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Jonathan Benthall

This chapter is the result of a visit in 2006 to observe the work of Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW) in the Timbuktu region of Northern Mali, whose struggling economy was at that time benefiting from a short period of peace in the "Tuareg rebellions". IRW’s local headquarters was based in the remote town of Gourma Rharous. The chapter describes its remarkable integration with the local community, and its commitment to staying there rather than moving on like some other aid agencies have done. Since Islam is deeply embedded in Malian life, this chapter provides a positive example of "cultural proximity", i.e. the proposition that a Faith Based Organization can have a privileged access to beneficiaries who share the same religious culture.

in Islamic charities and Islamic humanism in troubled times

This book is the fruit of twenty years’ reflection on Islamic charities, both in practical terms and as a key to understand the crisis in contemporary Islam. On the one hand Islam is undervalued as a global moral and political force whose admirable qualities are exemplified in its strong tradition of charitable giving. On the other hand, it suffers from a crisis of authority that cannot be blamed entirely on the history of colonialism and stigmatization to which Muslims have undoubtedly been subjected – most recently, as a result of the "war on terror". The book consists of seventeen previously published chapters, with a general Introduction and new prefatory material for each chapter. The first nine chapters review the current situation of Islamic charities from many different viewpoints – theological, historical, diplomatic, legal, sociological and ethnographic – with first-hand data from the United States, Britain, Israel–Palestine, Mali and Indonesia. Chapters 10 to 17 expand the coverage to explore the potential for a twenty-first century "Islamic humanism" that would be devised by Muslims in the light of the human sciences and institutionalized throughout the Muslim world. This means addressing contentious topics such as religious toleration and the meaning of jihad. The intended readership includes academics and students at all levels, professionals concerned with aid and development, and all who have an interest in the future of Islam.

Jonathan Benthall

This chapter outlines the historical background of the growth of Islamic charities over the last few decades, and of Faith Based Organizations in general. It also discusses the humanitarian consequences of the clampdown on Islamic charities post 9/11, and questions the academic standard of some counter-terrorist studies that have authorized this clampdown. It calls for sympathetic steps to ease the way for those Islamic charities that accept the principles of regulation and monitoring. It argues that high values and ideals are better expressed by actions than by mere dialogue. Islamic Relief Worldwide showed what can be done when it was appointed to represent all the major British relief agencies on television to launch a joint appeal for the Kashmir earthquake in 2005. Failure to recognize the potential of Islamic charities means losing a significant opportunity to defuse the purported "clash of civilizations".

in Islamic charities and Islamic humanism in troubled times
Jonathan Benthall

This is a personal account of a mediation or conflict resolution project (2005–2013), funded by the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (Political Division IV) in which the author took part as an adviser. The aim of this exercise in "track two diplomacy" was to help remove unjustified obstacles from Islamic charities. It did not succeed in surmounting all the challenges it faced, partly as a result of political turbulence in the post 9/11 years. In particular, not enough trust was generated between the US Treasury and the charities of the Gulf states to facilitate mediation. The chapter concludes, however, by forecasting that future efforts of a similar kind will be made to bring Islamic charities fully into the international aid system. Materially well-off Muslims have the resources to alleviate poverty and suffering, while the overseas aid budgets of the major Western nations are under pressure. Moreover, a "humanitarian vacuum" is created in complex zones of conflict such as Syria, when bona fide Islamic charities are absent for political reasons and the field is left open for extremist groups. The growth of research on Islamic charities will help give substance and credibility to future interventions.

in Islamic charities and Islamic humanism in troubled times
Jonathan Benthall

This chapter republishes a review of Amelia Fauzia’s book Faith and the State: Islamic philanthropy in Indonesia, originally published in the Asian Journal of Social Science in 2014. Most research published in English since 2000 on Islamic philanthropy and humanitarianism has concentrated on the Middle East, South and Central Asia, and Europe and the USA. Fauzia’s impressive monograph on Indonesia bears comparison with any of this research. She explores how zakat (the Islamic tithe) and sadaqa (optional charity) have been implemented in various ways in Indonesia. Her guiding theme is the tension between the private or personal imperatives of the Islamic revelation and public conduct where persuasion or coercion can be effective, including that exerted by the modern state. She gives special attention to the "modernist" Muhammadiyah, founded in 1912. The Chapter proposes an angle for historical research: to what extent did Christian institutions introduced by colonial powers affect the development of Islamic charities in Indonesia and elsewhere?

in Islamic charities and Islamic humanism in troubled times
Abstract only
Jonathan Benthall

This review of Mona Siddiqui’s Christians, Muslims, and Jesus (Yale University Press) was published in the Times Literary Supplement on 29 January 2014, under the heading "Abraham’s children". As well as being a senior academic in religious studies, Siddiqui is well known to the British public as a frequent contributor to the "Thought for the Day" religious slot in the early morning "Today" programme broadcast by the BBC’s Radio Four. SIddiqui makes an important contribution to comparative theological debate by comparing and contrasting the roles of Jesus (Isa) and Mary (Maryam) in the New Testament and the Qur’an, and more broadly in the two religious traditions as they evolved. She also reflects on the specifically Christian semiotics of the Cross. The Chapter ventures some further reflections on how the two traditions may be compared along broader lines.

in Islamic charities and Islamic humanism in troubled times
Jonathan Benthall

This chapter was published in 2008, shortly after the decision of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank to reorganize some 90 zakat committees and bring them under central control. The chapter (originally published by the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva) set out to review competing interpretations of the nature of the West Bank committees during the "Oslo period", after limited autonomy was ceded by Israel to the Palestinian Authority but before the split between the West Bank and Gaza which took place in 2007. Allegations in the counter-terrorist literature that the zakat committees had been simply fronts for Hamas are considered here and found to be unpersuasive, short of hard evidence and especially in the light of the confidence that – according to reputable opinion surveys – they earned from the Palestinian public. A more benign interpretation is offered in this chapter – that these zakat committees were a result of the "Islamic resurgence" and were typically grass-roots, community based organizations that were beginning to tap into the international aid system, in response to urgent humanitarian needs and the pressures inflicted by the Israeli Occupation.

in Islamic charities and Islamic humanism in troubled times
Jonathan Benthall

This chapter, published by the journal Asian Ethnology, is a theoretical exercise, inspired by Mary Douglas’s classic anthropological text Purity and Danger, that sets out to clarify the wide range of relationships between religions and humanitarian traditions as ideological movements, taking Islam as an instance. It postulates that the concept of the "sacred" is a special case of boundary maintenance or "purism". Metaphorically, "puripetal force" (a neologism) is defined as a tendency common to all ideological systems, a resistance to social entropy or anomie. An explanatory model is proposed that accommodates forms of concentrated purism such as (within Islam) Wahhabi-Salafism and (within humanitarianism) the legacy of Henry Dunant, founder of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Specific Islamic charities and welfare organizations interact differentially with both religious and humanitarian traditions. Meanwhile, US government policy towards charities sometimes seems dominated by an urge to peer into purity of motives. Finally, it is suggested that the model could equally be applied to Christian and other religious traditions, with the concluding thought that the common ground between the institutions of international humanitarianism and religious traditions is currently expanding.

in Islamic charities and Islamic humanism in troubled times
Jonathan Benthall

This chapter reflects on the alleged special association between religion in general and violence – an association rebutted by both authors under review, David Martin (in Religion and Power: No logos without mythos) and Karen Armstrong (in Fields of Blood: Religion and the history of violence). It was first published in the Times Literary Supplement on 10 December 2014, under the heading "Poplars in the marsh". These two very different authors also agree that violent resistance is an inevitable response to policies that oppress large populations. The Chapter goes on to consider briefly the exorbitant reworking of Wahhabism that underpins the so-called Islamic State (Isis), and finally the obstacles that beset all attempts to found non-violent movements.

in Islamic charities and Islamic humanism in troubled times
Jonathan Benthall

This chapter evaluates the incidence of religious persecution and conflict in our own century, as quantified and tabulated by two social scientists, Brian J. Grim and Roger Finke – with special reference to the plight of Christians and other religious minorities (including Muslim minorities such as the Ahmadiyya) in a number of Muslim-majority countries. It first appeared in the Times Literary Supplement on 1 June 2012, under the heading "Repression by numbers". Reservations are expressed about the value of vast global comparisons such as are presented by Grim and Finke, but it is argued that such an approach is defensible provided that one is alert to possible bias or misjudgements that can warp the whole enterprise. The plight of Christians and other religious minorities in several Muslim-majority countries has become still more urgent since the publication of this book, with the rise of Isis in the Middle East and Boko Haram in Nigeria. This Chapter also mentions the anthropologist Chris Hann’s critique of what he calls "religious humanrightsism", i.e. the claim that all religious traditions deserve to be treated equally.

in Islamic charities and Islamic humanism in troubled times