Antropologicheskij forum, 2022, no. 55


A Review of AMIRA MITTERMAIER, GIVING TO GOD: ISLAMIC CHARITY IN REVOLUTIONARY TIMES. Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2019, XIV+233 pp.

Daria Tereshina

Laboratory for Studies in Economic Sociology, National Research University Higher School of Economics
9/11 Myasnitskaya Str., Moscow, Russia

Abstract: Amira Mittermaier’s book examines the practices of Islamic charity in contemporary Egypt. To answer the question of how and why pious Muslims engage in charity in their mundane lives, the author visits not only mosques, shrines, charitable and volunteer organizations, but also Tahrir Square in Cairo, an important locus for understanding Islamic piety. The place became widely known in 2011 due to the massive anti-government protests that came to be known as the Arab Spring in Egypt. The study of political activism allows the author to get a better grasp on the ordinary ethics of Islamic charity that considers the issues of social justice to be no less important compared to the political activism. But unlike liberal emancipatory projects, the understanding of social justice within the framework of Islamic piety relies on a fundamentally different ethics, political ontology, and temporal orientations. Drawing upon different cases, Mittermaier demonstrates the diverse ethical repertoire of Islamic giving, ranging from the examples of radical asceticism and self-denial, based on the Sufi ideal of the gift, to the more utilitarian approaches to charity, where gift exchange is considered to be a means to collect divine rewards for performed virtues. By comparing the Islamic gift ethics with the secular projects of social restructuring and reducing poverty, the author urges the reader to rethink Islamic charity as having a specific political meaning and potential vis-a-vis progressive ideas and politics.

Keywords: Islam, charity, gift, poverty, revolution.

To cite: Tereshina D., ‘A Review of Amira Mittermaier, Giving to God: Islamic Charity in Revolutionary Times. Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2019, XIV+233 pp.’, Antropologicheskij forum, 2022, no. 55, pp. 331–341.

doi: 10.31250/1815-8870-2022-18-55-331-341