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Building a House in Heaven

Pious Neoliberalism and Islamic Charity in Egypt

2013
Author:

Mona Atia

Building a House in Heaven

The merging of religion, capitalism, and politics in Islamic charities in Egypt

In Building a House in Heaven, Mona Atia makes the connection between Islam and capitalism to examine the surprising relations between charity and the economy, the state, and religion in the transition from Mubarak-era Egypt. She draws on interviews with key players, exploring the geography of Islamic charities through multiple neighborhoods, ideologies, sources of funding, projects, and wide social networks.

Mona Atia has given us a grand tour of the landscape of an increasingly Islamic oriented Egypt. She demonstrates how the state’s attempted control over popular practices of religion may have laid the ground for a subsequent religious revival. Building a House in Heaven uncovers the contradictions of the Islamist-led human development project and shows how older established practices of Islamic charity merge with market-based approaches, resulting in a unique form of ‘pious neoliberalism’ that is increasingly shaping the future of Egypt.

Nezar AlSayyad, University of California, Berkeley

Charity is an economic act. This premise underlies a societal transformation—the merging of religious and capitalist impulses that Mona Atia calls “pious neoliberalism.” Though the phenomenon spans religious lines, Atia makes the connection between Islam and capitalism to examine the surprising relations between charity and the economy, the state, and religion in the transition from Mubarak-era Egypt.

Mapping the landscape of charity and development in Egypt, Building a House in Heaven reveals the factors that changed the nature of Egyptian charitable practices—the state’s intervention in social care and religion, an Islamic revival, intensified economic pressures on the poor, and the subsequent emergence of the private sector as a critical actor in development. She shows how, when individuals from Egypt’s private sector felt it necessary to address poverty, they sought to make Islamic charities work as engines of development, a practice that changed the function of charity from distributing goods to empowering the poor. Drawing on interviews with key players, Atia explores the geography of Islamic charities through multiple neighborhoods, ideologies, sources of funding, projects, and wide social networks. Her work shifts between absorbing ethnographic stories of specific organizations and reflections on the patterns that appear across the sector.

An enlightening look at the simultaneous neoliberalization of Islamic charity work and Islamization of neoliberal development, the book also offers an insightful analysis of the political and socioeconomic movements leading up to the uprisings that ended Mubarak’s rule and that amplified the importance of not only the Muslim Brotherhood but also the broader forces of Islamic piety and charity.

Building a House in Heaven

Mona Atia is assistant professor of geography and international affairs at George Washington University.

Building a House in Heaven

Mona Atia has given us a grand tour of the landscape of an increasingly Islamic oriented Egypt. She demonstrates how the state’s attempted control over popular practices of religion may have laid the ground for a subsequent religious revival. Building a House in Heaven uncovers the contradictions of the Islamist-led human development project and shows how older established practices of Islamic charity merge with market-based approaches, resulting in a unique form of ‘pious neoliberalism’ that is increasingly shaping the future of Egypt.

Nezar AlSayyad, University of California, Berkeley

Beautifully written.

Sociology of Islam

Building a House in Heaven reminds readers that neoliberalization is far from a static and finished project, as it coalesces with other forces and is refuted by its own reproduction.

Antipode

In depicting the particular emergences of charitable giving and the reconfiguration for the role of Islam in generating more effective and efficient outcomes, Atia reveals that local dynamics matter deeply and this interdisciplinary ethnography begins to capture them.

Journal of Islamic Studies

Building a House in Heaven

Contents

Acknowledgments
A Note on Transliteration

Introduction
1. The Economy of Charity
2. State Interventions: Managing Poverty and Islam
3. A Space and Time for Giving
4. Privatizing Islam
5. Business with Allah
6. Islamic “Life Makers” and Faith-based Development
Conclusion

Appendix: A Geographer’s Ethnography of Islamic Economic Practices
Notes
Glossary of Arabic Terms
Bibliography
Index