Despite the contemporary preoccupation with religion and conflict

Document Sample
Despite the contemporary preoccupation with religion and conflict Powered By Docstoc
					            Christianity, Islam and Poverty Reduction in Africa
                                         Ian Linden
                        School of Oriental & African Studies, London
                                       October 2004

  It is the premise of this paper that Christian and Muslim understandings of human
  development differ within and between the separate traditions. Nonetheless the two
  world religions share a great deal of values grounded in a common concern for human
  development as well as the potential for misunderstanding and conflict. Religiously
  motivated conflict is a serious impediment to development and, arguably, on the increase
  in relation to forms of ethnic “fundamentalism”. This paper looks at the situation in
  Africa and points to the need for urgent joint action by Christian and Muslim
  development agencies to eradicate poverty on the continent.

       Despite the contemporary preoccupation with religion and conflict - at the expense
of commitments to human development - there is a tendency amongst analysts to reduce
all conflicts to struggles for scarce resources or political offices, and to explain the
religious components of violent conflict purely in terms of ethnicity or political
manipulation. This is often an accurate assessment of the root causes of a particular
violent outbreak, though, at times, it is an inaccurate a priori assumption about the
ranking of factors in peoples’ lives based on a secular world-view.
       Thus in Africa, a great deal of violent conflicts have been, and are, the product of
age-old struggles over land-use, farmers versus pastoralists, immigrant groups with
settled communities in contexts where water and fertile land are at a premium. Or,
alternatively, the consequences of the exhaustion of nationalism in Africa has led people
to “imagine” their identity in terms of ethnicity even if historically this ethnic identity
was either not yet imagined in this way or of no great significance in the ordering of the
world. “Ethnic conflict” may then arise. Past conversion to the two world religions in
Africa sometimes linked to occupation, trade networks or ethnic identities makes the
situation more complex: “Muslim” pastoralists clash with “Christian” farmers, Hausa
Muslims versus Christian Ibo, so newspapers report “Religious Riots”. But the religious
component may be unimportant.
       However, for example in the case of the conflicts arising from the extension of
Shari’a from personal law to criminal law - hudud provisions - in the northern states of
Nigeria, it makes little sense to deny the importance of the religious dimension. Of
course, the controversy was manipulated by military governors tarnished by their
relationship with the Abacha regime, of course there were ethnic undertones, but
understanding what went wrong means taking peoples’ religious sensibilities, beliefs and
practice seriously. Moreover protectively to deny the importance of religion in the
contemporary African context may be to miss changes in its relative importance as a
cause of conflict. This brief paper does not suggest that religion plays the same role in
Africa as in the Middle East. But, given the difference what is so special about Africa ?

Is there an “African Islam” and “African Christianity” or is the only meaningful way to
talk about the question in terms of “Islam in Africa” and “Christianity in Africa”? The
focus here will be on Islam.

Islamic Community in West Africa
       One of the characteristic features of Islamic practice in Africa is that a particular
form of religious association, the tariqa (turuq plural) – though found around the world -
has proved notably successful as a social framework for religion in civil society. Such
associations in the past started out as a grouping of the pupils of a particular religious
expert or holy man. The pious life and knowledge of the Islamic scriptures, the Qu’ran,
and often mysticism of the charismatic founder attract a following. The special prayers
and practices of the founder/scholar, the sheikh, (these represent different forms of
remembrance of God, dhikr, in daily life) are adopted by, and distinguish, the association.
The da’ira or zawiya, the local “lodge”, where the members of the tariqa join together for
religious singing and collection of money, is a distinctive feature of the West African
       Often the sheikh’s burial place has become a shrine visited annually by his
followers in search of the blessings or healing believed to emanate from his spiritual
power, the baraka of the sheikh. Such associations often form significant networks that
cross borders; some for example the Mouridiyya in Senegal extending from Dakar to
Paris and even New York. These networks may act as channels for remittances of
considerable sums of money to the country of origin.1 Sometimes - but confusingly -
called the sufi “orders”, or “brotherhoods”, these pious networks provide relationships of
trust and mutual recognition that oil the wheels of trade and economic relationships. Of
their nature they involve both religious and economic transactions.
      Many African Muslims belong to Qadariyya and Tijanniya associations dating back
several centuries, and some will belong to the Ahmadiyya, strongly represented in Ghana
with an important network of modernising schools – though not recognised as properly
“Islamic” - or in Senegal and Gambia, the Mouridiyya, centred in Touba with its
powerful political and economic network. The different turuq (tariqas) are an important
point of social reference for African Muslims and are often described as “African Islam”
in distinction to the more puritanical and Islamist forms of Islam dominant in Saudi
Arabia and in parts of North Africa such as the Wahabis and Salafis.2
      Such sufi associations are found all round the world and are far from specific to
Africa but Africa has, as it were, made them its own. Wherever they occur they attract
the opposition of reformist movements in Islam such as the Wahabi movement of Saudi
Arabia. These are fiercely opposed to what they see as the accretion of “pagan
practices”, kufr, aspects of Africa’s primal religions and the popular religious
consciousness and beliefs found in African Islam. The comparison with the way

  Interview with Donal Cruise O’Brien. December 2003; D.B. Cruise O’Brien & Christian Coulon (eds.)
Charisma and Brotherhood in African Islam Clarendon, Oxford, 1988 provides a good overview of the
tariqas in Africa.
  See D. Westerlund & E.E. Rosander African Islam and Islam in Africa C. Hurst & Co. 1997

Protestantism historically opposed Catholicism within the Christian tradition is inexact
though the reformist intention is held in common. In this sense Islamic civil society is
potentially competitive as far as allegiance is concerned and potentially conflictual. And
the conflict is about what it means to be an obedient Muslim.
      Opposition to the turuq has been most notable in Nigeria. From the mid-1970s the
influential Arabic translator for Sir Ahamadu Bello, Alhaji Abubakar Mahmud Gummi,
led a campaign against them. In 1978, he began promoting the Izalatul-Bid’a wa Iqamat
al Sunna, known as the Yan Izala, then a minor movement. This aimed to “eliminate
innovation” (Bid’a) i.e. practices from local culture and tradition but most notably from
the turuq. As the name also implies, its goal was to establish the Sunna, the way of living
of the Prophet Mohammad, most notably shari’a law, its later elaborated legal code.
Centred originally on Kaduna, adept at using the mass media to spread its message, Yan
Izala picked up adherents in most of the northern states of Nigeria. It has influenced
Islamic thought ever since in the region. The movement not only attempts to block the
growth of the turuq (tariqas) but adopts an anti-Christian stance in its pursuit of Islamic
      Reformist movements on a smaller and less significant scale are found in most
West African countries; the ASWAJ – Ahl wa Sunna wa’l Jamaa – in Ghana, for
example, which has been operating for the past fifteen years.4 Dakar in Senegal has
small but important Islamist groups. These have been largely a consequence of the
significant growth of training for African imams abroad since the 1970s with new
revivalist and reformist ideas being imported back to Africa. The Muslim Brotherhood
that originated in Egypt, for example, is found in both Gambia and Nigeria. In addition
the same influences make themselves felt during African pilgrimages to Mecca, the
annual hajj, from where pilgrims bring back new understandings of Islamic faith and its
implications. This is as true of Tanzania as of Togo. The Horn of Africa, Sudan, and the
East African coast are influenced directly by their proximity to Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
What makes most of the northern states of Nigeria different is that these ideas are not
seen by the majority of their educated Muslims as “foreign”, coming from imams trained
in Saudi Arabia or Sudan, but indigenous.
      Their impact has resulted in considerable gains for the Islamist project. One after
the other northern states have instituted shari’a courts for Islamic criminal law and
punishment, to the consternation of the Christian community and the evangelical
entourage around President Obasanjo, not to mention many in the Federal Government.
But in Niger in the 1990s, with a military in the Republican tradition, the new Islamic
organisations, some linked to the Yan Izala in Nigeria, got large crowds onto the streets
in demonstrations on women’s issues, family law, fashion shows and the like - against
change - but made little gains in the face of firm government and the authoritarian

  P.B. Clarke & I Linden Islam in Modern Nigeria Kaiser Grunewald 1984, 75-81. Gummi lost his main
political patron, Major General Hassan Katsina when he was deposed by Yakubu Gowan. He was made
Grand Khadi by President Murtala Muhammad.
  Interview with Dr Jabal Buaben, Director of the Centre for the Study of Islam and Muslim-Christian
Relations, University of Birmingham, December 2003.

response of the army.5 But such repression is a short term expedient. Only improvement
in governance and the delivery of services and economic growth will close the space now
being filled by Islamist politics.
       The significance of the turuq (tariqas) is that they represent an African tradition,
according to Lamin Sanneh, dating back to the 16th. century and opposed to violent
conflict. This is not ruled out to achieve the Islamist goals of the Yan Izala or, say, the
ASWAJ in Ghana or ANAUSI in Niger (Association Nigerienne de l’appel a l’unite et a
la solidarite islamique). These differences between the two strands of Muslim practice in
Africa, and the conflict between them, form an important framework in which to analyse
the significance of Islamic organisations and networks in conflict within civil society.
Both are “political” though in different ways. For example the turuq can deliver blocs of
voters for particular political parties, or adopt a more pietistic position, seeking only to
ensure a well-defined raft of Islamic religious interests through the voting system and
influence on their countries’ Presidents. Most often they develop a cosy relationship with
government that avoids rocking the boat. In Gambia the end of Ramadan is time for a
showpiece encounter between President and Supreme Muslim Council.
       Wahabi-influenced associations are set on a more substantial change in society and
politics, highlight the corruption of governments that claim to be “Islamic”, wish to
install the full prescriptions of Islamic law and, in the longer term, some hope to create
Islamic Republics. Such groups are attracted to strands of thinking from North Africa -
influences that perennially cross the Sahara - seeking a return to the imagined legal
dispensation of the first Muslim centuries. For them Islamic law should only be based on
the precedents set by the Holy Prophet and his Companions, the al-salaf al-salih, thus
rejecting later elaboration of the legal system.
       For West Africa, only in the northern states of Nigeria do such Salafi and Wahabi
tendencies gain much purchase; this because Nigeria’s 70 million plus Muslim
population forms a “critical mass” of disillusioned poor. Many are easily led by educated
radicals and subject to manipulation by political leaders seeking legitimacy through
religious ultra-orthodoxy. Moreover such religious radicalism is largely limited to certain
urban centres in the North where it readily spills over into mass protests. Put the rise of
culturally provocative pentecostal sects into the equation and a cycle of violence is easily
engendered. Muslim-Christian mob violence and arson on property result. For East
Africa a similar set of circumstances is being reached in Zanzibar with the danger that it
may spill over into the Tanzanian mainland. The Islamic Party of Kenya, with a similar
Wahabi intellectual core, appears more interested in using radicalism as a bargaining
counter with the country’s large Christian majority than as part of a serious Islamist
project to gain power nationally.
      The point is that dialogue with Islamic organisations will be viewed in the light of
internal conflicts within Islamic civil society – between what has been dubbed here as
African Islam and Islam in Africa, or between “Arabs” and “Africans”. In addition,
where there are conflictual relations with Christian minorities, as in Nigeria’s northern
states - dialogue will be seen in the light of conflict between Muslims and Christians. It

 Adbourahmanne Idrissa:    “Defining the Polity; Cultural Dynamism, Islam and the State in Niger”
Unpublished draft paper.

goes without saying that, for example, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) is
particularly sensitive to such interventions, quite several of the Christian Councils in East
Africa that are pro-active in dialogue.
       The degree to which such interventions become politically charged, or create a new
resentment, will depend, of course, on the existing level of religiously motivated, or
politically manipulated, conflict within the society in question. Low in the case of Niger,
Gambia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Mali and Ghana; high in the case of the “mixed”
northern States of Nigeria, or Sudan. Salafi and Wahabi influenced Islamist groups are,
of course, the least likely for ideological reasons to wish to enter into dialogue with
Christian interlocutors.

Mission in Africa
      If the growth of the turuq (tariqas) represents a resonant feature of African Islam,
then no less should a second phenomenon, characteristic of the last thirty years, be
neglected in terms of the wider political context of Islamic development. That is the
Muslim commitment to daw’a, mission and the call of Islam. Just as the Christian
missions, the Churches they gave rise to, and indigenous Christian reactions to them, are
today key features of African civil society, so are the Muslim mission societies and their
impact. In some aspects the Muslim societies are a clear reaction to the Christian
missions. Muslims have studied their techniques and seen their significance in education
and social welfare, not least in Africa.
      Science, learning and knowledge, though, have always been integral to Islam.
Their acquisition is religiously mandated by Qu’ran, Hadith (the reported sayings of the
Prophet) and within Muslim tradition and history. So the growth of Muslim schooling in
West Africa as such needs no extraneous explanation or stimulus. Thus education is seen
by all African Muslims as the primary means to human development. Though, for most,
this education has relied on rote learning of the Qu’ran and the assimilation of a corpus of
received Islamic knowledge in an unquestioning manner that eschews critical dialogue
and exploration of non-Muslim concepts of modernity.
       The primary missionary tool for daw’a in Africa has been the training of Muslim
teachers, leaders, imams, and legal experts together with the building of Mosques and of
schools attached to Mosques. For many years this was a slow process in West Africa as
trading contacts across the Sahara brought south the teaching of the 15th. century scholar,
Salim Suware in the so-called Suwerian tradition. The position of imam most often ran
in families, inherited from father to son, with the family compound serving also as a
religious centre and school for the spread of Islam. It still does. Even today in an urban
setting of Banjul, Aja Maimuna Savage, President of the Gambia Federation of Muslim
Women runs an Islamic primary school for over one hundred children in the
extraordinarily cramped quarters of her own family compound which doubles as the
Islamic Cultural Centre for Women and Children.
      However, since the boost given by oil wealth to the Arab world in the 1970s, future
imams and youth leaders became increasingly involved with the large Arab international
Islamic organisations such as the World Muslim League (Saudi Arabia based), World

Islamic Call (Libya), Munazamat aldawa Islamia (Sudan) and the African Muslim
Agency (Kuwait) after an initial training in Africa. These bodies finance further
education for Africans abroad in Islamic institutions, universities and advanced
seminaries, madaris (plural of madrasa). The version of Islam that was and is emphasised
not surprisingly stresses the importance of the global Islamic community, umma, and
often – in Sudan and Saudi Arabia - exclusivist and puritanical forms of “fundamentalist”
teaching. The courses trained future religious specialists in law, fiqh, exegesis of the
Qu’ran, and the different disciplines of Islamic “tertiary” education. While imams
trained under these circumstances may not accept the “full package” ideologically – some
may react strongly against it – most would look first to their mission societies for funding
for Mosque and school building on their return. A few may also receive monthly
stipends for their work approved by the societies.
      Historical accidents often determined where pupils studied. In Ghana, the fact that
Kwame Nkrumah’s first wife was Egyptian led to a flow of Muslim students going to
Cairo’s prestigious al-Azhar University. A later Rawlings-Gadaffi friendship led to a
move towards pupils studying in Libya. These different experiences of study abroad
gave rise to a generation of African Muslim scholars with one common feature: greater
fluency in Arabic. They were and are considered more learned by their Mosque
communities. To some degree they form a small rival elite to the traditional sufi
leadership. The privileging of Arabic as a sacred language in Islam obviously creates a
basic language problem in predominantly Muslim states where English or French is the
lingua franca. Arabic is a key to status in Islamic civil society and it is in the vested
interests of an elite to keep it so.
      In consequence the growth of national level Muslim organisations formed, and
forms, a pre-eminent theatre for conflict between “Islam in Africa” and “African Islam”.
In many cases this has resulted in rival national groupings. The Sierra Leone Muslim
Congress founded in 1928, for example, was later rivaled by the Supreme Islamic
Council of Sierra Leone, created by scholars returning from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and
Libya in the 1970s and 1980s. In Ghana the foreign trained ASWAJ grouping refused to
join the Supreme Muslim Council and put up their own “national” Imam.6 Conflicts over
funding the building of Mosques form the root of many disputes with corresponding
accusations and counter-accusations of embezzlement. Much of this money, of course,
has come from the daw’a societies and, indirectly, the different Islamic states in which
these societies grew up.
      The potential of such national bodies in peace-building is correspondingly low.
The Muslim leaders assembled in the Council or Councils represent different Islamic
groupings and tendencies and seek to sustain the legitimacy of their own position as
Muslim interlocutors with government. This role is particularly clear in Gambia where
the State House Imam, Imam Sadja Fatti, who has been an army chaplain and leads the
Talinding Mosque in the peri-Banjul area, has a pre-eminent role in the country on the
basis of his proximity to the President. Making statements advocating restraint and calm
is probably the most that can be expected, but this may sometimes be timely and

    Interview with Dr Jabal Buaben.

      The same cannot be said about the Inter-Religious Council of Sierra Leone
(IRCSL) set up under the impetus of an inter-faith delegation from the USA in 1997 and
supported by the World Council for Religion and Peace. With Sheikh A. B. Conteh as
the Council’s first Vice-Chair, it sustained a high degree of neutrality and gained the
confidence of the rebel leader, Foday Sankoh, under difficult and dangerous conditions.
The Council developed a channel of communications between government and rebels and
is now working in the field of reconciliation. They have contributed to the formation of
an UNDP-supported Truth and Reconciliation Commission that is training leaders for
village-level reconciliation and reconstruction. Though the proportion of Muslims to
Christians in Sierra Leone at 60% - 40% is probably similar to Nigeria (where census
results have been repeatedly rigged), Nigerian initiatives of this sort have either been
ephemeral – appeals from religious leaders for peace – and poorly sustained, or at a “sub-
national” level.
      Some inter-faith dialogue can be a “talking shop” but it makes possible essential
personal contacts at community and leadership levels. Joint interfaith action for peace
building and reconciliation is often an effective marshalling of civil society in conflict
prevention, and does not happen overnight. Building the preconditions for such action is
an important goal of dialogue.
       It is self- evident that funding flows to the Islamic community and other forms of
intervention from “outside”, such as maintained training abroad, influence Muslim
perceptions about international relations. For educated African Muslims, Islamic global
civil society is experienced as essentially a nexus with the Arab states at its core. Such an
outcome, while not necessarily implying that the daw’a societies are simply the foreign
policy tools of their states of origin, has a tendency to close off African Muslims from
different experiences of governance. It certainly means in practice that they do not
readily envisage forming partnerships with Christians to pursue common goals, and may
see them as competitors for public office at a local and national level.

Poverty in Religious Discourse and Practice
      The vast majority of Muslims in Africa while being poor and Muslim do not readily
“objectify” concepts such as poverty and religion in discussion; for people in a rural area
like Jigawa in Nigeria, this is simply how things are, the canvas against which people
seek to make marginal gains in income and so avoid ever-threatening destitution nd
social disintegration. Most people will consider themselves as “the poor”, miskini, if
asked by an interviewer, even state bureaucrats, though it would be mainly those on the
brink of destitution, faqiri, who would fall into a target group category for charity,

 Yahaya Hashim & Judith-Anne Walker “Constructing spaces for poverty reduction: politics, religion and
poverty reduction policies in Jigawa state” & Terri Sarch “Changing Nigeria: the Role of Islam”
unpublished papers in DFIDWest Africa section. Both papers share an unrealistic expectation of zakkat
committees according to data from Jigawa field visit, November 2003.

       Poor and illiterate women do not readily believe that things can change.
Campaigning against polygamous marriage and female genital mutilation - (often
incorrectly believed to be part of muslim tradition) - requires, for example, making an
investment in the strategic decision that such things can be different and future
investments in such a decision in the face of obvious risks. This is not a realistic option
for many Muslim women, and interviews amongst poor married women will probably not
elicit such issues. Amongst educated women in Gambia and Sierra Leone, they have
been identified as problems.
       Nonetheless most will be well aware of corruption and injustice in practice, and
talk about it, and hope for – religious - redress whenever a realistic possibility offers
itself. For most, it is the reality of local injustice rather than reflection on a general
condition called “poverty” that angers and mobilises. Part of the success of the Muslim
Brotherhood and Yan Izala in Nigeria and of other radical Islamic movements has been to
tap into this vein of awareness, and to attribute injustice to “un-Islamic” forms of
government. In this sense “fundamentalist” Islam does have a discourse on poverty and
modernity, and what to do about it. Such discourses can be powerful in their Islamic
references and use of confrontational symbols amongst impoverished people.
      It is mainly amongst urban educated Muslims that Islam forms a self-reflexive
identity so that individuals see themselves explicitly as Muslims set alongside or against
other identities. For them the concept of poverty more readily forms part of a religious
discourse involving feasible strategies for change. And it is from this sector of society
that reformist and radical approaches to change from within a Muslim world-view will,
and do, arise and from which leaders emerge. How these approaches are expressed will
depend on what sort of Muslim identity is in play. The Salafi and Wahabi variants offer
solutions that spawn puritanical and foreclosed personalities unwilling to explore
modernity in its western form.
       Poverty within mainstream Islamic belief is approached conceptually through the
prism of charity and the quest for blessings accruing from charitable actions, sadaqa.
Thus poverty affords an opportunity for the donor to fulfil a religious obligation, to give
what is due, and to receive a corresponding spiritual reward. The intensity of such
spiritual rewards is believed to vary during the Muslim “liturgical calendar”. Thus the
holy month of Ramadan and the feast of Id el-Fitr is particularly propitious for giving and
spiritual development. Likewise meat is given to the poor in the Qurbani programmes to
celebrate Id el-Adha when Allah is believed to have substituted a ram for sacrifice instead
of the son of the Prophet Abraham.
       The Qu’ran defines in several important verses feeding the poor and needy as a key
aspect of repentance and being Muslim. Voluntary giving appears organically as an
extension of the legal provision of one of the five pillars of Islam, zakkat, a form of
habitual and obligatory tithing of Muslims for distribution to the “poor”: the destitute,
needy, travellers, debtors, and slaves. The religious concept of zakkat stems from an
ancient idea of constraint on the growth of assets and wealth in the interests of the
common good. In agricultural societies this was initially levied on fruit and crops, paid
in kind at 10%, camels and goats, and also on holdings of gold and silver paid at 2.5%
(this is taken today as the percentage paid on money and trade assets). Each of these
categories, though, is only subject to zakkat at a certain level of holding, nisab, of an

asset which must be in the donor’s possession for at least a year. The purpose of just
redistribution of wealth might obviously be defeated were there no such nisab provisions.
The “wealth-threshold” of 40 goats or $800 worth of gold, before the tax needs to be
paid, gives some idea of the notional mean-holding above which taxation needs to be
paid. So it is that the concept of wealth and poverty in Islamic communities in Africa is
closely allied in people’s minds to the concept of donors and receivers of zakkat.8
      The four different Muslim law schools show considerable variation on the rules and
key elements of zakkat that they emphasise. But the core concept is charitable giving that
purifies the wealth and person of the donor, narrows the gap between rich and poor in
Islamic society, and rehabilitates the poor. Muslim scholars, such as Dr. Yusuf al-
Qardawi, whose monumental treatise on zakkat, Fiqh az Zakkat, runs to over 750 pages,
write eloquently about the social dimension of the tax. But the vast majority of ordinary
African Muslims do not read law books; the giving of zakkat represents first and
foremost an individual religious act of charity.9
      So the categories appear fluid in practice and far from the prescriptions of the law
schools. Imams complain that the middle class and rich do not understand their
obligations. In many instances zakkat amounts to well-off members of a kin group giving
to poorer members of the same extended kin group. One of the struggles of British-based
Muslim organisations is to divert religiously motivated charitable giving in Britain from
kin in the Indian sub-continent to the desperately poor in their target countries and areas –
via the Muslim agency.
       In both Gambia and Sierra Leone, for a variety of reasons, not least fear of
corruption outside kin groups, zakkat is distributed “privately” - in the sense that it does
not pass through any public body such as Mosque Committees. The latter are considered
desirable by imams and some are used for zakkat distribution in the northern Nigerian
states and Ghana. In Nigeria ostentatious giving by emirs, notables and wealthy Muslims
wishing to raise their status in society is a not uncommon urban phenomenon, while the
rural poor, talakawa, remain sceptical that such “official” channels will benefit them in
anything other than the most symbolic way. Small amounts distributed to large numbers
makes little impact. Scepticism is most marked amongst illiterate rural women who
benefit little from redistribution via men unless they are widows. Moreover, the
publication of the names of donors, introduced in Jigawa a few years ago, illustrates the
way in which the formal principles of zakkat are being undermined in the name of
accountability by the more mundane demands of social status. Thus, though legally
prescribed, zakkat remains in practice largely open to somewhat arbitrary assessments of
obligation and need.
         In short, the absence of any transparency or accountability in the vast majority of
means used in practice to distribute zakkat (outside ostentatious public alms-giving)
make Mosque committees suspect and renders zakkat a hit-and-miss affair for benefiting
the poor. Perhaps most important, with the exception of widows and girl orphans, zakkat
is predominantly passed from male donor to male recipient, so that it may never benefit
the 25% of the population who are very poor married women.

    Yusuf al-Qardawi Fiqh az-Zakat Dar Al Taqwa Ltd. 1999.

      Nonetheless charity grows out of the habitual obligation of zakkat. So it must be
underlined that the preponderance of Muslim organisations, involved tangentially or
more directly with poverty eradication in West Africa, work within this paradigm of
sadaqa and charitable giving. Many are open to developmental models of human, social
and sustainable development. Some are struggling to branch out/evolve into them while
retaining, and remaining rooted in, their religious constituency. To do so they need to
divert zakkat and sadaqa giving from its usual private, or unsatisfactory public and ritual
channels, into effective agencies for development and project support. And to do that
they need to effect a transition in their constituency’s thinking from exclusively
charitable to more developmental paradigms.
      Thus, as key components in civil society, often the only associations, Islamic
organisations in Africa share obviously common experiences with Christian ones. A few
are on the cusp of significant change. Some in the UK are arguably making the transition
successfully. The question which arises is how can these transitions be facilitated by
appropriate partnerships with Christian agencies without threatening the specifically
Islamic quality of these organisations and thus their unique purchase on Islamic civil

       The Churches and Muslim communities in Africa share many common experiences
and goals. Perhaps none more than in the sphere of human development. It might be
argued that both Wahabi Muslims and pentecostal Christians share an inadequate
understanding of human development and thus a defective vision of mission. Indeed it is
frequently the actions of pentecostal Christians and Wahabi-influenced Muslims in Africa
that trigger more general inter-religious conflict. On the other hand, in many African
states, the tariqas and “mainstream” Churches co-exist with great tolerance and mutual
      While inter-faith dialogue is essential, no less is interfaith action in the sphere of
human development in order to respond to the catastrophic poverty in the vast majority of
African states. It is through their shared commitment to human development that
Muslims and Christians will best draw on their traditions of practical reason and wisdom
and “vie with each other in good works”. The Christian and Muslim development
agencies of the European countries must seriously ask themselves if the time has not
come for a 5-year plan of action that witnesses to their shared concern for charity, justice,
and human development. This must entail an honest and frank debate about what can be
done together and what at present has to be done apart. A core component of this plan
must be the promotion of interfaith action in social analysis, conflict prevention and


Shared By: