MODERN HISTORY AND POLITICS: Islam, Charity, and Activism: Middle-Class Networks and Social Welfare in Egypt, Jordan, and Yemen

By Beinin, Joel | The Middle East Journal, Autumn 2004 | Go to article overview

MODERN HISTORY AND POLITICS: Islam, Charity, and Activism: Middle-Class Networks and Social Welfare in Egypt, Jordan, and Yemen


Beinin, Joel, The Middle East Journal


MODERN HISTORY AND POLITICS Islam, Charity, and Activism: Middle-Class Networks and Social Welfare in Egypt, Jordan, and Yemen, by Janine A, Clark. Bloomington and Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press. 2004. xvii +161 pages. Notes to p. 203. Bibl. to p. 225. Index to p. 236. $49.95 cloth; $29.95 paper.

Janine Clark's political sociology of Islamic charity networks in Egypt, Jordan, and Yemen joins a small, but growing, body of scholarship that examines contemporary Islamist activism using social movement theory. This perspective argues that neither the basic tenets of Islam as a religious doctrine nor the psycho-social grievances of educated but under-employed youth with few prospects for upward mobility are sufficient causes to explain the resurgence of Islamic movements since the 1970s. In opposition to conceptions that regard Islamist activism as an aberrant phenomenon due to the peculiar defects of Islam or Muslim societies, social movement theory argues, as Quintan Wiktorowicz writes in the introduction to an edited volume to which Clark contributed a chapter, "Islamic activism is not sui generis."1 Wiktorowicz's and Clark's books are both titles in a new Indiana University Press series edited by Mark Tessler whose purpose is to challenge Orientalist understandings of contemporary Islamism by deploying social theory.

Clark's case studies are the Islamic medical clinics in several Cairo neighborhoods; the schools, vocational training centers, hospitals, and clinics of the Jordanian Islamic Center Charity Society; and the Women's Committee of the Islah Charitable Society in Yemen, whose members raise funds for the poor and participate in Islamic study circles. While these organizations do provide social services to the poor, Clark observes that these institutions primarily provide services "foy and for the middle classes" (p. 3).

The cases confirm the predictions of social movement theory. Islamic welfare institutions are components of movements consisting of several organizations linked by largely homogenous, horizontal social networks. The networks operate these institutions, recruit their members to work in them, and form a considerable proportion of their clientele. Clark deems the cross-class links in the institutions she observed to be weak.

The poor are not recruited to Islamist movements as a result of receiving medical, educational, and other social services. Rather, they view institutions like Islamic clinics as one of several sources of services that states constrained by neo-liberal structural adjustment programs imposed by international financial institutions no longer provide.

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