Islamic Reformulations: Belief, Violence, Governance

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Arab and Islamic Studies


In this project, two fundamental research areas within the Global Uncertainties Programme are investigated:

  1. How might ideologies and beliefs contribute to "global uncertainty", and what response is appropriate if they do?

  2. As some modern Muslim intellectual trends are viewed as creating "global uncertainty" through legitimising global terrorism and violence, what are the potential future directions for legitimate violence in Islamic thought?

For Gleave, these questions formed the underlying research focus of the "Legitimate and Illegitimate Violence in Islamic Thought" (LIVIT) project. In this project, research on the contested relationship between ideological adherence and action will be addressed through focussed workshops and major public events. The Islamic Reformulations project will further extend this research by examining the possible developments of Muslim thinking on violence within the current context by reference to past patterns of justification. Recent ideological developments are best understood in the context of previous Muslim notions of violence and its legitimacy; by examining them against this background, the current intellectual landscape of the Muslim world, and its potential ideological trajectories, can be better understood.

Planned Impact

The various potential beneficiaries of the project (in both the GU Leadership/Thoughtcrimes and the Research Programme/Islamic Reformulations elements) will engage with different stages of the project's activity programme in distinct ways:
(1) Researchers, scholars and students working in academia will benefit from the originality of the project's ouputs, bringing to light the continuity and discontinuities between classical Islamic thought and the contemporary Muslim intellectual developments on the questions of the justification of violence and its link with legitimate governance. On the more general questions tackled by the Leadership activities, researchers in a variety of disciplines will hopefully be exposed to the various models of how ideological commitment might be linked with uncertainty-causing action. The seminars and workshops will also offer them opportunities to widen their audience and improve the impact potential of their research (see the Academic Beneficiaries section above). This will build on the networks and working arrangements of the LIVIT project.
(2) Those working in the security services (both those involved in counter-terrorism and also those working in deradicalisation programmes) will undoubtedly express an interest in the findings of the project, and benefit from its research approach. This would follow on from similar activity in the LIVIT project, and will include involvement in the seminars and networks established in year 1, contributions to the Thoughtcrimes seminar and other events in year 2, and feeding into the design of the programme of impact activities (training sessions, information design, digested research bulletins) planned for the final year.
(3) The foreign and diplomatic services (not only of the UK but other countries also) will benefit from this, particularly those involved in training and briefing individuals for postings, researchers within the foreign service, and analysts seeking to inform foreign policy. Links already exist in this area through the LIVIT project, and will be further developed in the period of the project's activities.
(4) The benefit to Non-Governmental and Third Sector Organisations working with Muslim communities worldwide will lie in them using the research and engaging with the impact activities planned for year 3 of the project. The research will be presented to these non-academic users in digestible form, and training events around these will be devised for the final year of the project. Those working in areas unrelated to Muslim communities will also benefit, engaging with the project through the GU Leadership activities, particularly the network and Thoughtcrimes seminar. These will cover all ideological movements and their potential to inspire action likely to cause global uncertainty.
(5) One of the principal aims of the project is to raise the level of public awareness of the debates around the inherent "danger" of certain opinions in a liberal democratic context, the supposed "causal" relationship between ideological adherence and "dangerous" action, and (perhaps the most obviously attractive element) the application of these notions directly to Islam and contemporary Muslim thought. Through the media attention which the project aims to capture, and the public facing events and online presence, the project aims to raise the level of public debate about Islamic thought, and its contribution to global uncertainty. This is more than simply dissemination of research results: an attempt to influence the manner in which Islamic thought is described and presented in public discourse (which in a democratic context, will inevitably have policy implications).
By taking ideological and religious debates seriously, and not treating them merely as proxies for conflicts of power, the project will facilitate the coordination of the various GU Core Area activities, and thereby enhance the benefit of the GU programme to its user communities.


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Gleave R (2014) Islamic Law in Theory

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Gleave R (2015) Early Shiite hermeneutics and the dating of Kitab Sulaym ibn Qays in Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies

Title Future Cube 
Description The Future Cube was a large public installation, placed in front of Exeter Cathedral and designed by Mohammed Ali. It depicted his vision of the future - a video was made of the cube's creation and can be viewed on 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2013 
Impact The presence of the cube in Exeter city centre - a space normally free of any Islamic symbols - prompted a debate within the community about the place of Islam and Christianity in public life. This resulted in a very well attended public event in September 2013 at the Cathedral on this topic. Such a debate had never happened before in Exeter, which the small Muslim community and the local non-Muslim community had had little interaction. 
Title Future Cube 
Description This is the video of the future cube's creation, completed by Mohammed Ali in 2013 at the Univeristy of Exeter 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2013 
Impact It has been viewed numerous times and shown at numerous IR events. 
Title Multiple Identities 
Description This wall mural was created by El Seed the French Tunisian mural artist - it is a piece of calligraphic exploration in which the artists rejects the label of being a Muslim artist and instead draws on his various identities to express his work. 
Type Of Art Artwork 
Year Produced 2013 
Impact The artwork is still being shown at the University of Exeter, and there has been a much viewed video of its creation. Available on the website. 
Title Multiple Identities 
Description Video outlining the creation of the Mural Multiple Identities 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2013 
Impact Much viewed and shown at various events linked to the Project 
Description The Islamic Reformulations project finished on 29th february 2016. It was one of the Global Uncertainties Leadership Fellowships, led by Robert Gleave (PI), working first with Sarah Elibiary and then with Mustafa Baig (both as Research Fellows). Elibiary now works at SOAS, University of London; Baig has a lectureship at Cardiff University. The project examined how Islamic thought has been reformulated in response to modernity, examining not only religious texts and intellectual development, but also how theological shifts have been expressed through other media (in particular artistic production).

The project team mapped of the reformulation processes and brought together some of the major schoalrs in the field to share in the project and inform those working with the core team. The result was a series of events (workshops, sandpits and conferences) through which a network of scholars has been established. Of particular note is the connection between junior and senior scholars, with much space and possibility given to ECRs from across the country, but also internationally. Full details of the events can be found on the dedicated website
Exploitation Route The publications demonstrate how the project has produced research which has broadened and enhanced the field. The Narrative Impact section explains how the external partners have managed to use and employ the project's results.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description Islamic Reformulations, one of the Global Uncertainties Leadership Fellowships, has been examining the way in which Islamic thought has been reinterpreted in the modern period to produce political theories, reformulated theologies and changed attitudes towards violence. In terms of impact, the research funded by both the AHRC and the ESRC draws on definitions and conceptions of impact from both these research councils. Impact activities to date fallen under the following headings: A. Public events aimed at raising the level of public debate about Islam and the Muslim community nationally and internationally. Of particular note among these are the following: 1. A public roundtable event at SAOS on the meaning of an Islamic state with over 250 attendees 2. A series of seminar around the theme of "Thoughtcrimes" examining the way in which ideas and beliefs are treated within the law, particularly with respect to counter-terrorism and anti-extremism legislation. 3. A major public even in Istanbul in which the general public was able to discuss the future directions of Islamic law and its effect on state policy and formation with an expert international panel. 4. A major public event convened jointly with Exeter cathedral on Islam and Christianity in the Public Sphere - attended by over 200 people. 5. An Audience with Frank Gardener", Rob Gleave was in conversation with the BBC Security Correspondent, with an attendance of over 400. 6. A series of expert witness appearances by Gleave in relation to trials linked to Islam-related terrorism accusations B. Public art expressing Muslim identity in the contemporary period. These included the creation of pieces of art by renowned Muslim artists (Graffiti artist Mohammed Ali, Mural artist El Seed, music artist Celt Islam). The Future Cube by Mohammed Ali proved particularly successful and was displayed outside Exeter Cathedral for a period of 2 months. Mohammed Ali returned in early 2016 to create the knowledge mural in Exeter, with images of the surrounding area blended with ISlamic calligraphy. B. Advice to government, legal and NGO bodies The project team has been involved in training public servants including speaking at FCO training, providing advice to legal counsel on Islam-related cases (including the Tareena Shakil case), training the military (such as IHAT team in the UK Army), DSTL and the Security Services. C. Media engagement aimed at disseminating high-quality research. Gleave and Baig are regular interviewees on BBC radio, and Gleave has written for the Independent , appeared on "in Our Time" and national news outlets.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Security and Diplomacy
Impact Types Cultural,Societal