In nearly every major Muslim-majority country, Islam is an important—and sometimes the only ideological currency that mixes effectively with realpolitik. The discussion of Islam in world politics in recent years has tended to focus on how religion is used by a wide range of social movements, political parties, and militant groups. However, less attention has been paid to the question of how governments—particularly those in the Middle East—have incorporated Islam into their broader foreign policy conduct. Whether it is state support for transnational religious outreach, the promotion of religious interpretations that ensure regime survival, or competing visions of global religious leadership, they all embody what has been termed the “geopolitics of religious soft power.”
On January 8, the Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings launched a new report entitled “Islam as statecraft: How governments use religion in foreign policy.” Senior Fellow Shadi Hamid and Nonresident Senior Fellow Peter Mandaville assessed how various governments incorporate religion and outreach into their broader foreign policy, from the Saudi-Iranian rivalry, to how the governments of prominent Muslim-majority countries have positioned themselves as the purveyors of a “moderate Islam.” Following the discussion, the panelists tookquestions from the audience.
Former Brookings Expert
Visiting Fellow , Brookings Doha Center
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