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This chapter discusses how Saudi women have actively negotiated gender boundaries and expanded their scope through the daily practice of charity work and the networks established among fellow social workers and volunteers. Founded in 1961–2 as a women-only initiative, the First Women’s Welfare Association in Jeddah counts among the oldest extant welfare associations in the kingdom enlisted with the Ministry of Social Affairs. The longue-durée perspective adopted in the chapter pays attention to the changing aspirations of different generations involved with the charity organization.
Although the First Women’s Welfare Association is often considered a "traditional charity" with an "Islamic aid" approach, its focus on single women, female-headed households, and the feminization of poverty transgresses traditional norms in multiple ways. The chapter discusses the charity’s use of donations, zakat and ṣadaqa, food banks, endowments, and shelters for single women and female-headed households. By situating practices of almsgiving within the wider legal and political framework of the zakat tax imposed by the Saudi state, as well as within the context of further legislation targeting money laundering and terrorist financing, the research highlights that religious ideals are subject to interpretation and object to various authoritative claims.
The problem of poverty occupies a central place in Islamic ethics. This chapter offers a survey of how Muslim thinkers over the centuries have grappled with the problem of poverty. The "problem" may be divided into three ethical concerns: why poverty; who are the poor; and what are the best means to alleviate poverty. Building upon moral-legal injunctions and admonitions in the Qurʾan and sunna of the Prophet and the first four "rightly guided" caliphs, legists dealt at length with these issues in the jurisprudential (fiqh) literature. This literature demonstrates that the four principal schools of Sunni jurisprudence and the dominant school of Shi'i jurisprudence agreed broadly on the general ethical approach to identifying the poor and to dealing with poverty, including the assignment of responsibilities to society and state. Zakat is arguably the primary instrument in Islamic ethics for poverty alleviation and distributive justice.
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