The Power of Ideas: Muslim Humanitarians and the SDGs
The United Nation's Agenda 2030 - setting the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) - calls for new, global partnerships for sustainable development, and recognizes the significance of including private and public, secular and religious actors. Actors who have earlier been skeptical of universalist agendas (such as human rights), including Muslim humanitarian actors, are endorsing Agenda 2030. The SDGs thus appear to have broader acceptance than did earlier global agendas.
The HUMA project sets out to understand how Muslim humanitarian actors relate to, interpret and respond to the SDGs, focusing on SDG 4 (education), SDG 5 (gender equality) and SDG 17 (global partnerships). The project will shed light on often unspoken differences in ideas, norms and values that underlie humanitarian operations, policies and practices.
We do this through a focus on Muslim humanitarian actors' work with (1) humanitarian relief; education and 3) gender equality. In six interconnected case studies, the project will juxtapose global and local perspectives. At the global level we focus on (i) intergovernmental Islamic organizations, (ii) international Muslim NGOs, and (iii) organized Muslim philanthropic initiatives. At the local level we focus on three field-based case studies of Muslim humanitarian actors in (iv) Indonesia, (v) Nigeria and (vi) Pakistan.
Led by the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), HUMA is a collaborative effort between researchers in Norway, Indonesia, Nigeria and Pakistan. It will produce new empirical data through interviews, observation and document analysis, and will stimulate North-South and South-South co-creation of knowledge. The project will contribute new knowledge about an increasingly important set of humanitarian actors, provide concrete insight into challenges and opportunities in the implementation of the SDGs, and further the emerging research agenda on new humanitarian actors.
The project was successfully launched with an on-line project workshop on 3 and 4 September 2021. The project team members from Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan and Norway gathered for two days of engaged discussion and planning for project implementation in the time of pandemic.
The outbreak of the global Covid-19 pandemic has affected project implementation, but also provided an opportunity to follow the response of Muslim humanitarian actors to the pandemic. How religion has affected the pandemic, and the response to it, became an early topic in conversations and interviews with research participants. As part of the mapping of the Muslim humanitarian landscapes in Pakistan, Indonesia and Nigeria, the project team therefore conducted brief studies of the role of Islamic scholars and Muslim humanitarians in the response to Covid-19 in the three countries.
In these studies, we find that religion has played an important, albeit ambiguous, role in the pandemic, both in its spread and in its efforts to combat it. The pandemic has been met with mixed views from Islamic scholars, with some supporting and others rejecting efforts to combat it. However, Muslim humanitarian actors responded quickly, and many changed their practice to adapt to the new challenges posed by the pandemic.
The need for fast, efficient and safe ways to reach people during the pandemic has meant that many organizations have found new ways to work. In particular, many practices have been digitized, with both collection and distribution of online. This resulted in new ways of practicing Islamic charity, which in some cases broke with established Islamic jurisprudence, and required theological innovations.
We have found that Muslim philanthropic and humanitarian organizations have played an important role through the pandemic, not only providing much-needed assistance, but also helping to maintain religious communities through facilitating religious practices and rituals in times of crisis. The insights from these studies were shared at an international conference in Jakarta (online) on August 12, 2021, which brought together researchers and aid workers for exchange and dialogue.
The HUMA project sets out to understand how Muslim humanitarian actors relate to, interpret and respond to the SDGs, focusing on SDG 4 (education), SDG 5 (gender equality) and SDG 17 (global partnerships). The project will shed light on often unspoken differences in ideas, norms and values that underlie humanitarian operations, policies and practices. Through our focus on ideas, norms and values, HUMA contributes to theorizing norms and normativity in the humanitarian field beyond Western-dominated perspectives. We do this through a focus on Muslim humanitarian actors' work in 1) humanitarian relief, 2) the provision of education and 3) how gender equality agendas are implemented. The HUMA project will juxtapose perspectives from Muslim humanitarian actors operating on the global institutional level, with those working locally with implementation of humanitarian assistance in the field. HUMA builds on six interconnected case-studies, teasing out normativity and ideas in the humanitarian field. Examining perspectives from above, we focus on (i) intergovernmental Islamic organizations, (ii) international Muslim NGOs, and (iii) organized Muslim philanthropic initiatives. From below, we focus on three field-based case studies of Muslim humanitarian actors in (iv) Indonesia, (v) Nigeria and (vi) Pakistan. Perspectives from above and below will be analysed adopting a cross-country and cross-level comparative approach. The data collected and analysed totals 60-90 key informant interviews, 120-150 semi-structured interviews with Muslim humanitarian actors, as well as relevant documents and web-based sources from studied actors. HUMA will produce new knowledge about little-studied humanitarian actors who are increasingly becoming part of the mainstream humanitarian field. Responding to pressing needs in the humanitarian field, HUMA furthers the emerging research agenda on new humanitarian actors and stimulates North-South and South-South co-creation of knowledge.