ISLAMIC (MICRO)FINANCE AND THE POSSIBILITY OF SOCIAL JUSTICE
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Kustin, Bridget Suzanne
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The global, $3 trillion Islamic finance industry adheres to Islamic economic principles promoting social justice aims through risk-sharing, asset-backed transactions, and the absence of riba (interest) and excessive uncertainty. Over 18 months of ethnographic field research reflecting the transnational nature of money, influence, authority, and Islamic jurisprudential interpretation, it emerged that despite the widely cited social justice potential of Islamic finance, the poor do not have an easy home in the global Islamic finance industry. The central question of this dissertation explores what an Islamically-informed social justice means in the present era of wealth inequality, poverty, financialization, and exposure of poor individuals and countries to global flows of capital. Through ethnographic fieldwork conducted primarily among a collective of Islami Bank Bangladesh microfinance clients and at the bank’s headquarters, supplemented by fieldwork in Pakistan, the UK, and at the Islamic Development Bank in Saudi Arabia, the dissertation makes the novel move of contrasting the Islamic finance industry’s idealized and historical imaginings of its goals with realities of the financial habits of its poorest clients—here, in peri-rural, borderlands Bangladesh. Consumer financial activities of poor Islamic microfinance clients are largely invisible to those shaping the most public and influential conversations concerning modern Islamic finance, with certain labors undertaken to produce and reproduce this invisibility. Invisibility is endemic to the nature of the poverty among Islamic microfinance clients in Bangladesh, based on the extant ways that poverty is assessed, measured, and rendered known through the tools and technologies of finance. However, these clients fashion engagement with Islamic microfinance on their own terms, approaching contracts and repayment encounters as sites for resistance and counter claim-making grounded in their religious and financial subject positions. Slippages between bank versus client understandings of Islam, financial management, and corporate demands of “Shari’a compliance” become sites for theorizing the social justice potential of Islamic (micro)finance.