Past eventMembers

What is an Islamic State?

9 February 2016 - 6:00pm to 7:00pm

Chatham House, London


Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, Chairman, Cordoba Initiative; Islamic Scholar; Author, Defining Islamic Statehood
Tarek Osman, Author, Islamism: What it Means for the Middle East and the World; Senior Political Counsellor for the Arab World, European Bank for Reconstruction & Development (EBRD)
Chair: Jane Kinninmont, Deputy Head and Senior Research Fellow, Middle East and North Africa Programme, Chatham House



The idea of an Islamic state has been discussed and debated for 14 centuries. While the rise of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has focused attention on political violence and punishments, there have been, and are today, successful examples of states founded on or inspired by Islamic principles. This panel aims to explore some of the fundamental tenets of Islamic statehood and analyse how such tenets can accommodate notions of democracy and freedom: a debate that has been evolving rapidly in the five years since the Arab uprisings.

How Islamic is the Islamic State that ISIS professes? What are the key features that define true Islamic statehood and who can decide these? How can any Islamic state manage the seemingly insurmountable sectarian divisions within modern Islam? And, faced with a growing, more interconnected middle class in many majority Muslim countries, how can Islam reconcile itself with secular modernity?