Faith, Religious Rationality And Resistance: The Charitable Practices Of Shi`i Movements In Lebanon

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Don Mitchell


This dissertation is about Islamic charity and social justice in Lebanon, focusing on the role of rationality and faith. The Western intellectual framework separates rationality and faith as two different ways of understanding the world, privileging the former over the latter. Thus Western secular states are considered rational and modern, whereas Islamic movements are viewed as irrational and against modernity. This framework not only misrepresents Muslims and Islamic activism, but also fails to acknowledge the revolutionary potential of a faith-based politics. So rather than accepting that rationality and faith are mutually exclusive, this dissertation analyzes the many intersections between them. I look at the emergence of Shi'i activism throughout the Middle East in the mid-twentieth century, drawing comparisons with liberation theology in Latin America. I then use interviews, participant observation and document analysis to illustrate how the charities affiliated with Hizbullah, al-Mabarrat Association and the Imam al-Sadr Foundation in Lebanon are integrating faith and rationality in a direct challenge to Western secular modernity, while at the same time embracing many of the liberal principles also practiced in the West. So in effect, they are re-mystifying liberalism. Using a Gramscian framework, I then examine the social projects of Hizbullah and al-Mabarrat Association and find that their affiliated charities are using these re-mystified liberal principles as a means of empowering the "resistance community" in Lebanon, whereas the Imam al-Sadr Foundation is primarily employing the same principles to promote a more liberalized society. The objective of this research is to enhance our knowledge in the West of Islam and the everyday ideas and practices of pious Muslims.


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