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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 October 2009


Shaykh Naʿim al-ʿArqsusi is one of Damascus's most popular Muslim scholars. A leading figure of a local Islamic movement called Jamaʿat Zayd (Zayd's Group), he is widely praised for his knowledge, modesty, and asceticism. Every week, this frail, short-bearded fifty-six-year-old attracts several thousand people to the huge concrete al-Iman mosque next to Baʿth party headquarters in the middle-class neighborhood of al-Mezraʿa.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2009

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1 The title Hajj (“pilgrim”) is theoretically given to someone who has performed the pilgrimage to Mecca. In Syria, as a more general way to emphasize piety, it is traditionally used for merchants.

2 Observation by the authors, 27 April 2007.

3 For a history of Syrian associations since the French Mandate, see Boukhaima, Soukaina, “Le mouvement associatif en Syrie,” in Pouvoirs et associations dans le monde arabe, ed. Nefissa, Sarah Ben (Paris: CNRS édition, 2002), 7794Google Scholar. On Syrian secular NGOs in the early 2000s, see Mathieu Le Saux, “Les dynamiques contradictoires du champ associatif syrien,” Revue du monde musulman et de la Méditerranée 115–16 (2006): 193–209. For an overview of recent works on charities, Islamic, see “Conflict and Development,” ISIM Review 20 (2007): 419Google Scholar.

4 On Kaftaru, see Böttcher, Annabelle, Syrische Religionspolitik unter Asad (Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany: Arnold-Bergstraesser-Institut, 1998)Google Scholar. For the post-1997 period, see Stenberg, Leif, “Young, Male and Sufi Muslim in the City of Damascus,” in Youth and Youth Culture in the Contemporary Middle East, ed. Simonsen, Jørgen Bæck (Aarhus, Denmark: Aarhus University Press, 2005), 6891Google Scholar.

5 Challand, Benoît, “A Nahḍa of Charitable Organizations? Health Service Provision and the Politics of Aid in Palestine,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 40 (2008): 227–47CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

6 See, for instance, Zubaida, Sami, “Islam, the State and Democracy: Contrasting Conceptions of Society in Egypt,” Middle East Report 179 (1992): 210CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

7 Clark, Janine A., Islam, Charity and Activism: Middle-Class Networks and Social Welfare in Egypt, Jordan, and Yemen (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 2004)Google Scholar. See also Farag, Iman, Croyance et intérêt: Réflexion sur deux associations islamiques (Cairo: CEDEJ, 1992)Google Scholar.

8 See Hibou, Béatrice, Privatising the State (London: Hurst, 2004), 3839Google Scholar; Tripp, Charles, “State, Elites and the ‘Management of Change,’” in The State and Global Change: The Political Economy of Transition in the Middle East and North Africa, ed. Hakimian, Hasan and Moshaver, Ziba (London: Curzon, 2001), 211–31Google Scholar.

9 Heydemann, Steven, Upgrading Authoritarianism in the Arab World, Saban Center Analysis Paper 13 (Washington, D.C.: Brookings, 2007), VIIGoogle Scholar.

10 Renard, Amélie Le, “Pauvreté et charité en Arabie Saoudite: La famille royale, le secteur des affaires et ‘l'État-Providence,’Critique internationale 41 (2008): 137–56CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

11 Pioppi, Daniela, From Religious Charity to the Welfare State and Back: The Case of Islamic Endowments (waqfs) Revival in Egypt, EUI Working Papers RSCAS 32 (Florence: EUI, 2004)Google Scholar.

12 Heydemann, Upgrading Authoritarianism, 8; Le Saux, “Les dynamiques contradictoires,” 197.

13 The Ministry of Social Affairs allocates a yearly grant of S£20,000 (around $400) to every charitable association. ʿAwad, Buthayna, “Hal Turid al-Hukuma an Tatakhallasa min Fuqaraʾiha?” (Does the Government Want to Get Rid of its Poor?), Abyad wa Aswad 225 (May 2007): 24Google Scholar.

14 One of the very rare exceptions is the proregime Kaftaru Academy, which receives formal financing from the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait. See al-Thawra, 2 February 2007, (accessed 1 February 2008).

15 Kepel, Gilles, Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2002)Google Scholar.

16 The roots of this lack of legitimacy are too complex to be discussed here, but the regime's authoritarian nature; its rural, socialist, and secular origins; and the dominance of the Alawite minority at the highest levels of power are all contributing factors.

17 For Iran, see, for instance, Ashraf, Ahmad, “Bazaar–Mosque Alliance: The Social Basis of Revolts and Revolutions,” International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society 1 (1988): 538–67CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

18 Pierret, Thomas, “Sunni Clergy Politics in Syria,” in Demystifying Syria, ed. Lawson, Fred (London: Saqi Books, forthcoming)Google Scholar.

19 al-Humsi, Muhammad Hasan, Al-Duʿat wa-l-Daʿwa al-Islamiyya al-Muʿasira al-Muntaliqa min Masajid Dimashq (Preachers and Contemporary Islamic Call Stemming from Damascus's Mosques), 2 vols. (Damascus: Dar al-Rashid, 1991), 1:263–82Google Scholar.

20 Boukhaima, “Le mouvement associatif,” 83–85.

21 The Muslim Brothers retained a relatively important influence on the ground through semiclandestine networks until the 1979–82 uprising, when they were eradicated through bloody state repression. Even though the movement's London-based leadership still constitutes the main component of the exiled opposition, the Muslim Brothers have probably ceased to exist as an organization at the domestic level; there has been no report of dismantling an active cell for about two decades. Since the 1990s, most of the Islamic activists jailed in Syria belong to the Hizb al-Tahrir al-Islami (Islamic Liberation Party) and Jihadi networks.

22 Habannaka, ʿAbd al-Rahman, Al-Walid al-Daʿiya al-Murabbi al-Shaykh Hassan Habannaka al-Midani (My Father the Preacher and Educator Shaykh Hassan Habannaka al-Midani) (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia: Dar al-Bashaʾir, 2002), 228302Google Scholar.

23 Perthes, Volker, The Political Economy of Syria under Asad (New York: I. B. Tauris, 1995), 5053Google Scholar.

24 Droz-Vincent, Philippe, Moyen-Orient: Pouvoirs autoritaires, sociétés bloquées (Paris: PUF, 2004), 240–43Google Scholar.

25 Batatu, Hanna, Syria's Peasantry, the Descendants of its Lesser Rural Notables, and their Politics (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999), 271–72Google Scholar.

26 Hopfinger, Hans and Boeckler, Marc, “Step by Step to an Open Economic System: Syria Sets Course for Liberalization,” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 23 (1996): 183202CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

27 Al-Thawra, 10 June 2005, (accessed 1 February 2008).

28 Observation by the authors.

29 Observations by the authors in Damascene mosques during the celebration of the Prophet's birthday, 4, 9, and 15 April 2007.

30 In May 2008, however, the government decided to set a maximum quantity of subsidized fuel available to each family.

31 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Poverty in Syria 1996–2004: Diagnosis and Pro-Poor Policy Considerations (Damascus: UNDP, 2005), 12Google Scholar.

32 Aita, Samir, Syria Country Profile: The Road Ahead for Syria (Cairo: Economic Research Forum, 2006), 2:2122Google Scholar. In the spring of 2008, salaries were increased by 25 percent. See al-Thawra, 5 May 2008, (accessed 1 February 2008).

33 UNDP, Poverty in Syria, 23.

34 Oxford Business Group, “Syria: 2007 Year in Review,” 15 January 2008, (accessed 1 February 2008).

35 Al-Sharq al-Awsat, 15 September 2007, (accessed 1 February 2008).

36 We thank Laura Ruiz de Elvira for this information, which she obtained from a Syrian researcher working for the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor. The ministry denies formal access to its own register of licensed associations. Approximate figures sometimes given to the media do not differentiate charitable associations from cultural, professional, sports, and housing ones.

37 Ittihad al-Jamʿiyyat al-Khayriyya bi-Dimashq.

38 ʿAwad, “Hal Turid al-Hukuma,” 4.

39 We consider associations “Sunni Muslim” on the basis of at least one of the following criteria: a name referring to Islam, headquarters located in a mosque, or a board that includes clerics.

41 SANA, 19 May 2008, (accessed 1 February 2008).

42 Al-Fidaʾ (Hama), 6 February 2006, (accessed 1 February 2008).

43 Official Website of the Hama Governorate, 23 July 2006, (accessed 1 February 2008).

44 Julien Barnes-Dacey, “Syrian Expatriates Return Home in Hopes of New Wealth,” The Christian Science Monitor, 29 December 2007, (accessed 1 February 2008).

45 UCA-D, Al-Taqrir al-Sanawi li-Ittihad al-Jamʿiyyat al-Khayriyya bi-Dimashq [Annual Report of the UCA-D], 2007, 11.

46 An example of these small Islamic charities is the al-Taʿawun association, which, in 2007, was giving an average monthly benefit of S£1,000 each to 650 families of the Baghdad Street quarter (ʿAwad, “Hal Turid al-Hukuma,” 2).

47 This is the case with al-Ghayth, launched in 2004 by disciples of Ahmad Kaftaru's right-hand man Rajab Dib, and al-Shahbaʾ Association, founded in 2005 by Aleppo's Islamic MP ʿAbd al-ʿAziz al-Shami.

48 Hifz al-Niʿma's official website, (accessed 1 February 2008).

49 Observations by the authors, Damascus, 2006.

50 Sariya al-Rifaʿi, Friday sermon, Zayd bin Thabit mosque, Damascus, 2 March 2007.

51 Reuters (Arabic), 4 October 2006, (accessed 1 February 2008).

52 Al-Thawra, 28 July 2006, (accessed 1 February 2008).

53 Al-Thawra, 19 May 2006, (accessed 1 February 2008).

54 Al-Humsi, Al-Duʿat wa-l-Daʿwa, 1: 267.

55 The three are middle industrialists descended from old local merchant families. ʿUmar Mukhallalati, a clothing manufacturer and a member of the Damascus Chamber of Industry, runs two shops in the Old City's suq. ʿUmar Sayrawan is also involved in the textile industry and trade. He is the brother of Jamal, one of ʿAbd al-Karim al-Rifaʿi's most prominent disciples, who has lived in exile in Saudi Arabia since 1981. Safuh Al-Samman owns an ironmongery factory. Other directors stemming from well-known merchant upper-middle-class families are Mustafa al-Hakim and Safuh al-Nuri.

56 UCA-D, Al-Taqrir al-Sanawi.

57 From the 1950s to the 1970s, Zayd had a sister organization in Aleppo (Jamaʿat Abi Dharr), which was founded and run by local ʿulamaʾ from the al-Bayanuni family.

58 SANA, 19 May 2008, (accessed 1 February 2008); SANA, 13 October 2005, (accessed 1 February 2008); for Sunduq al-ʿAfiya in Homs, see Al-Thawra, 14 August 2006, (accessed 1 February 2008).

59 For an analysis of the rationale of a similar project, see Wiktorowicz, Quintan and Farouki, Suha Taji, “Islamic NGOs and Muslim Politics: A Case from Jordan,” Third World Quarterly 21 (2000): 685–99CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

60 UCA-D, Sunduq al-Mawadda wa-l-Rahma (Damascus: UCA-D, 2007)Google Scholar.

61 Observation by the authors, Damascus, 30 March 2007.

62 UCA-D, Sunduq al-Mawadda wa-l-Rahma; Salwa al-Ustuwani, “Al-Niʿma . . . Maladh Fuqaraʾ Suriya (Al-Niʿma . . . The Refuge of Syria's Poor),” Islam Online, 8 July 2004, (accessed 1 February 2008).

63 Dar al-Iman is not clearly associated with any specific Islamic network, but its board of directors includes at least one merchant closely linked to Zayd, Anwar Jumʿa Zabadina.

64 Iʿfaf, “Al-Mustafidun” (The Beneficiaries), (dead link, accessed 1 July 2008).

65 ʿAwad, “Hal Turid al-Hukuma,” 4.

66 Interviews by the authors, Damascus, 14, 21, and 22 June 2007.

67 Discussion with the authors, 6 May 2008.

68 Discussion with the authors, Damascus, 14 August 2007.

69 Observation by the authors, Damascus, July 2007.

70 Interview with an adept of Zayd, Damascus, 6 May 2008.

71 Instead of following a preexisting Sufi tradition, Zayd has set up its own mystical rituals, both individual and collective, by picking up awrād (litanies) from the Qurʾan and Sunna.

72 Sada Zayd, “Raʾyuhu fi al-ʿUlum al-Kawniyya wa-Hadd Tullabihi ʿala al-Nubugh fiha” (His Opinion on Worldly Sciences and His Exhorting His Students to Distinguish Themselves in Them), 9 April 2008, (accessed 1 February 2008).

73 Observation and interview by the authors, Damascus, 5 March 2007.

74 Observation by the authors, Damascus, 4 April 2007.

75 Sariya al-Rifaʿi, Friday sermon, Zayd bin Thabit Mosque, 1 December 2006.

76 During the periods of parliamentarianism that preceded the 1963 coup, al-Rifaʿi forbade his followers from running in elections but openly supported candidates from both bourgeois-nationalist and Islamist parties. See Sada Zayd, “Mawqifuhu min al-Siyasa wa-l-Siyasiyyin (His Position Regarding Politics and the Politicians),” 9 April 2008, (accessed 1 February 2008).

77 See for instance Sariya al-Rifaʿi's praise of al-Sibaʿi in All for Syria (e-newsletter), 9 September 2007, (accessed 1 February 2008).

78 Hinnebusch, Raymond, “Calculated Decompression as a Substitute for Democratization: Syria,” in Political Liberalization and Democratization in the Arab World, ed. Korany, Baghat, Brynen, Rex, and Noble, Paul (Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner, 1998), 223–40Google Scholar.

79 Interviews (names withheld by request), Damascus, August 2007.

80 Sariya al-Rifaʿi, Friday sermon, Zayd bin Thabit mosque, Damascus, 2 March 2007. In 2007, money collected in mosques constituted 40 percent of the UCA-D's income. See al-Thawra, 6 January 2005, (accessed 1 February).

81 Interviews (names withheld by request), Damascus, May 2007.

82 Al-Fath Online, “Al-Akhbar (News),” 16 April 2008, (accessed 1 February 2008).

83 Al-Jamal, 9 July 2006, (accessed 1 February 2008); Sariya al-Rifaʿi, “Risala min Nahj al-Islam ila al-Thawra” (Message from Nahj al-Islam to al-Thawra), Nahj al-Islam 107 (2007): 20–22.

84 Akhbar al-Sharq, 11 January and 11 February 2007; Syrian feminist activist (name withheld by request), interview with the authors, Damascus, 13 May 2007.

85 Osama al-Rifaʿi, Shaykh ʿAbd al-Karim al-Rifaʿi mosque, Damascus, 31 March 2007.

86 Cham Press, 28 August 2008.

87 Al-Thawra, 31 October 2008, (accessed 1 February 2008); Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies, 12 November 2008, (accessed 1 February 2008).