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Building a House in Heaven

Pious Neoliberalism and Islamic Charity in Egypt

Mona Atia

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

Series: A Quadrant Book


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pp. 1-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

This project has traveled a long way and I have accrued numerous debts in the process. My thanks go first and foremost to those with whom this research was conducted. Numerous people generously invited me into their offices and worlds; they permitted me to write about their organizations and were generous with their time in speaking to me. ...

A Note on Transliteration

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pp. xiii-xiv

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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. ...

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1. The Economy of Charity

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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). ...

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2. Managing Poverty and Islam

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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 ...

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3. A Space and Time for Giving

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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. ...

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4. Privatizing Islam

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pp. 77-104

Privatizing Islam is the production of a market-oriented Islam that generates new institutional forms. It is a manifestation of pious neo-liberalism 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. ...

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5. Business with Allah

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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. ...

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6. Islamic “Life Makers” and Faith-Based Development

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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 ...

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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. ...

Appendix: A Geographer’s Ethnography of Islamic Economic Practices

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pp. 167-170


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pp. 171-198

Glossary of Arabic Terms

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pp. 199-204


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pp. 205-226


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pp. 227-241

E-ISBN-13: 9781452939827
E-ISBN-10: 1452939829
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816689170

Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: A Quadrant Book