During the last twenty years, the study of charity and philanthropy has grown enormously. Empirical approaches to the study of generosity have shaped our understanding of both the quantity and the motivations of giving. In addition to this rise in the study of “Voluntary Action” there has been an explosion of academic courses in Nonprofit Management. With philanthropic giving at historic levels, exceeding $350 billion, we are also witnessing a rapid rise in interest in the study of the phenomenon of giving, more generally.
Within this context, our book Islamic Education in the United States and the Evolution of Muslim Nonprofit Institutions offers an in-depth look at a small subset of this vibrant philanthropic landscape in the US: Muslim American communities. This subsector has suffered from three key problems: First, there has been a lack of academic study using empirical methods. Second, there has been a tendency to look at aspects of Islamic philanthropy purely from a national security perspective. From this perspective, philanthropy is seen as either supporting global militant movements or countering them. There is no nuanced perspective on why Muslim Americans give locally or globally, their motivations for doing so and the causes that they support. Third, Muslim American nonprofits are being held accountable not for mistakes that they have made but because of a generalized public perception of potential abuse by the sector. Our approach has been to move away from these existing lacunae and look at this phenomenon of giving from a sociological lens – to critically examine how and why Muslim Americans give to schools.
Given the controversial nature of how the discourse of Islamic schools has been shaped in the US, we believe this impartial examination of philanthropy, using empirical methods, will aid in clarifying some of the misconceptions and stereotypes about these schools and will also demystify the role of philanthropy as well as public funding for them.
We address questions on the scope of private philanthropy, the role of public funding – whether it is through grants or voucher programs – and also other forms of government support. In addition, through extensive interviews with board members and principals of these schools, we delve into how these schools manage their “Islamic” identity and what makes them distinct, if at all.
Despite having worked in the sector for some time, we were surprised by some of the findings. We hope this book contributes to the scholarship on Muslim American institutions and philanthropic giving, offering an objective assessment of perhaps the most diverse religious group in the US.