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Interview: New Report on Muslim Humanitarianism

Screen Shot 2018-02-28 at 7.41.13 PMThe British Council recently released a report on The Muslim Humanitarian Sector co-authored by Abbas Barzegar and Nagham El Karhili, two scholars based at Georgia State University. In their introduction, Barzegar and El Nagham state the “report provides a summary of the major issues emerging from a year of dialogue based focused groups and stakeholder research aimed at better understanding the barriers to, and opportunities for, greater cooperation with the global Muslim aid and development sector.”

In this interview CIRIS research associates Chris Moses and Tobias Muller engage with the co-authors on the key issues highlighted in the report.

 

CIRIS: What is the biggest misunderstanding about the Muslim humanitarian sector?

Abbas Barzegar: That it exists. What I mean is that most people, including mainstream practitioners and policy makers, simply don’t know how entrenched Muslim humanitarian organizations are in the international relief and development landscape.

Nagham El Karhili: Unfortunately, the biggest misunderstanding about the Muslim humanitarian sector is the fact that they are, in one way or another, linked to terrorist organizations. As the second section of our report mentions, the Muslim humanitarian sector as a whole has been negatively affected by the out-growth of post-9/11 counter-terrorist finance (CTF) policies. Although they are recognized by many as some of the most impactful organizations on the ground, the constant scrutiny and pressures on these organizations have resulted in high profile cases of failed investigations and prosecutions which further erode the capacity for cooperation. The sector as a whole has invested heavily in trying to shift this narrative through their work with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), as the primary regulatory body responsible for adversely impacting the ability of global civil society to operate in fragile and conflict prone environments. As a result of these efforts, FATF revisited the language of Recommendation 8 and issued an official revision of the text in 2016, which now encourages a risk-based, proportional approach to managing the threat of terrorist abuse of the non-profit sector.

CIRIS: To what extent is the Muslim NGO experience unique? 

Abbas Barzegar: In many ways, it is quite predictable. For example, in regards to operating procedures, types of services offered, and so forth. Like their Christian counterparts, they do spend quite a bit of attention on post-relief operations and naturally venture into education, economics, and psycho-social services. However, particular structures of Islamic faith and practice occasion a whole of distinct practices: considering everything from Ramadan and Hajj welfare packages to interest-free micro-loans, there are activities that are unique to the way Muslim organizations prioritize their activities.

Nagham El Karhili: The experience of Muslim NGOs is rather unique due to their position in the aid and development field, along with the politicization of their work. The sector is almost at a double disadvantage due to the fact that not only do these organizations have to deal with issues of credibility as faith-based organizations (FBOs), but also, they are the main target of counter terrorist finance policy. Although the organizations have increased their efforts to operate more transparently by publishing financial reports, abiding with the various requirements, and working in collaboration with other faith based and secular actors, trust-building seems to be a rather slow process.

CIRIS: In the report you mention that there seems to be a consensus that faith-based organisations are particularly well placed to address challenges like political conflict, violence and extremism. What makes these organisations more effective?

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Abbas Barzegar (photo credit : Georgia State University)

Abbas Barzegar: It is often reported that they earn a greater level of trust by grassroots actors and therefore demonstrate more buy-in and follow-through among actors. Factors such as cultural and religious proximity help develop this sensibility, but studies have also shown that theology and shared faith are less important than the simple sense of long-term and holistic investment. Because faith-based groups are less restricted by international aid and relief norms, they often expand their programming beyond the immediate needs of shelter, food, etc. Instead, faith-based groups are seen by beneficiaries as being committed to long-term solutions. Hence, for sensitive issues related to social and political conflict that require trust and commitment, faith-based groups simply seem to be much more versatile than conventional NGOs.

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Nagham El Karhili (photo credit: Georgia State University)

Nagham El Karhili: Muslim NGOs are best positioned to address a variety of challenges due to their access and credibility with beneficiaries. Given the fact that Muslim aid organizations are operative in some of the most conflict-ridden areas and have considerable access to human resources, it is clear that the sector as a whole has now positioned itself as a key partner in the delivery of critical aid and relief to some of the most vulnerable populations around the world. This is especially important given that a disproportionate amount of the now unprecedented number of forcibly displaced peoples stem from Muslim societies in and around the greater MENA region.

CIRIS: To what extent does the religious agenda of these organisations harbour the danger of preferring to give aid to some groups while marginalising others?

Abbas Barzegar: This is a legitimate concern for all stakeholders involved. However, like the well-trodden path of Christian NGOs, large, independent Muslim NGOs – by which I mean not affiliated with a government or particular religious structure – operate under international norms of neutrality and non-discrimination. They have long-track records and partnerships in that can demonstrate this trend. Of course, there are expansive networks that still blur the line between proselytization and charity—just like many Christian groups—but these actors are not the focus of our study and do not quite represent the sector as such.

Nagham El Karhili: Throughout our research we were quickly faced with the fact that the majority of Muslim NGOs overwhelmingly identify as religiously inspired rather than having a religious agenda. This is seen through their clearly articulated vision and values which specify their commitment to serving those in needs regardless of their religious affiliation. Furthermore, this is seen in practice in the scope of the work of these organizations: they serve religiously diverse beneficiaries and have been collaborating with some of the biggest faith-based and secular actors alike.

CIRIS: When you recommend “augment[ing] renewed efforts of collaboration and coordination between the mainstream development community and the Muslim humanitarian sector”, is it possible to suggest that this is part of a wider challenge? That is to say, is this specific goal part of a broader set of issues relating to how the mainstream development community might need to re-think and re-focus its current work and efforts?

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CIRIS Co-sponsors 2-day Workshop on ‘Islam and Space in Europe’

IMG_1836CIRIS Research Associates Tobias Muller and Chris Moses organised a workshop, “Religious? Secular? Re-thinking Islam and Space in Europe”,  together with Adela Taleb (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin). CIRIS was one of the sponsors of the two-day event, which brought together twenty scholars from a diverse range of fields, including anthropology, political science, music, architecture, geography, sociology, criminology, and religious studies. The workshop featured keynotes by Dr Marian Burchardt (Universität Leipzig) and Professor Riem Spielhaus (Georg-August-Universität Göttingen), a public lecture by Professor Kim Knott (Lancaster University) on “Thinking Spatially About Islam in Europe”, along with five panel-based discussions.

CIRIS Research Associate Tobias Müller Contributes Chapter to Report on Muslims in Europe

13 July 2017 – CIRIS Graduate Research Associate Tobias Müller recently contributed a chapter in a report on Muslims in the UK and Europe published by the Centre for Islamic Studies at Cambridge University. Müller’s chapter, ‘Constructing Islam and Secularism in the German Islam Conference,’ argues that beyond the intentions expressed by government officials, the aims of the Conference and the expectations towards Muslims prescribe major restructuring measures of the Muslim community, cooperation with security agencies, and alignment with an undetermined set of “German values.” The full report, co-edited by Paul Anderson and Julian Hargreaves, presents papers from a symposium the Centre for Islamic Studies held in May 2016.

CIRIS Commissions Report on the Marrakesh Declaration

cover3 Oct. 2016 – CIRIS has co-published a new report with the US Institute of Peace (USIP) on the Marrakesh Declaration on the Rights of Minorities in Predominantly Muslim Majority Communities. The report explores how policymakers and practitioners can further the aims of this seminal declaration.

Susan Hayward, director of Religion and Inclusive Societies at USIP, authored the report and presented it to the Transatlantic Policy Network on Religion and Diplomacy at the network’s consultation in Washington in June 2016. Hayward attended the January 2016 conference in Marrakesh that produced the Declaration and has closely monitored its impact and implementation.

Summary from the front page of the report:

  • In recent years, ethnic and religious minorities around the world have faced new threats due to the rise of violent extremist groups and exclusionary nationalist movements. In areas where movements associated with the self-declared Islamic State operate, religious minorities have been treated with particular brutality.
  • Motivated, in part, by concern for this reality, over three hundred Islamic scholars, politicians, and activists, as well as a small group of interfaith observers, gathered in Morocco in January 2016 to affirm the rights of minorities living in Muslim-majority contexts.
  • The conference’s Marrakesh Declaration and the legal framework that informs it draw from Islamic tradition, particularly the seventh century Charter of Medina, to affirm equal citizenship as an Islamic principle and traditional form of governance prescribed by Prophet Muhammad.
  • The Marrakesh Declaration is a powerful response to a pressing global human rights concern and a model for how religious tradition and international human rights law can be mutually reinforcing. This initiative can serve as a powerful resource for legitimizing and advocating for minority rights and equal citizenship more broadly within the Muslim world.
  • Its true test of impact will be in its implementation—the extent to which the ideals, principles, and actions envisioned in the Declaration can spread beyond its purview as an elite enterprise to ignite and mobilize a broad-based movement for social, legal, and political change.
  • Those from non-Muslim majority contexts wishing to support the Marrakesh Declaration must be careful not to undermine its legitimacy as a Muslim-led initiative, particularly in contexts where minority rights and religious freedom have historically been used as pretext for colonialism and Christian missionizing.

How to Talk to Your Children about Being Muslim

Note: This article by Afeefa Syeed was originally published in the Los Angeles Times on 8 December 2015.

 

It’s toughest for the young ones who look at pictures of the bad guys and say, “But Mama, he looks like me.”

Our American Muslim children are growing up in a world of warped lunacy that takes what they know about a beloved prophet or God and turns it into reasons for anguish. And the frustrations are even greater when young ones watch the news or are witness to confrontations that end with their asking, “Daddy, why does that man say I’m going to hell?”

As Muslim parents and teachers, we feel a heaviness in our hearts about the world and because of this hopelessness and helplessness, we are stripped of the superpowers usually assigned to us in those little eyes. Nevertheless, our children are an amana, a trust for us to keep safe while we have them in our care. Being present with them and understanding their feelings is the heart of parenting in this complex and difficult time.

In order to be conscientious and responsive parents, American Muslims might think of the following elements that are becoming part of our new normal:

Continue reading at the LA Times
Click here to read Syeed’s article for Patheos on ‘Supporting Ourselves and Each Other – A Spiritual Response to these Times’

 

Interview: Pasquale Annicchino on Religious Freedom in the EU

giorno-20-06-2014-25Has the European Union contributed to the advancement of religious freedom in Europe and beyond? Pasquale Annicchino thinks it has.

In June CIRIS hosted Dr Annicchino for a roundtable discussion in Cambridge on the status of religious freedom in the EU. A leading scholar on law and religion, Annicchino is a Research Fellow at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy. He has been Adjunct Professor of Law at BYU Law School (USA) and Visiting Professor at the Catholic University of Leuven (Belgium). He is also a Senior Research Associate with CIRIS.

Here CIRIS managing director Judd Birdsall gets Annicchino’s thoughts on how the EU promotes religious freedom in its domestic and foreign policy—and how the EU approach differs from the US.

CIRIS: Is it possible for the EU to develop a unifying vision of religious freedom for all member states, or will there always be some variation between states based on their own church-state traditions and religious demography?

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News & Events

24th Apr 2018

CIRIS Research Associate Leor Zmigrod Publishes Paper on Psychology of Brexit Voting

CIRIS Graduate Research Associate Leor Zmigrod has published a paper on the psychological processes that give rise to nationalistic ideologies in the context of the United Kingdom’s 2016 EU Referendum. The research identified cognitive information processing styles that contribute towards support for Brexit and opposition to immigration and free movement of labour. Specifically, the findings […]

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Publications

21st Feb 2018

Interview: Christopher Douglas on ‘Religion and Fake News’

In January 2018 CIRIS released a fascinating new report by Prof Chris Douglas on religion and fake news. The report explores the religious dimension of fake news in both Europe and the United States and offers recommendations for how policymakers and other leaders can fight back against faith-based fake news. Christopher Douglas teaches American literature and […]

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At CIRIS, we aim to equip students and scholars in Cambridge and beyond with a robust and nuanced appreciation for the role of religion in international politics that they will take with them into their future research and/or practice around the world. To this end, we host public lectures, academic seminars, and other events. We are also pursuing research projects that draw on the contributions of Cambridge-based academics.

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CIRIS serves as the secretariat for the Transatlantic Policy Network on Religion and Diplomacy (TPNRD). We facilitate communication, coordination, and collaboration among this community of diplomats from Europe and North America who have a responsibility for religion-related issues within their respective foreign ministries. The work of the TPNRD secretariat is generously supported by the Henry Luce Foundation.

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