Gulf Charities and Islamic Philanthropy in the 'Age of Terror' and Beyond

Gulf Charities and Islamic Philanthropy in the 'Age of Terror' and Beyond


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9783940924322
Publisher: Gerlach Press
Publication date: 03/15/2014
Pages: 411
Product dimensions: 6.50(w) x 9.60(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Robert Lacey (MA Cantab) is the author of The Kingdom: Arabia and the House of Sa'ud (1981) and Inside the Kingdom: Kings, Clerics, Modernists, Terrorists and the Struggle for Saudi Arabia (2009). A frequent visitor to the kingdom, he writes, broadcasts, and lectures regularly on the subject of Saudi Arabia, with special reference to issues of terrorism and terrorist financing. Jonathan Benthall, a graduate of Cambridge University, is an honorary research fellow in the Department of Anthropology, University College London. He was Director of the Royal Anthropological Institute for 26 years and Founder Editor of Anthropology Today. He has also served as Chair of the International NGO Training and Research Centre (INTRAC) in Oxford. His publications include Disasters, Relief and the Media (1993, new edition 2010) The Charitable Crescent: Politics of aid in the Muslim world (co-authored with Jerome Bellion-Jourdan, 2003, new paperback edition 2009), and Returning to Religion: Why a secular age is haunted by faith (2008).

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Gulf Charities and Islamic Philanthropy in the "Age of Terror" and Beyond

By Robert Lacey, Jonathan Benthall

Gerlach Press

Copyright © 2014 Gulf Research Center Cambridge
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-3-940924-32-2


Sacralized or secularized aid? Positioning Gulf-based Muslim charities

Marie Juul Petersen

1. Introduction

Muslim aid organizations such as the Kuwaiti NGO International Islamic Charitable Organization and the Saudi Arabian International Islamic Relief Organization provide meals, medicine, and mosques to poor people all over the globe. Despite this, not much research has been dedicated to the study of these – and other – international Muslim charities. Especially since 9/11, much of the existing literature, often stemming from political science and terrorism studies, casts international Muslim charities as primarily or even entirely political actors, whether analyzing them as front organizations for global militant networks such as Al-Qaeda or as supporters of national political parties and resistance groups in Palestine, Sudan, Afghanistan, and elsewhere (Yaylaci 2008: 2). Another strand of literature, emerging from development studies and reflecting a general interest in so-called faith-based organizations (or FBOs), focuses on their role as aid providers, discussing organizational strengths and weaknesses of religious charities (Juul Petersen 2012a). While this literature introduces a much needed understanding of Muslim aid charities as something else and more than tools in political struggles, much of it focuses narrowly on a particular kind of international Muslim NGO, namely the Western ones (e.g. Palmer 2011; Kirmani and Khan 2008). Underlying this bias is, arguably, an understanding of these charities as "moderate" and "progressive," and non-Western – in particular Gulf-based – Muslim charities as "fundamentalist," "traditional," and sometimes even "extremist," and thus irrelevant as partners in the provision of aid.

Introducing a number of new studies on Gulf-based Muslim charities, this volume seeks to present a more nuanced picture of these organizations, exploring their work, identity, and relations from different angles. In this introductory chapter, I seek to outline a historical and conceptual framework within which to situate Gulf-based (and Western) Muslim charities, arguing that these organizations can be understood in terms of a dichotomy, or perhaps rather a continuum, between different cultures and conceptions of aid.

The chapter is divided into three main parts. First, I present a brief overview of the history of international Muslim charities before 9/11, describing the Islamic aid culture out of which they have grown, and identifying its underlying conceptions of aid as sacred. I then discuss the consequences of 9/11 and the so-called "war on terror," arguing that this contributed to the emergence of a new and more secularized conception of aid in Western Muslim charities, as they became part of the mainstream, predominantly Western, aid culture. Finally, in part three I explore the position of Gulf-based charities, proposing that while these organizations have to a large degree remained firmly embedded in an Islamic aid culture, they do nonetheless present openings towards the Western aid culture, merging and combining secularized and sacralized conceptions of aid, in the process perhaps contributing to the creation of new aid cultures.

The analysis is based on extensive fieldwork among international Muslim charities, with a particular focus on four of the largest ones: Islamic Relief and Muslim Aid from Britain, the International Islamic Charitable Organization (hereafter IICO) from Kuwait, and the International Islamic Relief Organization (hereafter IIROSA) from Saudi Arabia. The fieldwork was conducted from 2007 to 2011 and included interviews with staff from organizational headquarters in Britain, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia, as well as country offices in Bangladesh, Lebanon, and Jordan.

2. A sacralized aid: "Helping is better than praying"

2.1. The history of international Muslim charities

Islamic traditions of charitable giving (sadaqa) have existed since the birth of Islam, just as the obligatory alms tax, zakat, and the religious endowment, the waqf (plural: awqaf), have historically been important Islamic institutions of social welfare. But international Muslim charities are a new phenomenon, the first of them, IIROSA, emerging in 1978 in Saudi Arabia. Later followed organizations in other Gulf countries, Europe, and the USA: today, there are an estimated four hundred international Muslim charities, working all over the world.

A number of factors contribute to explaining the emergence of international Muslim charities at this particular time in history. First, on an overall level, international Muslim charities and the notion of Islamic aid can be seen as part of a general Islamic resurgence. Starting in the mid-20th century, the Islamic resurgence denotes a global movement of renewed interest in Islam as a relevant identity and model for community, manifested in greater religious piety and Muslim solidarity; in a growing adoption of Muslim culture, dress codes, terminology, and values by Muslims worldwide; and the introduction of Islamically defined institutions and organizations – such as the Muslim charities (Lapidus 2002: 823).

In more concrete terms, contemporary Islamic aid came to be shaped by a number of factors. Perhaps the most important was the emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood, established in Egypt in 1928, a few years after Egypt's independence. Especially in its first years, the Brotherhood focused primarily on social welfare, health services, education, and relief, seeking to present an alternative to the largely unsuccessful state (Yaylaci 2008). The founder, Hassan al-Banna, was a school teacher with a strong social awareness, and he saw the provision of aid to the poor as an important religious responsibility of the Brotherhood and of any Muslim, building the foundation for a strong link between Islam and aid.

From the 1960s and onwards, the Gulf countries also started playing an important role in shaping contemporary Islamic aid. As a counterweight to Nasser's secular Arab nationalism, the Saudi King Faisal would promote the idea of pan-Islamic, international solidarity, claiming that all Muslims were one people with a responsibility to support one another in times of crisis (Hegghammer 2010: 17). A crucial factor in facilitating this new movement of international aid was the emergence of Islamic economics. The explosion of oil prices in the 1970s meant that huge funds were suddenly available to governments, businesses, and individuals in the Gulf countries, boosting efforts to create distinctively Islamic financial institutions (Tripp 2006: 104). As a way of purifying interest (riba), many would channel large amounts to aid activities, thus contributing to the strengthening of Gulf-based aid organizations (Ghandour 2004: 329; Benthall and Bellion-Jourdan 2003: 72) such as the IIRO, established by a group of wealthy Saudis in 1979, and the IICO, established in Kuwait in 1984.

Finally, a third factor paving the way for international Islamic charities and Islamic aid was the migration of Muslims from Middle Eastern and Asian countries to Europe and the USA, starting in the 1960s. Muslim migrants wanted organizations to which they could pay their zakat, at once fulfilling religious obligations and helping people in their home countries. Initially, people would distribute their zakat through relatives or make their payment to the local mosque, but with the emergence of a well-educated Muslim middle class came demands for more professional aid organizations, ensuring the effective collection and distribution of zakat and other donations. In Britain, for instance, Islamic Relief was established in 1984 by Egyptian immigrants, many of them with connections to the Muslim Brotherhood. The year after, Muslim Aid was founded by Bangladeshi immigrants with close links to Jama'at e-Islami, a comparable Islamist movement that originated in Pakistan.

2.2. An Islamic aid culture and a sacralized aid

The first Muslim charities did not integrate into what we may – for lack of a better term – call the mainstream aid culture, centering around organizations such as the United Nations and the World Bank, Western governmental aid agencies, and international, often secular or Christian, charities such as Oxfam, CARE, World Vision, and Doctors without Borders, most of them staffed with economists, doctors, and development professionals, and partly funded by Western governments. Instead, they became part of what we may call an Islamic aid culture, parallel to and largely detached from the mainstream aid culture.

The Islamic aid culture was shaped by organizations such as the Muslim World League, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the International Council for Da'wa and Relief, led by prominent personalities with "Islamic" credentials who enjoyed strong popularity, authority and legitimacy among Muslims (Ghafour and Shamsuddin 2008), many of them indirectly or directly linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and Jama'at e-Islami. Staff members in the Muslim charities were all practicing Muslims, many of them with a religious education. Many had previously worked in the private sector or in government; very few, if any, had work experience from the UN or any Western aid organizations. Similarly, donors were pious Muslim individuals and businesses who wanted to pay their zakat to a truly Islamic organization.

This particular culture fostered a certain conception of aid, in many ways distinct from mainstream aid conceptions. The mainstream aid culture grew out of an experience of power and hegemony, of colonizing, but also out of sentiments of collective guilt and a sense of complicity in the creation of the "distant sufferer," stemming from the same colonial legacy (Chouraliaki 2010: 111). The Islamic aid culture, on the other hand, had been shaped by experiences of marginalization, of being colonized, and of the poor not as distant sufferers, but as fellow members of the (religious) community. Against this background, the mainstream aid culture emphasizes values of universalism and neutrality, building on a material conception of poverty and assuming a strictly secularized conception of religion. The Islamic aid culture, on the other hand, came to promote a different set of values.

First of all, the Islamic aid culture turned on notions of brotherhood and Islamic solidarity, binding Muslims together in a global community, the umma. In this perspective, all Muslims are part of the same religious brotherhood, and as such, closely connected, mutually interdependent, and obliged to help one another. One of the first disasters to attract the attention of Muslim aid organizations was the famine in the Horn of Africa in the beginning of the 1980s. For many people, Islamic solidarity was a major reason for engaging in this disaster – a wish to translate the theoretical and much talked-about Islamic solidarity into a practical Islamic aid, by demonstrating compassion with the starving Muslims (Ghandour 2004: 328). In concrete terms, this meant that Muslim charities would focus their aid on Muslim countries and populations, rarely aiming to bring help to non-Muslims.

Second, the aid provided was based on a conception of suffering as simultaneously material and spiritual: poverty was not only about hunger, diseases, and lack of education; it was also about religious ignorance and humiliation. This meant that aid was not only about building wells, distributing medicine, or teaching children to read and write: it was also about preaching, teaching children to memorize the Qur'an, and building mosques. As such, mission, or da'wa, was also an integrated part of aid provision in Muslim charities. This aspect of aid provision was further strengthened by the perception among many Muslim charities at the time that Western aid organizations worked either covertly or overtly as missionaries, attempting to attract converts to Christianity or secularism through their provision of aid (which some of them undoubtedly did). Refusing to leave the field of aid provision to these charities, specifically in situations where recipients were identified as Muslims (Benthall and Bellion-Jourdan 2003: 70), Muslim charities took up the challenge by introducing their own missionary projects. In this perspective, an important objective of Muslim charities was not only to provide aid, but to counter the influence of Western, Christian charities, protecting Muslim faith and identity. An example of this is the Kuwaiti NGO, IICO, established by Yusuf Al-Qaradawi. Qaradawi was alerted by Christian organizations which, according to him, used poverty and illness to spread the Gospel and attract converts. As a way to counter these Christianization campaigns, he launched the campaign Pay a dollar and save a Muslim, explicitly alluding to a conference of missionary organizations in Colorado in 1978 at which Christian missionaries had allegedly announced their intention of investing a billion dollars in an effort to convert as many Muslims as possible (Benthall and Bellion-Jourdan 2003: 41).

Third, for some Muslim charities, aid became not just a question of providing aid to suffering Muslims, but of supporting them more directly in their fight against the enemy. Speaking about Afghanistan, Qaradawi proclaimed in an interview in the journal Al-Jihad (cf Benthall and Bellion-Jourdan 2003: 71) that all Muslims were obliged to commit themselves to support the resistance:

Jihad is fard 'ain [an obligation for individuals, as opposed to fard kefaya, a communal obligation] for military and medical experts or anyone with a special skill that the mujahidin need. They should help the mujahidin in the field of their competence and capacity. In general, it is incumbent on all Muslims to provide material and intellectual help in order to live with them in the heart even if they cannot live with them in the body.

While most Muslim charities, together with Qaradawi himself, took this to mean non-violent and indirect support through da'wa and relief; others interpreted it as a call to directly support the armed struggle of the mujahideen, in particular among Saudi charities. They provided the mujahideen with weapons and equipment, facilitated contacts to volunteers who wanted to join the mujahideen, and supported the mujahideen financially.

Underlying much of this is a conception of aid as fundamentally sacred. In this perspective, aid is both practically and theologically intertwined with Islam. The understanding of aid as inherently religious is based on a particular understanding of Islam. Islam is framed as an all-encompassing religion, or, to use Lincoln's (2003: 59) terms, a maximalist religion, constituting the central domain of organizational community and influencing all organizational discourses, practices, and structures. This means that Islam is a source of social action as much as individual piety, echoing ideas of Hassan al-Banna and the Muslim Brotherhood. As people repeatedly say, "helping is better than praying." This does not necessarily mean that religion is part of all aid activities (there are many ways in which the organizations' activities in fact resemble those of non-religious organizations), but there is no systematic or principled division: Islam is potentially relevant to all aspects of aid, providing an important and explicit motivation for action and in mobilizing supporters, playing a significant role in identifying beneficiaries and partners, and providing the dominant basis for engagement (Clarke 2007: 33).

Summing up, then, the first generation of international Muslim charities can be said to promote a sacralized conception of aid, strongly embedded in an Islamic aid culture that builds on an understanding of poverty as not only material but also spiritual, and consequently of aid as directed primarily towards fellow Muslims, based on notions of religious solidarity and justice.

3. Muslim aid after 9/11

For many years, relations between Muslim charities and organizations in the mainstream aid culture were marked by defiance and sometimes outright hostility (Benthall and Bellion-Jourdan 2003: 74), blighted by simplistic and stereotypical representations on both sides. Many Western aid organizations suspected Muslim organizations of political involvement or missionary activities, just as many Muslim organizations were convinced that Western organizations would try to convert recipients of aid to Christianity or secularism (Ghandour 2004: 336). In concrete terms, this means that Muslim charities have tended to operate in parallel networks away from mainstream development efforts (Ratcliffe 2007: 57): they would rarely coordinate with the Western charities, and they hardly ever received funding from Western donors (von Hippel 2007: 32). In short, they have lived a largely parallel existence to actors in the mainstream aid culture, remaining firmly embedded in an Islamic aid culture. This would all change with the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers and Pentagon on September 11, 2001, and the ensuing "war on terror."


Excerpted from Gulf Charities and Islamic Philanthropy in the "Age of Terror" and Beyond by Robert Lacey, Jonathan Benthall. Copyright © 2014 Gulf Research Center Cambridge. Excerpted by permission of Gerlach Press.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements Introduction Robert Lacey and Jonathan Benthall I. Islamic Charities: Types and Contexts 1. Sacralized or Secularized Aid? Positioning Gulf-based Muslim Charities Marie Juul Petersen 2. Islamic Charities on a Fault Line: the Jordanian Case Benoit Challand 3. Gulf Charities in Africa Mayke Kaag II. A Historical Case Study 4. Charities and Politics in Arabia during the First Half of the 20th Century: the al-Kafs of Hadhramaut in Comparative Perspective Christian Lekon III. Governmental Aid from GCC States 5. The Gulf States as Multilateral Donors: the Case of the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID) Annika Kropf IV. Charities in Saudi Arabia Today 6. Domestic, Religious, Civic? Perspectives on the Institutionalized Charitable Field in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Nora Derbal 7. Saudi Arabia as a Global Humanitarian Donor Khalid Al-Yahya and Nathalie Fustier V. Legal Cases 8. A Good Day to Bury a Bad Charity: Charting the Rise and Fall of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation Yusra Bokhari, Nasim Chowdhury, and Robert Lacey 9. The Impact of US Laws, Regulations, and Policies on Gulf Charities Wendell Belew VI. Regulation and Monitoring 10. The Qatar Authority for Charitable Activities (QACA) from Commencement to Dissolution (2005-2009) Abdul Fatah S. Mohamed 11. The Islamic Charities Project (Formerly Montreux Initiative) Jonathan Benthall VII. Madrasas in South Asia and Afghanistan 12. The Madrasas of South Asia and their Implications for Gulf Charities Gunter Mulack 13. Madrasas in South Asia: the Strategic Geopolitical Concern about Gulf Charities Rushda Siddiqui VIII. Charitable Activities Beyond Geopolitics 14. Giving to Live, and Giving to Receive: the Construction of Charity in Dubai Aaron Pankhurst 15. Care, Redemption, and the Afterlife: Spiritual Experiences of Bathing Volunteers in a Charity Care Center in Iran Sachiko Hosoya 16. Afterword: Capital, Migration, Intervention: Rethinking Gulf Islamic Charities Darryl Li Envoi "and beyond" Robert Lacey and Jonathan Benthall About the Contributors Index

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