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Reconceptualizing the contemporary Ulama: Al-Azhar, Lay Islam, and the Egyptian state in the late twentieth century

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Thesis type
(Thesis) M.A.
Date created
This thesis explores the role of the historic interpreters of Islam, the ulama, in the religious revival that has swept Egypt since the 1970s. The existing literature has generally portrayed the resurgence as having been led by laymen, who were compelled to take on leadership positions due to the growing isolation and passivity of the “traditional” ulama. Challenging this narrative, I argue that the ulama are hardly traditional actors that have been co-opted wholesale by the state by showing how the boundaries have blurred considerably between the ulama and lay Islamic activists since the 1970s, which has led the former to assume increasingly a role of dissent within Egyptian society. Such protest is historically significant not only because it forces us to reassess the role of the ulama within the revival, but also because it raises some larger questions about the very identity of the ulama within contemporary Muslim societies.
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