Zakat as Practical Theodicy Precarity and the Critique of Gender in Muslim India

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Danielle Widmann Abraham


The obligatory “alms-tax” of zakat constitutes an enduring site for exploring the intersection of Islam and society. This ethnographic case study of a contemporary zakat foundation in India traces how zakat occasions the experimental formation of Islamic social ethics, including a critique of gender. Donors of zakat attempt to move beyond merely helping the poor through the redistribution of resources. They reconfigure the giving of zakat to affect the structural conditions of poverty by generating a counter-cultural critique of the practice of giving dowry. Such efforts disclose how zakat can function as a practical theodicy, a way to counter the normalized evil of assigned disposability. By encouraging reflexivity and responsiveness, the obligation to distribute zakat becomes framed as a way to disrupt precarity.

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How to Cite
Widmann Abraham, D. (2018). Zakat as Practical Theodicy. Journal of Muslim Philanthropy & Civil Society, 2(1), 21. Retrieved from
Author Biography

Danielle Widmann Abraham

Danielle Widmann Abraham is Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion at Ursinus College, where she also holds the Wright Lectureship in Middle East Studies. She is a scholar of contemporary Islam who researches responses to violence, poverty, gender, and suffering. Her scholarship explores the ways in which Islamic tradition intersects with movements for social change in South and Southeast Asia, as well as the contemporary United States.