Sociology

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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
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Jonathan Benthall

This review of Tariq Ramadan’s The Arab Awakening: Islam and the new Middle East was published in the Times Literary Supplement, 12 October 2012 – at a time when there were still hopes that the "Arab Awakening" would lead to a new era of progress in the Middle East. It attempts to elucidate Professor Ramadan’s complex intellectual position – where his loyalty to Islamic orthodoxy clashes with the humanities as they are understood in the West – and in particular his relationship to the Muslim Brothers, which is more critical than is often assumed. At the same time it defends Ramadan against unjust criticisms and salutes his personal courage. A prefatory note adds up-to-date information about some of Ramadan’s political interventions since 2012.

in Islamic charities and Islamic humanism in troubled times
Jonathan Benthall

This chapter describes the case of Tariq Ramadan, the Swiss-born academic and commentator on Islamic matters, who was refused a non-immigrant visa in 2005 to enter the USA in order to accept a professorship in peace studies. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) took up his case. Though it is probable that the real reason for his exclusion was opposition to Ramadan’s political opinions, the reason given was that between 1998 and July 2002 he had made donations totalling the equivalent of US$940 to a charity registered in Switzerland (the Association de Secours aux Palestiniens). In August 2003 this charity was designated by the USA as a terrorist fundraising entity, on account of its alleged links to Hamas-linked Palestinian charities (including zakat committees). Eventually, after two court hearings, the State Department decided in January 2010, in a document signed by Secretary Clinton, to lift the ban against Ramadan’s entering the USA. This Chapter recounts the progress of the case, and reproduces a letter sent by Benthall to Secretary Clinton in October 2009 in support of the ACLU’s representation of Ramadan.

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 first appeared as the lead article in the Times Literary Supplement on 10 September 2014. It is a review of the historian Michael Cook’s Ancient Religions, Modern Politics: The Islamic case in comparative perspective and Akeel Bilgrami’s Secularism, Identity, and Enchantment. According to Cook, Islam has a greater tendency towards politicization than other religions, whereas Akeel Bilgrami is more disposed to find fault with Western policies than with Islam. Bilgrami underlines the need to listen to reformist voices from within Islam rather than the voices of outside critics. This leads the Chapter into a brief consideration of the prospects for large-scale institutional reform instigated by Muslims themselves, as opposed to sporadic reformist initiatives that do not crystallize into organized movements.

in Islamic charities and Islamic humanism in troubled times
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Jonathan Benthall

This chapter was originally the entry in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Politics (2014). on Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Egyptian-born Islamic scholar who took up residence in Qatar. It sets out to present a fair and balanced portrait of this contentious figure, regularly voted among the world’s foremost public intellectuals and (when the article was written) the most influential religious authority in the Sunni Muslim world, not least because of the formidable network of institutions that he helped to create, including charities; but also because of his forceful oratory, media skills, and many publications. A prefatory note provides up-to-date information on controversies involving Qaradawi, as the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, that have erupted since the article was first published.

in Islamic charities and Islamic humanism in troubled times