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Building a House in Heaven

Building a House in Heaven: Pious Neoliberalism and Islamic Charity in Egypt

Mona Atia
Series: A Quadrant Book
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Building a House in Heaven
    Book Description:

    Charity is an economic act. This premise underlies a societal transformation-the merging of religious and capitalist impulses that Mona Atia calls "pious neoliberalism." Though the phenomenon spans religious lines, Atia makes the connection between Islam and capitalism to examine the surprising relations between charity and the economy, the state, and religion in the transition from Mubarak-era Egypt. Mapping the landscape of charity and development in Egypt, Building a House in Heaven reveals the factors that changed the nature of Egyptian charitable practices-the state's intervention in social care and religion, an Islamic revival, intensified economic pressures on the poor, and the subsequent emergence of the private sector as a critical actor in development. She shows how, when individuals from Egypt's private sector felt it necessary to address poverty, they sought to make Islamic charities work as engines of development, a practice that changed the function of charity from distributing goods to empowering the poor. Drawing on interviews with key players, Atia explores the geography of Islamic charities through multiple neighborhoods, ideologies, sources of funding, projects, and wide social networks. Her work shifts between absorbing ethnographic stories of specific organizations and reflections on the patterns that appear across the sector. An enlightening look at the simultaneous neoliberalization of Islamic charity work and Islamization of neoliberal development, the book also offers an insightful analysis of the political and socioeconomic movements leading up to the uprisings that ended Mubarak's rule and that amplified the importance of not only the Muslim Brotherhood but also the broader forces of Islamic piety and charity.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-3982-7
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. A Note on Transliteration
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xv-xxxviii)

    These are the words of Joel Osteen, the forty-five-year-old evangelical preacher at America’s largest church. He draws twenty-five thousand people to his sermons, 7 million viewers to his weekly television show, and millions of readers to his best-selling book, Your Best Life Now: Seven Steps to Living at Your Full Potential. These words, though, might just as likely have come out of the mouth of the wildly popular Islamic preacher Amr Khaled, who before his exile from Cairo drew tens of thousands of Cairenes to a remote suburb to listen to his sermons:

    Ever since we started our program, “Life...

  6. CHAPTER 1 The Economy of Charity
    (pp. 1-28)

    Islamic charity is of central importance to Islamic economics, and yet most people equate Islamic economics with Islamic banking, and finance (IBF). IBF is a segment of Islamic economics, offering a contemporary solution to the problem many Muslims face of how to engage in financial transactions while avoiding riba (usury). Riba and zakat are the only two components of Islamic economics that are widely agreed upon; they, in theory, are “linked together in binary opposition, (therefore) Islamic finance and Islamic charity are interdependent in forming a circle of seamless discourse.”¹ In practice, Islamic finance and Islamic charity are worlds apart....

  7. CHAPTER 2 Managing Poverty and Islam
    (pp. 29-54)

    The egyptian state has influenced Islamic charitable practices over the years through two major interventions: first, poverty-alleviation initiatives (including economic development policies) that institutionalized and reformed social care, and, second, intervention in Islamic entities.¹ Together these interventions produced an environment where Islamic associations played a critical role in development as well as in producing pious political subjects. Under Hosni Mubarak, the state was an amalgam of neoliberal economic policies, authoritarian technologies of rule, and antiterrorism security campaigns aimed at Islamists.² Here I historicize the practices of the state that led to an increase in the number and importance of Islamic...

  8. CHAPTER 3 A Space and Time for Giving
    (pp. 55-76)

    This scene from the Salah al-Din Mosque in the middle-class neighborhood of al-Manyal describes a procedure that occurs at literally thousands of mosques in and around Cairo. I visited more than a dozen such zakat committees scattered around town and found very little variance between them. The women come from near and far, collecting between 25 and 200 LE from the charity committee at a local mosque to supplement the meager social security benefits available from the starved welfare state budget. Many of the women, with no formal education and little or no family support, work as well, peddling Kleenex...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Privatizing Islam
    (pp. 77-104)

    Privatizing islam is the production of a market-oriented Islam that generates new institutional forms. It is a manifestation of pious neoliberalism and in the case of Egypt is a response to a nationalized or statist Islam. Using security as a pretext, the Egyptian state gradually escalated its intervention in Islamic institutions throughout the twentieth century. The state intruded in Islamic institutions of all kinds, but its interference in mosques and the co-optation of waqf most poignantly illustrate the consequences of such an intervention. Mosques and awqaf formed the bedrock of Ottoman Egypt through Mohammad Ali’s modernization of Egypt in the...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Business with Allah
    (pp. 105-134)

    The ladies of the heliopolis sporting club raved about the food they purchased from Zahrawan.¹ Zahrawan sells prepared foods that women could heat and serve for their families. Out of a small shop on Omar ibn el Khattab Street, they sold labor-intensive goods like stuffed grape leaves, moussaka, savory pies, and French cookies. The backroom shelves were filled with these foods while the side room displayed handmade jewelry; downstairs, home goods like pillowcases and tablecloths as well as gallabiyyat and veils were on display. Although my first encounter with Zahrawan was as a consumer, every mention of the place was...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Islamic “Life Makers” and Faith-Based Development
    (pp. 135-158)

    This is a story presented in a lecture by Amr Khaled, the most prominent character in a transnational Islamic revival that calls on youth to establish faith-based development organizations (FBDOs) across the Middle East.¹ He preaches in colloquial Arabic and Egyptian slang, coupling motivational speeches filled with emotional stories of Prophet Mohammed with a participatory call-and-response model. Khaled uses stories like this one to foster an Islamic revival (nahda). His sermons inspired many youth to become in volved in khayr through volunteerism. His website is the third most popular Arabic site in the Middle East and in 2005 it got...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 159-166)

    Pious neoliberalism is both the product and generator of particular political economic arrangements between the state, the private sector, and individuals. In Egypt, the neoliberal authoritarian police state created the prime context within which pious neoliberalism could flourish. As the Egyptian state became more market-oriented and Egyptian society became more visibly pious, pious neoliberalism produced new practices, institutions, and subjectivities, including an Islamic framework for development, a halal lifestyle market, private foundations, and subjects who were disciplined by religion and the market simultaneously. This book has highlighted the inseparability of charity from the economy and in turn the inseparability of...

  13. APPENDIX: A Geographer’s Ethnography of Islamic Economic Practices
    (pp. 167-170)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 171-198)
  15. Glossary of Arabic Terms
    (pp. 199-204)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 205-226)
  17. Index
    (pp. 227-241)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 242-242)