Accepted paper:

When Neoliberalism meets Islamic Charity: Almsgiving amidst India's Deregulation


Christopher Taylor (Boston University)

Paper short abstract:

Islamic charity is an ancient ritual tradition which serves new modern functions of local development and social mobility in north India. This paper, based on current fieldwork, invites reconsideration of socioeconomic development as neither solely government-led nor a uniquely secular enterprise.

Paper long abstract:

This paper describes local Islamic social welfare associations operating in north India, which gather and redistribute religious alms and charitable donations. Illustrating the inadequacy of government socioeconomic development schemes and the prevalence of community-based, religious charitable activities, this study sheds light on the crucial role of pious citizens in 21st-century liberalizing economies. Socially conscious Muslims also invite reconsideration of "liberal" and "conservative" notions of contemporary Islamic piety. India's much-lauded economic growth rate has been dogged by sharp disparity between rich and poor Indians, which grows as fast as the liberalizing economy. As economic deregulation progressed through 1990s, social regulation increased, in the form of "reservations" (affirmative action) that encompass low-caste Hindu groups. Muslims and other religious minorities, however, have been legislatively excluded from reservations, resulting in shrill calls for aid from Muslim elites and voices clamoring for Muslim reservations. This study examines Islamic charities focused on education and development rather than mere aid, from the perspective of leaders and donors. This study does not evaluate charity according to any redistribution that might occur, but instead analyzes narratives which circulate with the money. Amidst the rough-and-tumble of passionate fundraising appeals, alms-seeking, tithing (e.g. zakat-calculation), government legislating, and political interest lobbying by Muslims, it is not only cash funds that change hands but also ideas and ideologies. The researcher engaged in volunteer observation within Islamic charities and in informal religious study of Islamic theology and jurisprudence in madrasas (religious schools) during 18 months of fieldwork through 2012-2013 in the northern Indian city of Lucknow.

panel PE33
Indigenous charity, philanthropy and development