Skip to main content Accessibility help


Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 April 2014


This article explores the role of Islam in contemporary Jordanian charities and social welfare organizations. In what ways do these organizations relate to Islamic traditions in their work? What role do religious convictions play in the construction of modern selfhoods among their employees and volunteers? Do these constructions relate to broader, globally relevant, social imaginaries? The article tries to answer these questions by applying a novel analytical framework to qualitative data from fieldwork conducted among Jordanian charities and social welfare organizations. We treat these organizations as “social sites” for the reinterpretation of Islamic traditions in the context of global modernity as well as for the construction of meaningful forms of modern selfhoods among their members. In doing so, we argue that these specifically Islamic identity constructions can fruitfully be understood with reference to different types of globally relevant social imaginaries.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below.


Author's note: We thank the four reviewers, the editors of this issue of IJMES, and Morten Valbjørn for their most helpful comments on previous drafts of this article. In addition, we are grateful to The Danish Council for Independent Research in the Humanities (FKK) and VELUX Foundation for funding two projects that are currently being conducted at the University of Southern Denmark under the umbrella of “The Modern Muslim Subjectivities Project.” Finally, we thank The Danish Council for Independent Research in the Social Sciences (FSE) for funding the research project “Shifting Conceptions of Aid and Islam.”

1 Singer, Amy, Charity in Islamic Societies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 223Google Scholar.

2 We spent four months total in Jordan and conducted about ninety interviews with staff and volunteers in approximately fifty organizations, predominantly located in Amman and Zarqa. Most interviews were conducted in Arabic with the use of a translator, while a few were conducted in English. The interviews were organized around relatively open themes and our interlocutors seemed to speak with ease and confidence, not being afraid to talk about Islam in relation to social welfare activities. They were relatively eager to participate and nobody turned down our request for interviews.

3 A paradigmatic article for this approach is Eisenstadt, Samuel N., “Multiple Modernities,” Daedalus 129 (2000): 129Google Scholar. See also Arnason, Johann P., Civilizations in Dispute: Historical Questions and Theoretical Traditions (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2003)Google Scholar; and Eisenstadt, Samuel N., Comparative Civilizations and Multiple Modernities (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2003)Google Scholar.

4 See Burr, J. Millard and Collins, Robert O., Alms for Jihad: Charity and Terrorism in the Islamic World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006)Google Scholar; and Levitt, Matthew, Hamas: Politics, Charity and Terrorism in the Service of Jihad (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2006)Google Scholar. For a more balanced approach, see Benthall, Jonathan and Bellion-Jourdan, Jerome, The Charitable Crescent: The Politics of Aid in the Muslim World (London: I. B. Tauris, 2003)Google Scholar.

5 See, for example, Baylouny, Anne Marie, Privatizing Welfare in the Middle East: Kin Mutual Aid Associations in Jordan and Lebanon (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 2010)Google Scholar; Deeb, Lara, An Enchanted Modern: Gender and Public Piety in Shiʿi Lebanon (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2006)Google Scholar; Hafez, Sherine, An Islam of Her Own: Reconsidering Religion and Secularism in Women's Islamic Movements (New York: New York University Press, 2011)Google Scholar; Javad, Rana, Religion and Social Welfare in the Middle East: A Lebanese Perspective (Bristol: Policy Press, 2009)Google Scholar; Mahmood, Saba, Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2005)Google Scholar; Montagu, Caroline, “Civil Society and the Voluntary Sector in Saudi Arabia,” Middle East Journal 64 (2010): 6783CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Petersen, Marie Juul, “Trajectories of Transnational Muslim NGOs,” Development in Practice 22 (2012): 763–78CrossRefGoogle Scholar; idem, For Humanity or for the Umma? Aid and Islam in International Muslim NGOs (London: Hurst & Co, 2014); and Wiktorowicz, Quintan, The Management of Islamic Activism: Salafis, the Muslim Brotherhood and the State in Jordan (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 2001)Google Scholar.

6 Clark, Janine A., Islam, Charity, and Activism: Middle-Class Networks and Social Welfare in Egypt, Jordan and Yemen (Bloomington and Indianapolis, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 2004)Google Scholar.

7 Schatzki, Theodore R., The Site of the Social: A Philosophical Account of the Constitution of Social Life and Change (University Park, Pa.: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2002)Google Scholar.

8 Given the limitations of a journal article, this theoretical section is necessarily only a brief sketch. For a comprehensive overview of our theoretical position and analytical tools, see Jung, Dietrich, Orientalist, Islamists and the Global Public Sphere: A Genealogy of the Modern Essentialist Image of Islam (Sheffield: Equinox Publishers, 2011)Google Scholar; and Jung, Dietrich, Petersen, Marie Juul, and Sparre, Sara Lei, Politics of Modern Muslim Subjectivities: Islam, Youth, and Social Activism in the Middle East (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2014)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

9 Taylor, Charles, Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 211Google Scholar.

10 Ibid., 23.


11 Reckwitz, Andreas, Das hybride Subjekt. Eine Theorie der Subjektkulturen von der bürgerlichen Moderne zur Postmoderne (Weilerswist, Germany: Velbrück Wissenschaft, 2006), 53Google Scholar.

12 Ibid., 51–53.


13 Ibid., 275–440.


14 Ibid., 441–630.


15 There is a difference in the numbering and consequently naming of the three types of successive forms of modernity that might confuse the reader. In Wagner's typology, the first type refers to the bourgeois society of the 19th century; this does not play a role in the theories of Beck and Giddens, who only talk about first and second modernities with respect to the organized mass society and its postmodern follower of reflexive modernity. In fusing these concepts, in our analytical framework, first and second modernity are preceded by what Wagner called restricted liberal society.

16 Beck, Ulrich, Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity (London: Sage, 1992)Google Scholar; Giddens, Anthony, The Consequences of Modernity (Cambridge: Policy Press, 1990)Google Scholar; Wagner, Peter, A Sociology of Modernity: Liberty and Discipline (London: Routledge, 1993)Google Scholar.

17 Reckwitz, Das hybride Subjekt, 635.

18 Soares, Benjamin and Osella, Filippo, “Islam, Politics, Anthropology,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 15 (May 2009): 123CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

19 For approaches employing modern systems theory, see Beyer, Peter, Religion and Global Society (London and New York: Routledge, 2006)Google Scholar; and Luhmann, Niklas, “Society, Meaning, Religion—Based on Self-Reference,” Sociological Analysis 64 (1985): 520CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For Weber, Max's theory of religious social actions, see “Religious Rejections of the World and Their Directions,” in From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, ed. Gerth, H. H. and Mills, C. Wright (London: Routledge, 1991 [1948]), 129–56Google Scholar.

20 Weber, From Max Weber, 281.

21 With regard to their ends, Weber associated religious actions with two spheres: the dispensation from worldly suffering and the transcendental realm of redemption.

22 Riesebrodt, Martin, The Promise of Salvation: A Theory of Religion (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009)Google Scholar; Sharot, Steven, A Comparative Sociology of World Religions: Virtuosos, Priests, and Popular Religion (New York: New York University Press, 2001), 2223Google Scholar.

23 Harmsen, Egbert, Islam, Civil Society and Social Work: Muslim Voluntary Welfare Associations in Jordan between Patronage and Empowerment (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2008), 155CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Harmsen only cites the names of these organizations in English.

24 Kassim, Hisham, ed., The Directory of Civil Society Organizations in Jordan (Amman: al-Urdun al-Jadid Research Center, 2006)Google Scholar.

25 Alon, Yoav, The Making of Jordan: Tribes, Colonialism and the Modern State (London: I. B. Tauris, 2007), 39Google Scholar.

26 Noyon, Jennifer, Islam, Politics and Pluralism: Theory and Practice in Turkey, Jordan, Tunisia and Algeria (London: Royal Institute of International Affairs, 2003), 81Google Scholar.

27 Harmsen, Islam, Civil Society and Social Work, 137.

28 Robins, Phillip, A History of Jordan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004)Google Scholar; and Salibi, Kamal, The Modern History of Jordan (London: I. B. Tauris, 1993)Google Scholar.

29 The ICCS uses both its Arabic and English name.

30 Harmsen, Islam, Civil Society and Social Work, 141.

31 The government tried to “sell” peace with Israel by promising future foreign investment and economic benefits for the whole of the country. However, these economic peace dividends never materialized and turned out to be a mere fantasy. See Scham, Paul L. and Lucas, Russel E., “Normalization and Anti-Normalization in Jordan: The Public Debate,” Israel Affairs 9 (2003): 141–64CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

32 Kornbluth, D., “Jordan and the Anti-Normalization Campaign 1994–2001,” Terrorism and Political Violence 14 (2002): 80108CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

33 The government changed the law shortly before the 1993 elections. While the former election system was based on multiple votes, the new law introduced a single-vote system, undermining the ability of the opposition, in particular the IAF, to win seats. In addition, the new law gerrymandered electoral districts in a way that “favored rural pro-regime constituencies over more urban bases of support for opposition groups from the secular left to the religious right.” Ryan, Curtis R. and Schwedler, Jillian, “Return to Democratization or New Hybrid Regime?: The 2003 Elections in Jordan,” Middle East Policy 11 (2004): 143CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

34 In the regime's “liberal interpretation” of Islamic traditions, Prince Hassan played an important role in promoting Islam as a religion of tolerance and openmindedness. Kornbluth, “Jordan and the Anti-Normalization Campaign,” 96.

35 Speech by King ʿAbd Allah II at the Catholic University of America, 13 September 2005, .

36 The name relates to the traditional Islamic concept of tikiyya, going back to a Sufi-inspired provision of food for the poor in the 11th century. See (accessed 22 September 2012).

37 Although JOHUD does not define itself as an Islamic organization, we have included it for three reasons. First, it represents a major player in the field of social welfare provision and is therefore deeply involved in the societal negotiations that have been going on in this field. Second, while not religious at the organizational level, some members of JOHUD claim religious motivations for their engagement in the organization. Third, in analyzing organizations that do not have a distinct religious rationale, we try to avoid the bias toward pious organizations, which has been strongly criticized, for instance, in relation to the work of Saba Mahmood. See Bangstad, Sindre, “Saba Mahmood and Anthropological Feminism after Virtue,” Theory, Culture & Society 28 (2011): 2854CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Schielke, Samuli, “Being Good in Ramadan: Ambivalence, Fragmentation, and the Moral Self in the Lives of Young Egyptians,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 15 (2009): 2440CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

38 Harmsen, Islam, Civil Society and Social Work, 164.

39 The tensions between Jordanians of Transjordanian and Palestinian descent are not often discussed in public. Therefore, we did not ask our interlocutors about their ethnic backgrounds, and none of them raised the issue during our interviews.

40 Clark, Janine and Michuki, Wacheke M., “Women and NGO Professionalisation: A Case Study of Jordan,” Development in Practice 19 (2009): 332CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

42 In 1978, the Queen Alia Foundation obtained a fatwa from the chief mufti of the country permitting Muslim citizens to pay their zakat through the Fund. See Talal, Basma Bint, Rethinking an NGO: Development, Donors and Civil Society in Jordan (London: I. B. Tauris, 2004), 118Google Scholar.

43 Brochure from the Zakat Fund, authors’ translation.

44 The secretary general of the Ministry of Religious Foundations even said that the ministry plays a daily role in supervising the committees. See Muhammed Mhaisin, Secretary General of the Jordanian Ministry of Awqaf: No Obstacles in the Way of Charity Activities in Jordan, Amman,, 24 September 2008,

45 According to the ICCS management, the clinics treat approximately 140,000 people annually, more than 15,000 students are enrolled in the schools, 13,000 orphans receive support, and 25,000 families use the services of the community centers.

46 A spokesperson from the Brotherhood told us that the ICCS is the only organization formally under the authority of the Brotherhood, while a number of other organizations are connected to it by personal friendships, strategic alliances, and the convergence of persons in management positions.

47 The ICCS is very active in Palestinian camps and the Muslim Brotherhood recruits most of its followers from among the country's Palestinian population. See Rumman, Mohammad Abu, The Muslim Brotherhood in the 2007 Jordanian Parliamentary Elections: A Passing ‘Political Setback’ or Diminished Popularity? (Amman: Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, 2007), 16, 39Google Scholar.

48 For more details, see Clark, Janine, “Patronage, Prestige, and Power: The Islamic Center Charity Society's Political Role with the Muslim Brotherhood,” in Islamist Politics in the Middle East, ed. Shehata, Samer S. (London and New York: Routledge, 2012), 6987Google Scholar.

49 Harmsen, Islam, Civil Society and Social Work, 228.

50 A third type could be described as the piously committed citizen. It has traits of the classical bourgeois subject and is predominantly represented in the independent organizations or among the volunteers of the Zakat Fund.

51 At the time of our fieldwork, the official unemployment rate was 15 percent. Unofficial figures estimated an unemployment rate of about 30 percent. Among young people, unemployment reached 41 percent. See Guégnard, Christine, Matheu, Xavier, and Shteiwi, Musa, Unemployment in Jordan (Torino, Italy: European Training Foundation, 2005)Google Scholar.

52 This predominance of women distinguishes royal NGOs from other Jordanian civil society organizations, Islamic as well as non-Islamic, which are generally male dominated.

53 There is no doubt that employment in Jordanian welfare organizations is not based on qualifications and convictions alone. On the contrary, in all types of organizations personal patronage (wasṭa) and networks based on ethnic, tribal, and family affiliations often play an important role. As a general feature of Jordanian society, however, these forms of patronage do not render the aforementioned differences in the recruiting procedures of JOHUD and the ICCS irrelevant.

54 Examples from

55 Information from website and interviews.

56 See, for example, al-Azmeh, Aziz, Islams and Modernities, 2nd ed. (London: Verso, 1996)Google Scholar; Hourani, Albert, Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age 1798–1939 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1962)Google Scholar; and Dietrich Jung, Orientalists, Islamists, chap. 6.

57 Clark, Islam, Charity, and Activism, 106; Roald, Anne Sofie, TARBIYA: Education and Politics in Islamic Movements in Jordan and Malaysia, Lund Studies in History of Religions, vol. 3 (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell International, 1994), 173Google Scholar.

58 Many of our interviewees also mentioned more tangible benefits such as the facilitation of jobs, favors, and personal relations as their prime motivation, underlining the network character of the Islamic movement.

59 Bonner, Michael David, Ener, Mine, and Singer, Amy, eds., Poverty and Charity in Middle Eastern Contexts (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 2003), 2Google Scholar.

60 While the Palestinian issue definitely has played a role in the tension between the Muslim Brotherhood (as well as left-wing parties) and the regime, we cannot attribute the Transjordanian-Palestinian divide a major role in identity constructions at either the organizational or the individual levels. However, this finding is strongly qualified by the fact that this divide is rarely discussed in Jordanian society and therefore might play a rather invisible role in the ways in which these identity constructions relate to global social imaginaries.

61 Chakrabarty, Dipesh, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000)Google Scholar.

Full text views

Full text views reflects PDF downloads, PDFs sent to Google Drive, Dropbox and Kindle and HTML full text views.

Total number of HTML views: 16
Total number of PDF views: 222 *
View data table for this chart

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 21st January 2021. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Hostname: page-component-76cb886bbf-7fh6l Total loading time: 0.459 Render date: 2021-01-21T01:46:29.988Z Query parameters: { "hasAccess": "0", "openAccess": "0", "isLogged": "0", "lang": "en" } Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "metrics": true, "metricsAbstractViews": false, "peerReview": true, "crossMark": true, "comments": true, "relatedCommentaries": true, "subject": true, "clr": true, "languageSwitch": true, "figures": false, "newCiteModal": false }

Send article to Kindle

To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats

Send article to Dropbox

To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

Available formats

Send article to Google Drive

To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Your details

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *