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      Schmid, H., and Sheikhzadegan, A. Exploring Islamic Social Work: Between Community and the Common Good

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            Schmid, H., and Sheikhzadegan, A. (2022). Exploring Islamic Social Work: Between Community and the Common Good. London: Springer Nature, Open Access, 284pp. ISBN 9783030958800

            This book takes a bold step in addressing movements within Islamic social work in contexts where Muslims reside as minorities. From the outset, there is an underlying acknowledgement of the need for decolonial approaches to the understanding and delivery of social work for Muslim communities against the backdrop of tensions faced by Muslim minorities in sometimes hostile climates. This is not uncommon in many fields wherein macro-level service providers are required to cater to the needs of varying and fast-changing population groups. Within this is an inherent question relating to the wider contributions of Muslims to broader society through their social work efforts. In the UK alone, it is known that Muslim communities were the most charitable of communities, including at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Muslim communities by their very nature as Muslims are often engrossed in the work of doing, with giving back to society being considered integral to the faith itself. Contributions to academic disciplines are thereby often pushed to the background across several social and psychological fields, until more recently. This work is therefore an important and timely contribution to reducing this academic hiatus in the area of social work.

            The book is an edited volume and forms the outputs of a conference held in September 2019 by the Swiss Centre for Islam and Society, at the University of Fribourg, with further chapters sourced thereafter. Contributions come from across the globe from individuals well-established in their respective fields. The book is divided into three broad sections, as outlined below.

            Social work by its very definition often involves some of the most vulnerable members of society. This is reflected within the array of groups explored in this first section, such as Muslims returning to their communities upon release from prison, Muslim children in the care system, and Muslim minorities in France. It is evident that such vulnerable groups experience layers of marginalisation which further impact upon their vulnerability. The necessity therefore to ensure their needs can be sensitively ascertained and addressed in a culturally appropriate manner becomes all the magnified. This, however, raises to the forefront the very notion of Islamic social work as outlined in the first chapter by Baptiste Brodard. Is it that Islamic social work is purely for Muslim communities or for the greater common good for all? Both are argued to exist simultaneously, with Muslim minorities often living in some of the most deprived areas and thereby having pertinent welfare needs that are often overlooked or remain unmet by the state. Equally the ethos of many Muslim welfare organisations continues beyond their own communities and extends out as a bridge between minority communities and broader national contexts. Underpinning services specific to Muslim communities is the preservation of Muslim identity, not as a state or religiously enforced requirement, but rather as a protective element, much needed and desired by the communities in question. This careful balance is argued to be well met by those who are currently established in Islamic social work. Hansjörg Schmid puts forward a successful working model within a German context where the active encouragement and engagement with religious pluralism within the welfare system presents a way forward that works for the mutual benefit of all.

            Section 2 brings to the forefront the notion of practical theology and the subsequent impact within Islamic social work. Tarek Badawia defines practical theology as the promotion of “theological reflection in dealing with social problems” (p. 152). The contributions herein seamlessly work together to demonstrate the growing movement away from strict juristic approaches to religious principles and a greater movement towards underlying generic relational ethics that transcend demographics and religious affiliations. In practical theology, Nazila Isgandarova argues there is scope for a conceptual framework of Islamic social work as an affirmation of social responsibility towards all. Dilwar Hussein and Serdar Kurnaz extend this further by bringing in discussions relating to Maslaha and Maqasid, arguing the need for the universal shared value of wanting the common good for all, centred around Ihsaan, i.e. human flourishing. The prerequisite to this is argued by Abdullah Sahin as understanding and addressing root causes of injustice as opposed to merely treating the symptoms, coupled with transformation at the individual level as a means towards collective societal transformation. Given the intertwining of Islamic social work with individual identity, this is self-evident. The fields of pastoral care and social work across all contexts are increasingly focussing on beneficial gains for all, in line with foundational principles of a faith open to all. The contributions within this section provide theoretical and theological positions of strength inherent within the Islamic tradition, which promote care and compassion for all.

            Finally, the last part of the book brings together the learning in the previous sections to consider specific religio-culturally informed interventions which can be utilised by practitioners working with Muslim clients. From considering how to embed anti-oppressive practices when working with Muslim women in hijab, to exploring the role of repentance from a spiritual and psychological perspective. Underlying such specific practices are the universal principles of respect for human dignity and self-determination through combating dehumanisation of specific groups. The core objective being personal transformation in a manner that is identifiable for each individual. The potential richness in religious and cultural resources to inform such approaches to social work is advocated as a movement away from existing ethnocentric models. This is envisioned as providing a deeper and more nuanced professional approach to a profession which was considered to be underpinned by a deep care for humanity as a whole, in its essence. The editors Hansjörg Schmid and Amir Sheikhzadegan leave us with some thought-provoking questions. Namely, how can we continue to refine our understanding of Islamic social work and thereby what potential does it hold for informing the sector as a whole, in a way which does not marginalise any one group?

            Author and article information

            Pluto Journals
            9 September 2023
            : 8
            : 1
            : 132-134
            [1 ]Markfield Institute of Higher Education
            © Rahmanara Chowdhury

            This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Licence (CC BY) 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/, which permits unrestricted use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

            : 20 February 2023
            : 24 March 2023
            Page count
            Pages: 3

            (2022). Exploring Islamic Social Work: Between Community and the Common Good. London: Springer Nature, Open Access, 284pp. ISBN 9783030958800

            Book Reviews

            Literary studies,Religious studies & Theology,Social & Behavioral Sciences,History,Philosophy


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