Islamic charity in India: ethical entrepreneurism & the ritual, revival, and reform of zakat among a muslim minority
Taylor, Christopher Brennan
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New Islamic charities and madrasas in Lucknow, India are promoting Islam as a means of development, through revival and reinterpretation of Islamic almsgiving (zakat) and ethical teachings on money and community. Since the partition of India in 1947, Muslims have struggled as a beleaguered minority, the largest in India's diverse democracy. The relative socioeconomic status of Muslims in India is in decline, nearly on par with dalits (historically oppressed castes). Critics claim that "Muslim backwardness" originates in outmoded commitments to madrasas and illiberal Islamic law (sharī’a). The public views Muslim underdevelopment with alarm, as holding India back from being a leader in the global economy. This dissertation examines the rise and transformation of zakat in contemporary India. As historical institutions of Muslim welfare and endowments (waqf) decline, a new zakat economy is supplanting them. Yet zakat is a distinctly different social form of welfare. The contemporary practice of zakat reveals contradictions that invite reconsideration of our ideas about philanthropy, civic engagement, and Islam. Voluntary donations of zakat are a ritual obligation for all Muslims, and people in Lucknow often speak of the spiritual merit that accrues to almsgivers. I explore the paradox of zakat as "obligated voluntarism" that is at once selfless and self-interested and analyze the cultural implications of such ethics. While the Qur'an encourages giving in modest secrecy, new forms of zakat are not secret but publicly institutionalized and visible. These shifts even alter the practice of piety by incorporating a more individually accountable, calculative dimension to Muslims' faith. Morality is often imagined to be at odds with capitalism and its focus on profit accumulation. The compatibility of capitalism and Islam, in particular, has been in question since Max Weber's famous inquiry into religions, economy, and ethics. Yet new Islamic charities re-orient Lucknow's Muslims towards perceived requirements of capitalist markets. This "ethical entrepreneurism" is rooted in Islamic rituals and morality rather than dispelling both in pursuit of modernity; zakat entrepreneurs promote development as simultaneously economic and moral. Through ethnography, surveys, and close readings of Islamic texts, this study makes key contributions to economic anthropology and study of ethics.