism helpful for describing shifts within and across these different movements?
- Are we seeing a decline in the activity and influence of transnational Islamic movements?
- Is the way that Muslims relate to/identify with these movements changing?
Along these lines, this symposium will be organized into four panels with the following themes:
1 – Localization & Religious Change
This panel asks what happens to transnational Islamic movements when they travel into new contexts? How are they accepted or contested by local social forces? What accommodations and modifications emerge from this contestation? How, in other words, do they navigate their universal pretensions, global ambitions, and the national and local contexts and religious discourses within which they are embedded?
2 – Islam, Politics, & State Regulation
This panel examines how states in Europe and the MENA region have variously sought to promote, check, restrain, and even foreclose, particular modes of Islamic activism. It therefore asks how these states have attempted to define (il)legitimate modes of Muslim activism whilst, simultaneously, purporting to avow, inter alia, (liberal) democracy, social inclusion, and freedom of expression in the context of their own state-sanctioned claims to secular or religious authority. Second, this panel considers how Islamic groups have, by turn, experienced and responded to these state policies and navigated national(ist) and global religious discourses. Do they challenge or instead constitute (potential) partners of state power?
3 – Towards an Ecumenical Islam?
Intra-Muslim contestation has been a key feature of the Islamic activism scene. Islamic revivalist movements in particular, such as Islamist and Salafi currents, have long disparaged ‘traditional’ religious practices that constitute the basis of popular faith. Consequently, many variously adopting exclusivist attitudes and engaging in polemics with other Islamic movements and the broader Muslim mainstream. This panel revisits transnational Islamic movements’ attitudes towards other movements, shedding light on shifting attitudes towards intra-Muslim exclusivism and cooperation.
4 – Islamic Movements from the Bottom-Up
Despite important recent work that recognizes the importance of grassroots members and their impact on the evolution of transnational Islamic movements, scholarship still tends to study Islamic movements as broadly coherent and homogenous social units and centred on – typically male – ideologues. This panel thus examines the role of grassroots activists, including women, in shaping the shifting rhetoric, strategies, practice, and internal dynamics of Islamic movements.
The organizers are:
We plan for this public symposium to result in a Special Issue on contemporary transnational Islamic movements in Contemporary Islam.
Funding is available to subsidize travel & expenses.