Electronic Thesis/Dissertation


Heirs of the Prophet: Islamic Authority and International Politics in the 21st Century Open Access

Senior Islamic authorities (`ulama) have reached different levels of consensus when contesting their response to major international events in the 21st century, largely agreeing on the appropriate response in some cases while remaining strongly divided in others. This variation has been present even in cases when Islamic authorities considered substantively similar issues in close chronological proximity. Furthermore, these levels of consensus changed over time in some cases, growing stronger or weaker, but remained relatively constant in other cases. Therefore, my research question for this project is: What accounts for variation in the level of consensus achieved by Islamic authorities when contesting their responses to major international events and why does this level of consensus change or not change in response to subsequent developments? For each case, I determine the initial level of consensus among Islamic authorities around the issue as captured in the Arabic language press then look to see to what extent this consensus grew stronger, weaker, or stayed the same in response to contestation and subsequent developments.My dependent variable for this study is consensus, which is a strong marker of authority across borders, especially in Islam. Consensus is an ordinal variable (categorized as low, mixed, or high) and consists of the degree to which authorities coalesce around a common position on the event in question. The primary factor that accounts for differences in the level of Islamic authorities' consensus is how these actors frame the events in question and specifically, to what extent these frames align. When the frames chosen by Islamic authorities have a high degree of alignment, a stronger consensus is likely whereas incompatible frames are more likely to produce mixed or low consensus. In addition, uncertainty is the variable that best explains when Islamic authorities' level of consensus is most likely to change. High uncertainty produces the conditions most conducive for change because it forces authorities to take new positions or reevaluate old ones as interests, social identities, etc. are in flux. When uncertainty is low, authorities are more likely to fall back on their previous positions and change in the level of consensus is less likely.In examining the above concepts, the study examines Islamic authorities' contestation surrounding four major international events since 2000 (grouped into sets of two). Each pair contrasts related events that dealt with the same fundamental issue, but that produced different levels of consensus as well as different types of change over time. The first pair compares contests over suicide attacks during the Second Palestinian Intifada (2000-01), which produced a divided consensus among the `ulama that endured over time, and the September 11 attacks (2001), which initially produced high consensus that ultimately devolved into low consensus. The second set of cases contrasts Arab Spring revolutions in 2011 against Husni Mubarak in Egypt, which initially led to a mixed consensus that ultimately strengthened into a strong consensus, and the Qadhafi regime in Libya, which resulted in strong unification among the `ulama that persisted.

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