Usaama al-Azami


Departmental Lecturer in Contemporary Islamic Studies

Faculty / College Address:

Oriental Institute / St Antony's College



Usaama al-Azami read his BA in Arabic and Islamic Studies at the University of Oxford, and his MA and PhD in Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University. He came to Islamic studies after a gap year studying Arabic and Islamic studies convinced him to turn down an offer to study medicine at Imperial College London. During his undergraduate career, he also pursued Islamic studies and subsequently taught in Islamic seminaries alongside academic institutions. He has travelled extensively throughout the Middle East, living for five years in the region. He is also an enthusiastic teacher who is very eager to support the formation of research scholars, and always welcomes students with such aspirations to get in touch with him.

Usaama al-Azami is primarily interested in the interaction between Islam and modernity with a special interest in modern developments in Islamic political thought. His PhD which he is working to develop into his second monograph is entitled "Modern Islamic Political Thought: Islamism in the Arab World from the Late 20th to the Early 21st Centuries". In it, he explores how Arab ulama of a mainstream "Islamist" orientation have engaged Western political concepts such as democracy, secularism and the nation-state, selectively adopting and assimilating aspects of these ideas in their understanding of Islam. His broader interests extend to a range of disciplines from the Islamic scholarly tradition from the earliest period of Islam down to the present.

Research Interests:

  • Islamism, the ulama, and contemporary politics
  • Contemporary debates in Islamic thought/law
  • Methodological debates in Islamic studies
  • Postcolonial and decolonial studies
  • Normative studies in the Islamic scholarly tradition

Current Projects:

  • Islam and the Arab Revolutions - a book project contracted with Hurst-OUP on the response of regional ulama to the Arab revolutions. It considers the legal and theological responses of the ulama to the questions of obedience and rebellion, exploring contemporary Islamic thought and the politics of religious authority in the Middle East after 2011.
  • "The Reception of Hakimiyya in the Arab World after Mawdudi and Qutb" - a journal article exploring the reception of the concept of sovereignty in the writings of al-Qaradawi, and Nadwi.

Courses Taught:

  • Modern Islamic Thought in the Middle East
  • Political Islam, Islamism and Modern Islamic Movements (MPhil/MSc only)
  • A Modern Islamic Thinker (BA only)

Recent Publications:

  • "‘Abdullāh bin Bayyah and the Arab Revolutions: Counter‐revolutionary Neo‐traditionalism’s Ideological Struggle against Islamism," The Muslim World, 109(3), 343-361.
  • "Legitimising Political Dissent: Islamist Salafi Discourses on Obedience and Rebellion after the Arab Revolutions," in An Introduction to New Salafism, eds. Masooda Bano and Abdullah al-Saud (forthcoming).
  • "Neo-traditionalist Sufis and Arab Politics: A Preliminary Mapping of the Transnational Networks of Counter-revolutionary Scholars after the Arab Revolutions" in Global Sufism: Boundaries, Structures, and Politics, eds. Mark Sedgwick and Francesco Piraino, (London: Hurst, 2019), 225-236 and 278-283.

Some of Dr al-Azami's publications and works-in progress may be accessed here:

Other Publications:

Book reviews:

  • Women in the Mosque: A History of Legal Thought and Social Practice. Marion Holmes Katz. Columbia, 2014. (The Muslim World Book Review, 36:2 [2016]).
  • The Impossible State: Islam, Politics, and Modernity's Moral Predicament. Wael Hallaq. Columbia, 2012. (The Muslim World, 104:1-2 [2014]).
  • Just Wars, Holy Wars and Jihads: Christian, Jewish and Muslim Encounters and Exchanges. Sohail Hashmi (ed.). OUP, 2012. (Journal of Islamic Studies, 25:1 [2014]).
  • Sufism and Society: Arrangements of the Mystical in the Muslim World, 1200-1800. Curry Ohlander (eds.). Routledge, 2012. (Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, 24:4 [2013]).
  • Observing the Observer: The State of Islamic Studies in American Universities. Mumtaz Ahmad, Zahid Bukhari, and Sulayman Nyang, eds. Herndon, VA: IIIT, 2012. (American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences (AJISS) 30:3 [2013]).
  • Contemporary Approaches to the Qur’ān and Sunnah. ed. Mahmoud Ayoub. Herndon, VA: IIIT, 2012. (American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences (AJISS) 30:3 [2013]).

Further Information:

Dr al-Azami frequently contributes op-ed pieces to news outlets, especially those with a special interest in the Middle East. He also engages in consultancy regarding the Gulf region and with respect to Islam and Muslim communities in the West, particularly with the educational and charity sectors.

Usaama al-Azami