Islamic charities in Jordan: Bearing gifts and a message

This piece was published by the Economist on 19th August, 2013

Zaatari – SITTING in one of a cluster of containers, amid the dust of Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp, dozens of girls listen attentively as women dressed in niqab, revealing only their eyes, teach them the Koran.

Al-Kitab wa Sunnah, the Islamic charity running this makeshift centre, says it is educating 5,000 people, adults as well as children, at its 20 madrasas (religious schools) in Zaatari alone. Around 58 mosques and 90 religious centres are active in the camp, according to Killian Kleinschmidt, the senior field co-ordinator for Zaatari at the UNHCR, the UN’s refugee body. Abu Salim, a community leader in the district which houses Al-Kitab wa Sunnah’s largest centre, says that religious centres are popular partly because of a lack of alternatives. It is part of the culture, “like eating or drinking”, he explains. 

Al-Kitab wa Sunnah has helped more than 200,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan, at a cost of more than $50m. It is funded by private individuals and charities, mostly from Saudi Arabia and Qatar. As well as education, it provides help with rent, health care, tents and mattresses. Zaid Ibrahim Hammad, the group’s leader, says the aid come with no strings attached, unlike some Christian charities, which “make refugees read the bible”.

“We are not teaching them Salafism, just the basics of religion,” says Mr Hammad, who is dressed in flowing white robes and peppers his remarks with quotes from the Hadith and the Prophet Muhammad. “If somebody wants to know more,” he continues, “of course we’re going to talk to people more about that.” That includes disseminating the group’s core belief that Jordan, as well as the rest of the ummah, the worldwide community of Muslims, should become an Islamic state. 

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