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.

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Jonathan Benthall

The Introduction summarizes the book’s content under the following headings. Since all the chapters have been previously published elsewhere, it also adds some complementary material to bring the book up to date on some important topics:

Part One: Chapters 1 to 9: Islamic charities, Summary of the Chapters, Some recurrent themes, Faith Based Organizations and "cultural sensitivity", Islamic Relief Worldwide, The West Bank zakat committees, Banking problems, Towards a more complete description, Pakistan, Turkey, Domestic Islamic charity in the United Kingdom, A zakat movement?, Towards a more comparative approach,

Part Two: Chapters 10 to 17: Islamic humanism

in Islamic charities and Islamic humanism in troubled times
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 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
The case of post-tsunami reconstruction in Aceh
Jonathan Benthall

This chapter considers the question 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. It was based on a visit in 2007 to Aceh province in Indonesia, to observe the contribution of Islamic charities to reconstruction after the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004. Special attention was given to the rebuilding of houses and schools, in which several other international NGOs experienced serious local difficulties. The conclusion was that a common religion can be an advantage, but not so much as to outweigh the importance of technical proficiency, especially in the heated political climate that prevailed during this period. As well as describing the mainly successful work of Islamic Relief Worldwide, Muslim Aid, and the Turkish Red Crescent, the chapter also notes that official international evaluations of the huge aid flows after the tsunami gave little credit to local organizations, notably the Muhammadiyah.

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 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
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Boim versus the Holy Land Foundation
Jonathan Benthall

This chapter, originally published in a law journal (the UCLA Journal of Near Eastern and Islamic Law), follows up the issue of the Palestinian zakat committees which was discussed in Chapter 5. It describes a civil action launched in the US courts by the family of David Boim, a boy of seventeen, who was killed by Palestinians in a drive-by shooting in the West Bank in 1996. The family, being unable to sue either two alleged murderers or Hamas (as the presumed instigator of the attacks) sued the Holy Land Foundation on the grounds that it had remitted funds to zakat committees, held to be façades for Hamas. The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit found in favour of the Boims, by a majority. The majority decision was written by Judge Richard Posner. The controversial principles in US law of "material support for terrorism" and "fungibility" (i.e. transferability) of assets are discussed here. It is argued that the Court did not give enough attention to making clear its commitment to fairness, while the minority opinion was unimpeachable.

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
The structure of Islamic toleration
Jonathan Benthall

Adducing some insights from cultural anthropology, this Chapter compares and contrasts the histories of the Christian and the Islamic traditions of religious toleration, considering in particular the blurring of the distinction between "People of the Book" and "pagans" or "polytheists". It argues that each tradition has strengths and weaknesses if we consider them as contributions to a humanism acceptable to people today who subscribe to various religious beliefs or to none. Christendom was guilty historically of worse religious intolerance than Islam, yet it also engendered a humanistic respect for "primitive" belief systems. Islam institutionalized the concept of People of the Book, which gave a qualified recognition to its "confessional cousins", but it excluded "pagan" cultures unless they agreed to convert. Yet Islam was also capable of flexibility when a small Muslim court in India ruled over a vast non-Muslim population. An extended prefatory note reviews the progress of scholarship since the first publication of this text in Anthropology Today in 2005, and asks whether it is necessary to modify the suggestion that Muslim social scientists are inhibited from choosing to study non-monotheistic cultures. The conclusion reached ten years later is that there are at least some major exceptions.

in Islamic charities and Islamic humanism in troubled times