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Durham University

Department of Anthropology


Publication details for Dr Tom Widger

Osella, F. & Widger, T. (2018). ‘You can give even if you only have ten rupees!’ Muslim charity in a Colombo housing scheme. Modern Asian Studies 52(Special issue 1): 297-324.

Author(s) from Durham


Recent research on contemporary modalities of Islamic or Muslim philanthropy has focused on processes of subjectification through which givers and recipients of charity are habituated or craft themselves to an ethic of piety, social responsibility, and (neoliberal) economic virtuosity. These studies, however, have concentrated almost exclusively on those who give charity, leading to an over-emphasis on the perspectives of givers, and on their role in determining how the poor might deal with their everyday lives and imagined futures. As a result, small-scale gifting relations in which the Muslim poor may also be involved—making the poor simultaneously givers and recipients of charity—have been obscured or erased altogether. In this article, we argue that the concerns of the poor might not always or necessarily be those of the wealthy donors of charity. By receiving and giving sadaqa and zakat, poor and working-class Muslims in a Colombo neighbourhood imagine inclusion and belonging to the wider Muslim community in Colombo, which is not contingent upon the mediation and pedagogical interventions of charitable organizations and (middle-class) pious donors. Importantly, this imagination of inclusion and belonging comes at a time when the Muslim poor are increasingly marginalized by virtue of a (middle-class) discourse that, by framing charity as a means ‘to help the poor to help themselves’, has turned socio-economic upliftment into an ethical duty and, consequently, failure to improve oneself has become the symptom of wider moral shortcomings.