Reports and papers

Religion and Development Aid: The Special Case of Islam

22 Nov 2006 - 09:08

Western donors should engage with Islamic organizations, but in doing so should abstain from instrumentalizing religion. In popular language this translates as: talk to them, but don't talk their talk. Especially in the case of Islam, such instrumentalization may very well be counter-productive.

This paper starts with a brief overview of the role of religion in Western development aid, and of the role of Western development aid in the Muslim world, followed by reasons why Western donors should engage with Islamic organizations. The core argument of the paper - that is, that in order to pursue their development policies, Western donors should refrain from instrumentalizing Islam - is discussed on the basis of three problems: 1) Islam has recently become a source of such diverse interpretations that the definite reading of Islam is hard to give; 2) both Islamic and Western terminology ('Islamic state', 'shariah', 'democracy') are subject to misunderstandings on both sides; and 3) because of the present political situation, the Muslim world has developed a deeply felt suspicion towards Western policies, including development aid.

The author argues that using religion in development aid policies may add to the already existing tendency of 'religionizing' - a term used here to indicate the predisposition to identify people or institutions, or their actions, ideas and values, on the basis of religion.

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