The Civil Society Bookshelf

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

The International Journal
of Not-for-Profit Law

Volume 6, Issue 4, September 2004

By Janine A. Clark
Reviewed by Amani Kandil

This book is divided in five chapters. The first chapter links Islamic social institutions, social movement theory, and the middle class. The second discusses Islamic medical clinics in Cairo, relating them to the middle class. The third chapter focuses on the case of Jordan and the Islamic Center Charity Society. The fourth presents the case of the Islah Charitable Society in Yemen, with a special emphasis on women’s social networks. Finally, the last chapter examines the significance of being middle class.

This book originated in a Ph.D. thesis on Egypt, and then was expanded to incorporate case studies of Yemen and Jordan as well. Its main concern is Islamic social institutions and their institutional and social networks. Information was gathered in the 1990s, through interviews (sometimes open-ended and sometimes using questionnaires), observation, and field visits.

It is important to indicate that the writer considers as “Islamic clinics” those clinics located in mosques or mosque complexes. As a researcher I believe that this criterion needs clarification. In many cases, the mosque is no more than a suitable place to provide health service to the poor and the middle classes, during a time in which the Egyptian state gave up subsidizing the health sector.

The author believes that social movement organizations are embedded in horizontal networks connecting largely homogenous circles of friends together. According to social movement theory, these social networks are pivotal to movement participation and recruitment. The networks can expand to include horizontal ties between like-minded and generally homogenous people, producing social networks.

The book examines why and how Islamic social institutions establish middle-class ties, as well as the political significance of these institutions and their middle-class networks. The author employs social movement theory not only as a means of understanding the dynamics of Islamic movements but also as an attempt to contribute to the body of theory on social movements.

The book argues that Islamic social institutions are run by and for the middle class. As a consequence of both the operational dictates of the institutions and of the instrumental needs of the Islamic movement of which the institutions are a part, Islamic social institutions cater to and benefit the educated, professional middle class. This leads the writer to assert that Islamic social institutions play an important role in strengthening the horizontal networks binding middle-class doctors, directors, donors, volunteers, patients, and clients. Ties of trust, solidarity, and networks develop along these horizontal lines, indirectly leading to the development of new social networks and, potentially, the diffusion of new ideas.


* Amani Kandil is executive director of the Arab Network for NGOs in Cairo.