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Muslim Philanthropy and Civil Society

Resource from Insights Newsletter
Resource Library

Muslim Philanthropy and Civil Society

Insights Article

Written By Scott C. Alexander, PhD and Shariq A. Siddiqui, PhD

We are pleased to introduce you to the inaugural issue of the Journal of Muslim Philanthropy & Civil Society, a bi-annual, peer reviewed, open access journal published by the Center on Muslim Philanthropy in partnership with the IUPUI University Library, the Lake Institute on Faith & Giving, and the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University.

Allow us to say a few words about the way in which we are attempting to employ the categories of “Muslim philanthropy” and, by implication, “civil society.” By “Muslim” philanthropy, we mean philanthropic activity of any kind which involves self-identifying Muslim individuals, institutions, communities, and societies as key agents in shaping the context and content of this activity. This includes any and all activity in which Muslims themselves either give or receive, as well as any activity in which there is an identifiable and significant connection to Muslims and/or Islam. Given the extent to which any construction of Muslim identity necessarily entails the influence of other faiths as well as various expressions of secular culture, the Journal’s scope is intentionally broad as it assiduously seeks to avoid re-inscribing any and all false binaries between things “Muslim” and “non-Muslim.” Thus, in terms of geographic regions, there is no area of the world beyond the parameters of our interest. 

Our definition of “philanthropy” is similarly broad and extends beyond an examination of the activity of wealthy individuals or philanthropic institutions. In essence, we define philanthropy as encompassing any intentional act of generosity. As such, “philanthropy” includes practices of generosity ranging from the activity of discrete individuals of all socio-economic backgrounds to that of not-for-profit organizations, social movements, and a variety of other forms of civic engagement. Such a broad definition is not only in keeping with current theory in philanthropic studies, but also with traditional Islamic definitions of philanthropy that require us to challenge longstanding Western Protestant concepts of philanthropy as “voluntary action for the public good ” (Payton & Moody). Although it is a good starting point, this definition ultimately fails to encompass some of the deepest meanings and structures of philanthropy, especially within the framework of Islamic theology.

According to a story from the life of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), he once declared that, “Every Muslim has to engage in acts of righteousness/charitable giving.” In reply, his Companions asked, “How about those who have nothing to give?” The Prophet responded: “They should work with their hands for their own benefit and also give in charity.” His Companions then asked: And if they cannot do even that?” He replied: “They should help one who is eager to have help.” To which they further asked: “And if they cannot do even that?” He answered: “Then they should do good and abstain from evil; this is charity for them.” Thus, all Muslims are called to participate in philanthropic activity. Those who can afford to do so must give of their wealth, while those who have few material resources can act charitably by refraining from doing evil deeds. Therefore, Muslim philanthropy includes voluntary inaction for the public good as well. Beyond the action and inaction question are also questions about whether philanthropy can entail giving out of a profound sense of divinely imposed obligation. There is no sense in which Islamic philanthropy can exclude imposed obligation as a motivating and transformative factor for the giver and receiver alike.  

This inaugural issue would not have been possible without the hard work of people too numerous to name. We would like to first thank our authors for their contributions: Kambiz GhaneaBassiri, Brad Fulton, Ali Çarkoğlu, David Campbell, Selim Erdem Aytaç, and Ihsan Bagby. We are especially grateful to the work of the Editorial Board. Their guidance and selfless response to our requests for peer reviewers and reviews continue to be critical to the work of the Journal. In addition, this issue would never have seen the light of day without the dedication to excellence and unparalleled efficiency of our two Managing Editors over the past nine months: Sabith Khan and Rafia Khader. Of course, above all, our thanks is to God for the gift of life and the privilege of being given the opportunity to attempt to live it in service to Him and to one another.

Payton, R. L. & Moody, M.P. (2008). Understanding Philanthropy: Its Meaning and Mission. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.


DATE: November 28, 2017
TOPIC: Research and Scholarship
TYPE: Article
SOURCE: Insights Newsletter
KEYWORDS: Generosity, Islam, Philanthropy
AUTHOR: Scott Alexander, Shariq Siddiqi