GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Title of Paper:
Sunni and Shiite Charities as agents for ethical capitalism in Bahrain and Lebanon
Paper Proposal Text :
Sunni and Shiite Charities as Agents of Ethical Capitalism in Bahrain and Lebanon.
Case Study 1
In Bahrain, ninety percent of the old villages around Manama, Muharraq, Hidd and Rifa contain Shia waqf that are principally vast areas of wasteland with derelict buildings. They lack capital for redevelopment and are also constrained by the Islamic rule of perpetuity pertaining to waqf lands. The developed and wealthy waqf in Manama and Muharraq are owned by Sunni Muslims with connections to the Al-Khalifa family. This unfortunate divergence in the deplorable economic state of waqf land and properties between the Sunni and Shia sects, is compounded by the fear and reluctance of the predominantly Suuni state administration to intervene in Shia strongholds. This sectarianism in welfare institutions in Bahrain and Lebanon is not reproduced in South East Asia which is predominantly homogenous with Sunni adherents.

The Shia minority are poor with few connections to Bahrain’s elite who are predominantly Sunni. There are two objectives in this research on Bahrain. First to investigate the possibility of introducing the Singapore model of waqf development for a Muslim minority, the Shi’as, utilizing autonomous religious institutions, appropriate Islamic regulations and introducing acceptable forms of Islamic finance. This would avert conflict between an already disadvantaged religious minority the Shi’as against a privileged, wealthy Sunni aristocracy. Bahrain, a city state like Singapore faces a serious shortage of land and incorporating Shi’a waqf assets in a redevelopment project is a healthy option for the fairly poor Shi’a masses. In Lebanon the powerful Shiite charities display different responses to opportunities for Ethical Capitalism.

Case Study 2

The Islamic charities in Lebanon are sectarian, since religious identity based cleavages are further divided into Sunni and Shia waqf. The Sunni Muslim Future Movement and the Shia Hezbollah focus on their specific communities. Both the Sunni and Shi’a sects pursue an aggressive policy of land and real estate acquisitions to sustain their social welfare activities. They have carved out large swathes of land, north and south of Beirut and this is added to distinct business interests in textiles, IT and retailing. The rise in urban propertied classes since the interwar decades of the twentieth century has to be placed against the increased urban activities of these sectarian welfare institutions. However, because of political motives, these charities will target out-group members. About half of Lebarnon’s schools, hospitals, clinics, and small, medium enterprises are run by these religious charities. Established in 1878 the Makassed Organization was the premier Sunni Charity until the 1980s. Shi’a charities began in the 1960s with Imam Musa al-Sadr. The Hariri Foundation Future Movement, the Makzoumeh Foundation, the Hezbollah and Amal Movement are Shia. The Hariri Foundation, established in 1979, alone controls vast areas of land, 30 health clinics, one public hospital, 5 schools, one University- the Lebanese Canadian University.

The Hezbollah has extensive health education, public works- road infrastructure and social programs, building schools, hospitals, agricultural development in Baalbeck, Hermel, and Beirut. Their welfare allocation has promoted upward social mobility in areas of weak state provisions.

These Sunni and Shi’a charities will be briefly compared with Christian and Druze Charities in Lebanon to highlight the pluralism in religious welfare institution here. Lebanon offers an interesting contrast with Bahrain, possessing a dominant Shia sect and a minority Sunni group. Their responses to both capital accumulation and social welfare priorities are inevitably shaped by both politics and Islamic militancy.

Research Questions and Objectives

The project will focus on the following research questions:
1. What Islamic philanthropic institutions are active in parts of Bahrain and Lebanon?
2. What are the different kinds of activities in which they engage?
3. What are the land, property assets and businesses they own?
4. Are Islamic banking and finance and Islamic microfinance initiatives sustaining this wealth creation?
5. Who are the beneficiaries of these local, regional, national and international networks of philanthropy?
6. This project will evaluate the activities and potential of the waqf to empower disadvantaged Muslim communities in parts of the Middle East.
7. The project is interdisciplinary, using historical methods as well as cadastral and anthropological field work and will make significant empirical, theoretical and policy contributions to understanding the institutional and regulatory structures of Islamic philanthropy and its potential for economic and social empowerment in Bahrain and Lebanon.
8. Theoretically, this project hopes to prove that the waqf offers an alternative form of innovative, community- centred financial initiatives that draw upon Islamic principles of risk sharing, participation and entrepreneurship. More importantly, this focus on the Islamic waqf acknowledges the plurality of practices, market and non-market, semi-capitalist and non-capitalist, formal, informal that can shape capitalism. Habermas, writing in the 1960s, perceived the public sphere as the retreat of the state from certain fields and public expression. This research will seek to identify an early bourgeoisie reproduced in the waqf. The mosque, the madrasah, feeding the poor, festivals and rituals, are added to by the mobilization of public lands, lending visibility to the civic activities of a Muslim minority. The public sphere is where power is manifested in symbolic and discursive forms while pursuing a dynamic, economic transformation. Voluntary activity is part of the programme. Public assistance, disaster relief, public projects for the poor and the needy as well as women and disadvantaged groups, through Islamic taxation, zakat and sadaqa as a form of wealth redistribution, are all part of this initiative, revealing an increasing use of a discourse of religious morality. Does this demonstrate a growing public sphere induced by Islam, not an emasculation as argued by Habermas, Timur Kuran and others.
This suggests a serious speculation. Is it not possible that the waqf, far from restricting capitalism, points to a more robust form of capitalism? Rejecting Max Weber’s explanation of entrepreneurial deficiencies in Islam and an ethic, incompatible with rational capitalism, is it possible that in fact the capitalism of the waqf is stronger, possesses a secure asset base, is transparent and responsive, has scope for good practices in the use of financial instruments including derivatives, to secure the development of waqf assets and responsibilities.

Research on the above country case studies will aim to highlight both intrinsic similarities and divergences in waqf institutions. The dominance of wealthy Sunni charities in comparison to poverty ridden Shiite charities in Bahrain is reversed in the case of Lebanon where Shiite charities are more powerful in welfare than the Sunni Waqf.