Meaning of a textbook: Religious education, National Islam, and the politics of reform in the United Arab Emirates

Zeynep Ozgen, Sharif Ibrahim El Shishtawy Hassan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The organisation and content of Islamic education have been an object of Western scrutiny based on claims linking religious education to radicalism. Many Arab Gulf states have responded to such allegations with significant overhauls of their religious curricula. This article focuses on the politics of education reform in the United Arab Emirates. A detailed coding and analysis of 1500 pages of Islamic education textbooks reveal that religious education is a deeply politicised field. However, it promotes loyalty rather than radicalism. The reformed curriculum is used as a pedagogic tool by the state to advance national interpretations of Islam in support of domestic and international policy objectives, such as strengthening national identity against sub-national loyalties, securing political legitimacy, pacifying opposition, rebranding the state's international image, and spurring economic development. This article advances the existing scholarship by bringing in the international dimension of domestic education reform and the precise mechanisms that we call emulation and generalisation through which Islamic knowledge becomes functionalised for the state's nationalist goals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1181-1197
Number of pages17
JournalNations and Nationalism
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2021


  • Islamic education
  • United Arab Emirates
  • curriculum reform
  • national Islam
  • textbook analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Political Science and International Relations


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