On Faith and Development

On Faith and Development

Indeed, there are different viewpoints calling for secularizing states, governance, and political parties, and consequently involving development in that argument. In this article, the focus is merely on faith and development, faith to be defined as ‘the human trust or belief in a transcendent reality’, and religion refers to ‘the institutionalized system of beliefs and practices concerning the supernatural realm’ (Lunn, 2009). One could relate between those calls and long-standing secularization theories.

Well, secularization theories – largely based on Durkheim and Weber – advocate for modernization and instill a correlation between modernization and secularization. In other words, they argued that in order to modernize you have to secularize. Despite the fact that the rational was to abandon the religious base for decision-making process and replace it with rationality, religions have not disappeared from the public space in either the developing or the developed worlds. Hence, leading us to think of the secularization theory as a myth and, therefore, to question it.

In practice, the field witnesses groups that sustain certain belief systems by facilitating social interactions among like-minded people that could be called Faith Based Organizations (FBOs) for instance. Those organizations are embedded within societies through their work and assistance of the poor and the underprivileged long before the categorization of these kinds of activities into a branch of international development as an academic and political discipline (Ayling, 2013). For illustration, across the Islamic world, a system of an endowment of movable or immovable property offered by donors to undertake long-term development work has been established; most public services and great architecture were financed and maintained for centuries through the Waqf system. In many of the Arab and Muslim countries the Awqaf (plural of Waqf) reached over one third of the size of the agrarian lands and other properties. During Mohamed Ali’s rule in the early 19th century, 600,000 out of 2.5 Million acres were agrarian Awqaf land. These large investments in the social sector were very successful in transforming the society and empowering the poor. Education, which was only supported by Awqaf up until the 19th century in most of the Arab and Muslim countries, enabled the poorer segments of the society to move up the economic ladder to improve their livelihoods (Hossam El Din, 2012).

Nowadays – conversely – with the ascent of secular enlightened thinkers, these organizations have been perceived with mounting skepticism due to the religious elements they bring to material assistance when provided to poorer segments of society. Skeptics argue that religion is a tool that the elites used to oppress and control the less educated. In Egypt, throughout the years, the Muslim Brotherhood undertook development work that provided people with educational, medical, financial, religious, athletic, and youth services. This in turn made critics argue that it is a way of manipulation to collect the votes of the less educated and less fortunate. Regardless of the Muslim Brotherhood’s intention, the fruit of their work is evident in several incidents where the Muslim Brotherhood outperformed the Egyptian government itself demonstrating their development skills and well-connected networks. The 1992 Cairo earthquake is an example where the government failed to provide help for the victims while the Brotherhood were quicker to offer medical aid, food, and shelter to victims (Abdelmonem, 2013).

Consequently, instead of regarding religion as irrelevant and an obstruct to the process of development, the current post-modern development practitioners should seek to benefit from the long-standing institutions and the dynamic actors in the process of social change, rather than avoiding learning the already existing mechanism. This approach has a tendency to re-invent the wheel and miss key participatory means as well as the opportunity to understand local communities and where to allocate modern donors fund. In other words, there is a lot of knowledge to be shared between organizations that have long-held relationships with poor communities, whom modern donors are keen to assist, but lack the immediate grasp of the context in which they are operating.

Moreover, one way to explain that process of separation between faith and development is through another process; one of differentiation between the economic, social, political and religious spheres, leading the social and scientific spheres to progressively emancipate themselves from the prism of religious institutions and norms. Gradually, this led to a very strict separation between politics and religion, but religion does not involve and permeate the lives of individuals only, but often the institutions of state themselves (Deneulin & Bano, 2009).

For illustration, in Islam, it is believed that economic resources are a trust from God, the welfare of the people becomes the purpose of the trust, and the trustee is morally responsible to fulfill this purpose by utilizing these resources efficiently. This logically implies: eradication of poverty and saturation of all essential human needs such as full employment, as well as, material resources reaching a maximum level of economic growth and improving people’s livelihoods. In addition, conditions that might cause deficient or excess demand resulting in unemployment or inflation must be prevented. Hence, the role of the state in an Islamic society (not necessarily an Islamic government) is automatically expected to perform in a direction where poverty is eradicated and there is a guarantee of social and economic justice through equitable distribution of income (Chapra, 1980). This sets a framework for the government to operate within, to achieve certain (Islamic) goals but does not necessarily restrict the use of specific (Islamic) tools. The perception of a good society and how to live well together forms a constitutive part of religion, which gives a political nature to religion. Hence, if Religion were to take a political nature, it is definitely responsible for the development process and the eradication of poverty of the society in concern.

In conclusion, the significant existence of religions in the lives of people, whether in developing or developed countries, requires development studies to reconsider the assumption that secularization is a universal, desirable, and irreversible trend. Rather, religion deeply influences people’s construction of meanings about the world; hence, making it a must for development studies to engage with believers’ interpretations of social, economic, and political reality in the light of their faith.

This article is meant to set grounds to prepare readers to dig in further researches about what the different religions and belief systems have to offer for the development context.

Gehad Hossam EL Din, MSc., University College London (UCL)

Please cite this publication as follows:

Hossam El Din, Gehad (September, 2013), “On Faith and Development”, Vol. II, Issue 7, pp.56-58, Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey), London, Research Turkey. (http://researchturkey.org/?p=4163)


Abdelmonem, D. 2013, “The Muslim Brotherhood’s aid programs and their implications in the 2011 Egyptian revolution”. Aswat Masriya, [Online]. Available from: http://en.aswatmasriya.com/analysis/view.aspx?id=70f7741d-b44e-4a1c-b200-a45749bdc363 [Accessed: 15 August 2013]

Ahmed, Habib, 2004, Role of Zakah and Waqf in Poverty Alleviation. Islamic Development Bank Group. Islamic Research and Training Institute: Occasional Paper Nr 8. Saudi Arabia: King Fahd National Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data, p. 31 – 35

Ayling, Sophie, 2012, “Faith Based Organisations and Wellbeing Enhancements: Can FBOs add value in development interventions? A Deeper look at FBOs in Lima’s Human Settlements”, Development Planning Unit, University College London, September.

Ayling, S. (2013), “It’s a mistake to separate faith from development”. The Guardian: Global development Professionals Network, [Online]. Available from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development-professionals-network/2013/jun/07/faith-based-and-secular-ngos-knowledge-sharing [Accessed: 10 June 2013]

Berger, Peter, 1999, The Desecularization of the World: Resurgent Religion and World Politics, Eerdmans Publishing, Michigan.

Casanova, Jose, 1994, Public Religions in the Modern World, University of Chicago press, Chicago.

Chapra, Umar, 1980, The Islamic Welfare State Its Role in the Economy, The Islamic Foundation, Leicester.

Cizaka, Murat, 1998. Awqaf: in History and its Implications for Modern Islamic Economies. Islamic Economic Studies, Vol.6, No.1

Deneulin, Severine and Carole Rakodi, 2011. Revisiting Religion : Development Studies Thirty Years On. World Development, Vol. 39, No. 1, pp. 45–54, [http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.worlddev.2010.05.007]

Deneulin, Severine and Masooda Bano, 2009, Religion in Development: Rewriting the Secular Script, Zed Books, New York.

El Daly, Marwa, 2010, “Challenges and Potentials of Channeling Local Philanthropy towards Development and Social Justice and the Role of Waqf (Islamic and Arab-Civic Endowments) in Building Community Foundations: The Case of Egypt”. A Doctoral Dissertation, Humboldt- Universität zu Berlin.

Hossam El Din, Gehad, 2012, “The Islamic Theology and its Contribution to Poverty Reduction: The case of Egypt”, Development Planning Unit, University College London, September.

Kahf, Monzer, 1995, “Awqaf and Its Modern Applications”. In The Oxford Encyclopedia of Modern Islamic World, Oxford University Press, New York.

Lunn, J. 2009. The Role of Religion, Spirituality and Faith in Development: a critical theory approach. Third World Quarterly, 30(5), 937-951.

Norris, Pippa and Ronald Ingelhart, 2004, Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.



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2 thoughts on “On Faith and Development

  1. Halit Yavuz

    İslam ülkeleri dışında dinin siyasallaşmadığı/siyasallaşamadiği biliniyorken, bilimsel sonuçlar ortaya çıkarması umulan çalışmaların daha özenli ve tarafsız olması gerekir. Unutulmamalıdır ki yeryüzüdeki insanların çoğunluğu hiç bir dine mensup değildir..

  2. Marie Aupourrain

    Indeed in France we experience a secularization which unfortunately confines the set of different religious ideologies in a frame in which the prime inclusive value is the Christian religion. Consequently it becomes the one and only perceptual reference and in the worst case becomes as a flag bearer of ‘everything but no Moslim world, people, ideas ….’
    As far as I am concerned, I believe in freedom of speech and freedom of cult, therefore instead of ‘secularization’ I would say ‘plurality of cults’.


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