Nov
27

Charity in Islamic Societies

Amy Singer's book on Charity in Islamic Societies (2008) covers a wide range of topics related to charitable giving (zakat, sadaqah) and charitable institutions (awqaf), providing canonical and historical examples of them. In particular, I was interested in the parts on endowments / foundations / trusts (singular waqf, plural awqaf). Singer describes them as "specific endowed properties, the revenues of which were designated in perpetuity to sustain defined beneficiaries; the properties or capital of the endowment were managed by a specified succession of managers..." (p. 93). Quite remarkably, the author explains that "By the nineteenth century, large amounts of property all over the Muslim world belonged to endowments, including an estimated 75 percent of arable land in the area of today's Turkey, one-fifth in Egypt, one-seventh in Iran, one-half in Algeria, one-third in Tunisia, and one-third in Greece. At the end of the eighteenth century, an estimated 20,000 waqfs in the Ottoman Empire had a total annual income equal to one-third of annual government revenues, and perhaps including as much as one-half to two-thirds of arable land." (p 186). What Singer describes as the "moral economy" presents a picture of a very different socio-economic structure, one that might be unfamiliar, even unimaginable, to contemporary readers. 

This book came to my attention when I came across a report that spoke about the history of charitable foundations and trusts in Muslim contexts. The report refers to a "reliable source", which is Singer's book. However, Singer does not provide the primary data to support these facts. One has to keep reading to find a footnote and explore the sources to identify where the data might come from. One of the footnotes leads to 2001 paper by Kuran, but it too is a secondary source, referring to other papers for support (5 other publications). In the Kuran paper, the amount of land listed is 1/8th in Egypt, not 1/5th. Singer may have been adding another source, but if she was it is unclear which. Three references in the Kuran paper are to dated Encyclopedia references (1936, 1961, 1973), which are not known to be sources of primary data. Of the two remaining sources, one is a country-specific paper (about Egypt, form 1968) and the other is an article on the Ottoman Empire (from 1939), neither of which appear available online. Given the apparent inaccessibility of these sources (which may not be the origin of the primary data either), it seems some discussion about the primary data supporting these claims would be useful. I have not yet been able to track the origins of the primary data for these facts. The journey to look into these interesting facts is a reminder for us all to find original sources, and cite them accordingly. 


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40 Hits
Jun
18

Two Arabs, A Berber and a Jew

Writing anthropological and ethnographic research can be quite challenging. The experiences are so rich that one may not know where to begin and where to end. In "Two Arabs, A Berber and a Jew: Entangled Lives in Morocco" (2016), Lawrence Rosen provides an exemplary model for anyone grappling with these questions. To do so, he draws on experiences in Morocco over a period of nearly sixty years. The book weaves in a diverse set of literature, from history to political science and works of fiction. Many books are biographical in nature, and at first glance this book might appear to be the story of four lives, which is partly is. However, the author uses these stories to tell other stories (the first delves into Moroccan history, the second a sort of Moroccan cultural Islam 101, the third and fourth cover the lives and experiences of Berbers and Jews). For anyone interested in Morocco, this is an excellent book. And, for anyone interested in how good anthropological and ethnographic research can be made accessible to a broader readership, this is an important read.

What one "feels" as a reader, is Rosen's deep respect for the people with whom he interacts. It is not easy to convey this (although the contrary is easy). For example, he opens the book by stating: "Ordinary people have intellectual lives. They may never have written a book; they may never even have read one. But their lives are rich in ideas, constantly fashioned and revised, elaborated and rearranged." (xi) Small comments throughout give one the sense of the authors love, appreciation, and respect for the people of Morocco. This might be common amongst anthropologists, but difficult to convey in academic works such as this (published by a university press; it, however, lacked in-text references in a number of places, including for direct quotes, which was not expected of such a publication).

Rosen also speaks about, and back to the discipline of Anthropology, throughout. I found these additions quite insightful, and coming from a seasoned anthropologist, quite informative. For example: "Anthropologists, Levi-Strauss once quipped, are radicals at home and conservatives abroad. Whether as the perpetrators or the victims of functionalism - a theory that emphasizes the contribution of each element to the continued working of a whole society but that, as a result, has always had trouble with accounting for change - we anthropologists often have to make a real effort when we study others to note the alterations such theories may obscure. And, wary of appearing judgmental, we often avoid discussions of discontinuities unless we can imagine ourselves allied with the politically correct side in the equation of power. Morocco in particular may not seem to lend itself to a focus on discontinuity. Instead it seems to embrace the continuous - one king for decades, one dynasty for centuries, one religion for millennia. It sometimes becomes an exercise in pressing the limits of predilection and profession, then, to attend to change when neither the subject nor the theories are altogether hospitable to it." (p. 231)

I was recently listening to a Professor in Ethiopia, who explained that often we miss some of the socio-cultural aspects which limit or enable opportunities. In that case, that while opportunities might be granted to certain people, they may not be able to benefit by them is the broader society refuses to purchase from them. A few lines from Rosen also reflected some of this socio-cultural complexity. For example, in a "list of occupations practiced by Muslims and Jews in Sefrou in 1924 is instructive in this regard. Note that all of the tinsmiths and porters, for example, were Jews. This, older Muslims told me, was because the tinsmiths were also plumbers and had to enter a Muslim's house where they would see the women and belongings of the homeowner. But whereas the Muslims were not eager for fellow Muslims to see such things in their homes, the Jews could be expected to remain discreet and, since they were not potential martial partners or political allies, their knowledge of one's household situation was not going to bear on subsequent relationships." (p. 290)

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194 Hits
Nov
07

Funded PhDs (3): Anthropology; Islam in Asia

The Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology is one of the leading centres for research in social anthropology. Common to all research projects at the Max Planck Institute is the comparative analysis of social change; it is primarily in this domain that its researchers contribute to anthropological theory, though many programmes also have applied significance and political topicality. The DFG Emmy Noether Junior Research Group: 'The Bureaucratization of Islam and its Socio-Legal Dimensions in Southeast Asia', led by Dr. Dominik M. Müller, is offering 3 PhD positions starting 1 April 2017.

Following the popular waves of Islamic resurgence, state-sponsored Islamic bureaucracies have become influential societal actors in Southeast Asia, particularly in countries where Muslim populations play a significant political role. The governments of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore have in diverse ways empowered 'administrative' bodies to guide Islamic discourse. Although their approaches, motivations and spheres of influence differ widely, they share the intention to formalize classificatory schemes of Islam and create binding rules for engaging in public communication about it. The Junior Research Group will investigate the bureaucratization of Islam and its socio-legal dimensions from an anthropological perspective, with a particular focus on the state's exercise of 'classificatory power' and its actual workings on the micro-level. The project argues that the bureaucratization of Islam far transcends the boundaries of its institutions. Focusing on diverse empirical contexts, the group will scrutinize how the imposition of formalized schemes of Islam – a transformation of Islam into the codes and procedures of bureaucracy – has socio-legal consequences that penetrate deeply into public discourse and the everyday lives of various affected social actors. The project also asks how the bureaucracies' classificatory practices and micro-politics of power resonate with social realities among the wider population and how social actors actively react to them, always with the intention of going beyond unidirectional 'cause–effect models' that overstate the power of official policies. Conceptually, the project treats the bureaucratization of Islam not just descriptively as an empirical fact, but as a larger analytic phenomenon to be theorized in comparative perspective. Grounded in long-term fieldwork, focusing on actors' perspectives and positioned in anthropological debates, the project intends to generate a new, ethnographically grounded understanding of contemporary Islamic discourse in the context of state power in Southeast Asia, with implications beyond the region.

More details.

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448 Hits
Oct
06

Funded PhDs (10): Muslim Cultures and Societies

10 Fully Funded PhD Programmes 2017 at Berlin Graduate School of Muslim Cultures and Societies

Funded by the Excellence Initiative of the German Federal and State Governments, the Berlin Graduate School Muslim Cultures and Societies will admit up to ten new students to its next doctoral programme, which begins on *1 October 2017*.

The formal prerequisite for application to the programme is a university honours degree reflecting a level of attainment that is above average (typically an M.A., or diploma degree, with a grade of "very good"; with ranking, where applicable). The degree should be in one of the disciplines represented at the Graduate School (see List of PIs with an overview of their specialist fields and areas of research). Candidates are expected to submit an outline of their proposed dissertation project (maximum 6 pages, with a summary of no more than half a page), to include a short description of the topic, the current state of research, and its theoretical and methodological orientation, as well as a preliminary work schedule and an indication of whether the work is to be conducted via archival or field research.

As English will be the primary language of communication, students are expected to have advanced English-language proficiency. In addition, students must demonstrate proficiency in the language(s) relevant to their projects. It is assumed that language skills can be improved over the course of the doctoral programme.

*The deadline for application for commencement of studies in October 2017 is 15 November 2016.*

For more information and to apply follow: http://www.bgsmcs.fu-berlin.de/en/studies/application/index.html OR http://www.bgsmcs.fu-berlin.de/en/

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