The Ulama, the Modern State, and the Arab Revolutions: A Discussion with Dr. Usaama Al-Azami and Ismail Royer


On January 20, 2022 at 3pm EST, RFI’s Islam and Religious Action Action Team will hold an event that will be livestreamed on RFI’s website, YouTube channel, Facebook page.


Ismail Royer, Director of RFI’s Islam and Religious Freedom Action Team, and Dr. Usaama al-Azami, Departmental Lecturer in Contemporary Islamic Studies at the University of Oxford, will undertake what promises to be a lively discussion about Dr. al-Azami’s new book, Islam and the Arab Revolutions: The Ulama Between Democracy and Autocracy. In the book, Dr. al-Azami traces the public engagements and religious pronouncements of several prominent ulama in the region, including Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Ali Gomaa, and Abdallah bin Bayyah, to explore their role in either championing or opposing the Arab revolutions. Dr. al-Azami concludes that while a minority of noted scholars have enthusiastically endorsed the counter-revolutions, their approach is attributable less to premodern theology and more to their distinctly modern commitment to the authoritarian state.


Usaama al-Azami and Ismail Royer held a subsequent conversation to delve further into a number of themes in al-Azami’s book.

Egypt’s Mohamed Morsi (C), the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar Ahmed El-Tayeb (R), and Egypt’s Mufti Ali Gomaa (2nd L) during the Al-Gomaa prayer at Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo August 17, 2012. REUTERS/Egyptian Presidency/Handout (EGYPT)

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 Oxford, his seminary training at Al-Salam Institute, and his MA and PhD in Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University. He has also studied Islamic sciences from scholars such as Shaykhs Ahmad ‘Ali Lajpuri, ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Kattani, Yunus Jaunpuri, Muhammad Rabi’, ‘Abd al-Wahhab al-Turayri, ‘Abd-Allah al-Judai’, Muhammad al-Yaqoubi, Muhammad Al Rashid, Nizam Ya’qubi, Jihad Brown, and Ziyad al-Tukla.He specialises in Islamic political thought. Dr. Al-Azami’s new book, Islam and the Arab Revolutions: The Ulama Between Democracy and Autocracy may be purchased here (promo code: ADISTA5).

Ismail Royer serves as Director of the Islam and Religious Freedom Action Team for the Religious Freedom Institute. Since converting to Islam in 1992, he has studied religious sciences with traditional Islamic scholars, and spent over a decade working at non-profit Islamic organizations. In June 2003, Royer was indicted for assisting the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET) and pleaded guilty to weapons charges related to the violation of United States neutrality laws. Since his release he has worked with nonprofits to promote peace between faiths. His writing has appeared in publications such as the Washington PostFirst ThingsJournal of Religion and SocietyPublic DiscourseDetroit Free PressAl JumuahMuslim MattersThe Catholic ThingReligion Unplugged, and RealClearReligion. He co-authored an article on Islam in Religious Violence Today: Faith and Conflict in the Modern World (ABC-CLIO, 2020), and is the author of the monograph Pakistan’s Blasphemy Law and Non-Muslims (Lamppost Education Initiative, 2018).

The Religious Freedom Institute is hosting a series of webinars as part of an initiative to explore the relationship between Islam and the state. This series is part of a broader inquiry into the scope of freedom of religion within Islam and the prospects for its realization in the Muslim-majority world.


Jan 20 2022


2:00 pm - 3:30 pm