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Hossein Alizadeh: Decoding the discourse of the Umma and the ways it functions in Muslim polity

Tampere University
LocationKalevantie 5, Tampere
City centre campus, Linna building, lecture hall K103 and remote connection.
Date12.6.2024 9.00–13.00
Entrance feeFree of charge
Hossein Alizadeh’s dissertation decodes the politics of the Umma and its counter-hegemonic narrative in political Islam. Due to the Umma’s role in almost all Islamist movements, the research revolves around the dominating discourse of the Umma in Muslims’ consciousness and how it is conceptualised to function in Muslim polity.

The notion of the ‘Umma’ (generally perceived as faithful Muslim society) has tremendous resonance in today’s Muslim lexicon and it profoundly preoccupies the Muslim intelligentsia who present Islam as an ideal sociopolitical modern system and, consequently, intend to idealise a transnational Islam (pan-Islamism). As a result, the Umma concept is central to Muslim consciousness, shaping a plethora of Islamist movements and constituting a dominating discourse of empowerment.

Despite its persistent presence, the Umma is a vague concept. It seems that the Umma implies a ‘homogeneous Islamic community’ for all Islamists to confront the Other. Thus, the outstanding question is: What is the politics of the Umma, and how, as a discourse, does it function in Muslim polity?

Through the above question, Hossein Alizadeh examines what the Other is and how the Umma is contextualised and conceptualised in political Islam to function in Muslim polity. The goal of the research  is  to re-think and decode ‘the politics of the Umma’ and its counter-hegemonic narrative from a pan-Islamist perspective, presenting it as Islam’s holistic ruling system against other political systems.

Additionally, the research scrutinizes the fact that the Umma notion constitutes an integral part of Islamic political philosophy, presenting Islam, more than faith and piety (minimalist approach), as a political ideology and polity that pursues a political agenda (maximalist approach).

The agenda is collective behaviour to institute a new concrete system, i.e., the Islamic state.

“Consequently, the formation of the ‘Umma-state’ as an alternative to the ‘nation-state’ paradigm is the fundamental goal of almost all — if not all — diverse Islamist movements seeking a global presence. In this sense, the Umma-state is presented as an ever-widening authority to transcend all political borders and boundaries,” Alizadeh explains.

To this effect, Alizadeh’s dissertation is a methodological approach and an analytical contemplation of the politics of the Umma and its functionality in political Islam in general, calling for Muslim unity worldwide based on the Ummatic identity and dynamism of Islam.

The role of colonialism

The research’s second contribution revolves around the Sykes-Picot Agreement from a pan-Islamist perspective, which, in a defamatory sense against colonialism, considers it the notorious cornerstone of a plot that allegedly tore the Umma apart.

As another contribution, Alizadeh explores the political genesis of pan-Islamist groups and movements in the post-First World War era, in which the abolition of the Caliphate – that of the Ottomans – left behind a lasting ‘trauma’ that led to the proliferation of a plethora of pan-Islamist groups, developing an acute longing expressed commonly in the desire of restoration of the institution of the Caliphate in the Sunni denomination and the Imamate doctrine in Shia.

The research also explores how the call to the construction   of the Umma is a pan-Islamist political agenda and a nostalgic reaction to the narrative of the decline of Islamic civilisation. In order to reverse Muslim decline (Inhitat), the research illuminates the fact that Islamists suggest the replacement of the ‘Middle East of the Sykes-Picot’ with the ‘Middle East of Islam’. The remedy is the revival of the ‘Golden Age of Islamic Civilisation,’ in a clash with Western civilisation (Huntington’s grand alarmist theory) under one worldwide unified political entity (the Umma), which has become shorthand for one Islamic ‘bloc’.

Hossein Alizadeh is a former Iranian diplomat and senior officer in international political affairs who, now an independent freelance journalist and commentator, contributes to various Persian, Arabic, and English media about Iran, the Middle East, and international issues. He is the author of “The History Relation of Iran and Egypt."

Public defence on Wednesday 12 June

The doctoral dissertation of Hossein Alizadeh in TAPRI’s Studies in Peace and Conflict Research titled “Re-Thinking the Politics of the Umma (Muslim Bloc): The Call for Islamic Global Politics” will be publicly examined at the Faculty of Social Sciences, Tampere University, at 12:00 on Wednesday 12 June 2024. The venue is Linna building, lecture hall K103 (address: Kalevantie 5, Tampere). The Opponent will be Professor Said Sadek from Egypt-Japan University of Cairo. The Custos will be Professor Emeritus Tuomo Melasuo from Tampere University.

The doctoral dissertation is available online

The public defence can be followed via a remote connection

Photograph: Charlotta Buxton