Translating faith into development

While there has been much interest in the growth of Muslim faith based development organisations, there has been little analysis of how Islam informs their operational strategy.

Author: Ajaz Ahmed Khan, Ismayil Tahmazov & Mamoun Abuarqub
Country: International
Category: Faith Perspective

Over the last two decades there has been a growing interest in the role of faith in development and in particular the role of Muslim faith based development organisations (FBOs). Despite the growth in the number of these organisations there has been little analysis of how Islamic teachings relating to the poor and needy have influenced their operational strategy.

Charitable giving is a central theme in Islam and Muslim FBOs facilitate the collection of funds from Muslim donors and their distribution to the poor in other areas of the world. Traditionally their work has focused on emergency relief work and short term projects aimed at meeting the basic needs of those living in poverty.  There has been very little involvement in long term development projects that aim to empower the poor and even less focus on advocacy work on issues of social justice.  The absence of work of this kind can be partially explained by a lack of awareness as to how Islamic teachings can provide guidance for long term development projects as well as short term relief work.

Although charitable giving is an obligation for Muslims, earning a livelihood is also considered an obligation for those who have the opportunity to work. Islam discourages a culture of dependency and promotes self reliance as a way of preserving one’s dignity.  If Muslim FBOs were to translate these teachings into their operational strategy they might implement long term development programmes that promote self reliance rather than focusing solely on short term relief work.  One way of doing this would be to provide microfinance loans and income generating opportunities to those without access to work.

As well as encouraging self-reliance, Islam also calls for Muslims to strive for a more just and humane society and be the voice of the poor and marginalised. In development terms this could be translated into advocacy on behalf of the poor and Muslim FBOs could speak out on issues of social justice such as international debt, fair trade and climate change.

While the work of Muslim FBOs in meeting the immediate needs of the poor is very important, there is clearly a responsibility to promote self reliance among the poor when appropriate and advocate for social justice. Furthermore once Muslim FBOs examine, interpret and incorporate Islamic teachings more deliberately into their operational strategies, they can begin to consider a ‘Muslim approach to development’.

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