Islam and the Humanities

Conference 2014

Kristin Diwan

Assistant Professor of Comparative and Regional Studies, American University School of International Service

Islamic Development and Islamist Politics: The Revival of Awqaf in Kuwait

In the 1990s a new movement emerged seeking to promote Islamic development through the revival of the traditional Islamic institution of religious endowments, or waqf (pl. awqaf).  The theoreticians behind this “new awqaf movement” saw its renewal in ambitious terms as a means to re-invigorate civil society though a revitalization of Islamic norms and institutions, recapturing the initiative for social development from the state. This paper chronicles the rapid rise and then restriction of this “new awqaf movement” through one of its most dynamic animators, the Kuwait Awqaf Public Foundation (KAPF). In analyzing the denouement of the KAPF, I demonstrate how the promotion of an Islamic framework for development earned the “new awqaf movement” political enemies: liberals unnerved by this new venue for expanding Islamist activism, and Salafi Islamists opposed to these innovations championed by the more modernist Muslim Brotherhood. In the end, these sociopolitical divisions invited the mediation of the ruling family-controlled government which severely curtailed the experiment in Islamic development.  Ultimately, then, the tale of the KAPF illustrates the challenge of third sector development in ideologically polarized societies, and underscores the enduring primacy of the rentier state.  

Kristin Smith Diwan is assistant professor of comparative and regional studies at the American University School of International Service. She holds regional expertise in the politics and policies of the Arab Gulf, and functional expertise in Islamic finance and the politics surrounding it. Her current projects concern Gulf political economy, the politics of sectarianism, youth movements and the evolution of Islamism in the GCC.