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Volume 7
2012

Advancing Our Understanding of Muslim Politics and Religion

  • Mohammed Ayoob
  • University Distinguished Professor of International Relations
  • James Madison College
  • and
  • Department of Political Science
  • College of Social Science

  • Founding Director
  • Muslim Studies Program, International Studies and Programs
'Migrations of Islam' focuses on demonstrating the experiences of Muslims in North America, as well as the cultural connections between Muslim minorities in the United States and Canada and Muslim majority regions of the world.
Mohammed Ayoob

The terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001 deeply affected Americans and others around the world, including Mohammed Ayoob. In the aftermath of this tragedy it became poignantly clear that providing Americans with an informed understanding, based on accurate, scholarly knowledge (rather than stereotypes) of the real, lived, and diverse experiences of Muslims in the United States and around the world, was vital for both domestic harmony and international relations. This is precisely what Ayoob offers to a variety of audiences, through his research, teaching, and community engagement.

Originally from India, Ayoob earned his Ph.D. in political science at the University of Hawai'i in 1966 and, after working at universities on four continents, joined the Michigan State University faculty in 1990. He was named University Distinguished Professor in 1996.

The Many Faces of Political Islam: Religion and Politics in the Muslim World
The Many Faces of Political Islam: Religion and Politics in the Muslim World

An internationally renowned scholar and specialist on conflict and security in the Third World for more than four decades, Ayoob also researches, teaches, and publishes on the intersection of religion and politics in the Muslim world. He has authored, co-authored, or edited 13 books and published around 100 research papers and scholarly articles in leading professional journals. His commentaries and op-eds on world affairs have been published in The New York Times and The Guardian, and distributed worldwide through Project Syndicate. He has also been published numerous times on the websites of Foreign Policy, CNN, YaleGlobal, and the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, where he is an adjunct scholar. Ayoob has acted as a consultant to organizations such as the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty and the Ford Foundation. He is the recipient of numerous fellowships and grants, as well as literary and political science awards. His 2008 book, The Many Faces of Political Islam: Religion and Politics in the Muslim World (University of Michigan Press, 2008), which challenges prevalent assumptions about political Islam, has received acclaim both nationally and internationally.

More recently, Ayoob collaborated with co-PI Salah D. Hassan, associate professor, Department of English, College of Arts and Letters, on two Social Science Research Council (SSRC) grant-funded projects: "Journal/Islam" and "Migrations of Islam: Muslim American Cultural Expression in the 21st Century."

This shift in Ayoob's focus from his earlier, more theoretical work on subaltern realism1 was a direct result of the events of September 11, 2001. As Ayoob pointed out, "9/11 literally changed the trajectory both of my teaching and my research." He had already been interested in what was happening in political Islam and in the Middle East and South Asia and how these were connected. As he explained it, "9/11 sort of brought all of that together and I started thinking about going back to my earlier work on political Islam and the Middle East." As it turned out, others at Michigan State University, including then-Provost Lou Anna K. Simon and several deans, were similarly interested in these issues and welcomed this shift in Ayoob's scholarly focus.

'Journal/Islam' aims to provide a nuanced perspective on Islam, Muslims, and Muslim societies that will generate more accurate reporting.
"Journal/Islam" aims to provide a nuanced perspective on Islam, Muslims, and Muslim societies that will generate more accurate reporting.

After 9/11 Dr. Simon decided to invest more resources in bringing information and knowledge about the Muslim world to MSU's faculty and students. As Ayoob recalled, "I started moving in that direction and thanks to the vision of Provost Simon…that led to the Muslim Studies initiative." He explained the distinction between "Muslim studies" and "Islamic studies" by noting that Muslim studies is mostly social science-based and focuses on the rich, diverse, lived experiences of Muslims, not on Islam as an essentialist phenomenon.

With the support of Simon and the deans of James Madison College, International Studies and Programs, and the College of Social Science, Ayoob came to lead two programs under the Muslim Studies initiative. The first was the establishment in 2004 of an undergraduate specialization in Muslim Studies (housed in James Madison College), for which Ayoob served as coordinator until 2011. The second was the establishment in 2006 of the Muslim Studies Program, which is housed in International Studies and Programs. The program was established with financial support from the offices of the Provost and the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies, International Studies and Programs, and James Madison College. Ayoob served as its founding director until August 2012. About 20 core faculty currently participate in that program.

As Ayoob steps down from the director's position of the Muslim Studies Program, he expressed the hope that his successor will work hard to ensure that the Muslim Studies Program is established as a major resource for information and analysis about the Muslim world.

photo of Salah Hassan

Reflecting on Ayoob's legacy, his co-PI on the SSRC projects, Salah Hassan, noted that "Professor Ayoob has been extremely supportive of the key faculty and students by endorsing and promoting these initiatives. And in turn, these projects have enhanced the profile of the Muslim Studies Program."

"Journal/Islam," a project developed with and for journalism faculty and now also a website launched in April 2012 (muslimsubjects.org/journalislam/), aims to provide a nuanced perspective on Islam, Muslims, and Muslim societies that will generate more accurate reporting. The resources provided on the website are designed for journalism professors to use in their teaching and research as well as for journalists in the mainstream media who seek materials related to Muslims.

'Migrations of Islam' focuses on demonstrating the experiences of Muslims in North America, as well as the cultural connections between Muslim minorities in the United States and Canada and Muslim majority regions of the world.
"Migrations of Islam" focuses on demonstrating the experiences of Muslims in North America, as well as the cultural connections between Muslim minorities in the United States and Canada and Muslim majority regions of the world.

"Migrations of Islam" (muslimsubjects.org/ migrationsofislam/) focuses on demonstrating the experiences of Muslims in North America, as well as the cultural connections between Muslim minorities in the United States and Canada and Muslim majority regions of the world. In February 2012 a free public symposium in the MSU International Center provided a forum for scholars and writers to further the discussion of Muslim American artistic expression by critically engaging the various social, political, cultural, and technological forces that condition the ways Muslims represent themselves and how they are represented.

An "umbrella" website (muslimsubjects.org) provides access to current projects of the Muslim Studies Program and other resources. The "Muslim Subjects" website was produced in collaboration with MATRIX and with the assistance of Donald Matlock, a student in the Muslim Studies Specialization.

While Ayoob continues his research and worldwide travels to help domestic and international audiences gain a better understanding of Muslims and the intersection of religion and politics in the Muslim world, he is also helping to ensure the continued success of the MSU Muslim Studies Program and to educate a new generation of community-engaged scholars and journalists in this field.

  • Written by Catherine A. Gibson, University Outreach and Engagement

Sources

  1. Dr. Ayoob's subaltern realism perspective is an analytical tool in international relations theory. See Ayoob, M. (2002, Autumn). Inequality and theorizing in international relations: The case for subaltern realism. International Studies Review, 4(3), 27-48.