Building a House in Heaven
Pious Neoliberalism and Islamic Charity in Egypt
Publication Year: 2013
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.
Published by: University of Minnesota Press
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This project has traveled a long way and I have accrued numer-ous debts in the process. My thanks go first and foremost to thosewith whom this research was conducted. Numerous people generouslyinvited me into their offices and worlds; they permitted me to write abouttheir organizations and were generous with their time in speaking to me.The warmth and kindness of too many Egyptians to name individually...
A Note on Transliteration
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Iused a modified version of the system of transliteration for Arabicset by the International Journal of Middle East Studies, except I omitteddiacritical marks, with the exception of the ʿayn and the ʾhamza. I used angli-cized plurals for Arabic terms found in an unabridged English dictionary(e.g., fatwas). I used the letter g instead of j to represent the Egyptian dialect.Place names are spelled according to how they are most commonly trans -...
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If it’s not meeting a need, turn it into a seed. Remember, we willreap what we sow. When you do good for other people, that’s whenGod is going to make sure that His abundant blessings overtake you.If you want to live your best life now, you must develop a lifestyleof giving: living to give instead of living to get. . . . You can’t expect...
1. The Economy of Charity
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Islamic charity is of central importance to Islamic economics, andyet most people equate Islamic economics with Islamic banking, andfinance (IBF). IBF is a segment of Islamic economics, offering a contem-porary solution to the problem many Muslims face of how to engage infinancial transactions while avoiding riba (usury). Riba and zakat are theonly two components of Islamic economics that are widely agreed upon;...
2. Managing Poverty and Islam
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The egyptian state has influenced Islamic charitable practices overthe years through two major interventions: first, poverty-alleviationinitiatives (including economic development policies) that institutionalizedand reformed social care, and, second, intervention in Islamic entities.1Together these interventions produced an environment where Islamicassociations played a critical role in development as well as in producing...
3. A Space and Time for Giving
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...well sits in the center of the room; rusty pipe remnants protrudefrom the well. Scattered columns with historical engraving supportthe foundation of this side of the mosque. Several long tall shelvesin the corner are filled with women’s shoes, left by the womenpraying, or in the case of the widows coming to collect their aid,...
4. Privatizing Islam
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Privatizing islam is the production of a market-oriented Islam thatgenerates new institutional forms. It is a manifestation of pious neo -liberalism and in the case of Egypt is a response to a nationalized or statistIslam. Using security as a pretext, the Egyptian state gradually escalated itsintervention in Islamic institutions throughout the twentieth century.The state intruded in Islamic institutions of all kinds, but its interference...
5. Business with Allah
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The ladies of the heliopolis sporting club raved about thefood they purchased from Zahrawan.1 Zahrawan sells prepared foodsthat women could heat and serve for their families. Out of a small shop onOmar ibn el Khattab Street, they sold labor-intensive goods like stuffedgrape leaves, moussaka, savory pies, and French cookies. The backroomshelves were filled with these foods while the side room displayed hand-...
6. Islamic “Life Makers” and Faith-Based Development
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There may be a prayer mat, as he may be praying, or there may beplaying cards, games, or some other worthless things. Anyway, heis a sad young man sitting alone in his room. We came to him andventure into life, to be successful and help us in “Making Life.”This was actually what the first three introductory episodes were...
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Pious neoliberalism is both the product and generator of particularpolitical economic arrangements between the state, the private sec-tor, and individuals. In Egypt, the neoliberal authoritarian police state cre-ated the prime context within which pious neoliberalism could flourish.As the Egyptian state became more market-oriented and Egyptian societybecame more visibly pious, pious neoliberalism produced new practices,...
Appendix: A Geographer’s Ethnography of Islamic Economic Practices
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Glossary of Arabic Terms
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Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2013
Series Title: A Quadrant Book