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Islam, civil society and social work; Muslim voluntary welfare associations in Jordan between patronage and empowerment

By E. Harmsen


This dissertation analyzes the religious discourse and the social work practices of Muslim voluntary welfare associations in Jordan on the basis of civil society theory. The need to react to western political, economic as well as cultural hegemony gave rise to relatively dogmatic and fundamentalist Islamic currents in Muslim/Arab civil societies. However, repressive legislation and state policies limit voluntary welfare associations in their possibilities of political mobilization. The Jordanian Hashemite regime allows the existence of civil society forces only insofar as they contribute to the stability of prevalent sociopolitical order. This political impotence makes Muslim associations to pursue the strategy of giving expression to a set of sociocultural values derived from the Islamic sources as an alternative. The idea that helping the poor must be done for the sake of God rather then for one's self-interest is dominant among Islamist as well as among other Muslim NGOs. The Islamist ideology espoused by many Muslim associations calls for defending the integrity of Muslim society against the onslaught of western globalization and materialism. There are also more progressive Muslim NGOs whose main aim is the empowerment of the needy. They cooperate with non-Islamic development actors and promote more liberal interpretations of the Islamic message. In their educational activities, Muslim NGOs often express, in the name of Islam, criticism of the impact of western-dominated global culture in their society but also of traditional habits seen as hindrances to the development of modern Muslim societies. This comes most clearly to the fore in their discourse on gender. Muslim NGOs reinforce social networks and contribute to relatively autonomous social spheres in which also oppositional views can be expressed. They represent, therefore, a highly imperfect and frustrated but nevertheless real, changing and motivated civil society

Topics: Letteren, Islam, civil society, patronage, dependency, empowerment, development, social networks, poverty, gender
Publisher: Amsterdam University Press
Year: 2007
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