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Islam, Social Welfare and Charity in Africa

In Aminata Sow Fall’s 1979 novel, The Beggar’s Strike (La Grève des Battu), Dakar’s beggars strike to protest the plan of the new Director of Public Health and Hygiene to rid the city’s streets of beggars. The beggars believe their strike will succeed because the pious inhabitants of Dakar need to provide charity to the poor to receive God’s goodwill. As one of the beggars describes in the book, “They need to give in order to survive, and if we didn’t exist, who would they give to? How could they ensure their own peace of mind? They don’t give for our sake; they give for their own sake! They need us so that they can live in peace!” (Fall 38). Fall’s novel demonstrates the centrality of giving alms to the functioning of everyday people’s lives in Senegal.

Theoretical discussions about the role of social welfare, charity, and almsgiving in Islam are an important topic in Islamic studies. Scholars have contemplated the meaning of terms like zakat, and sadaqa. Likewise, they have considered the role of the state in supervising social welfare practices. Newer work has studied the emergence of contemporary Islamic NGOs across the world, many of whom work on the African continent. However, less scholarship has focused on the myriad of forms Islamic charity and welfare have taken in both Africa’s past and present.

This panel will look at historical and contemporary issues surrounding charity, social welfare, and Islam in Africa. How has Islamic charity historically been practiced in Africa and how has it changed over time? What is/was the role of African states in Islamic social welfare? What role have Sufi orders on the continent played? How have African Muslims, past and present, understood their charitable duties as prescribed by Islam? What role do ideas about generosity, hospitality, and almsgiving play in historical and contemporary African Muslims’ lives?
Panelists are encouraged to submit papers, from any disciplinary perspective, on such practices as zakat, and waqf or other Islamic charitable practices or organizations. Papers on contemporary issues surrounding Islamic NGOs from Africa or working in Africa are also welcome.

Proposals from scholars at all career stages, including graduate students and independent researchers, are welcomed. Please submit an abstract of 250-300 words along with a brief bio to Avenel Rolfsen at akrolfse@indiana.edu by March 10th, 2024.