Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Mandana Limbert

Committee Members

Omri Elisha

Karen Strassler

Noah Salomon

Subject Categories

Africana Studies | African Languages and Societies | African Studies | Anthropology | Development Studies | Education | Growth and Development | History of Religion | Indigenous Education | International and Area Studies | International and Comparative Education | Islamic Studies | Islamic World and Near East History | Near and Middle Eastern Studies | Political Economy | Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies | Religion | Religious Education | Social and Cultural Anthropology


Africa, Middle East, Development, Education, Islam, Swahili


This dissertation is a multi-sited ethnography of the contested terrain of Islam and development in an Indian Ocean site located at the nexus of multiple projects of improvement and reform—from British and Omani imperialism, Euro-American development, and Islamic organizations with ties to the oil-rich Gulf. It is based on twenty months of ethnographic and archival research in Zanzibar and the Gulf (Oman, Kuwait, UAE), conducted in Swahili and Arabic, among transnational Islamic organizations working in education to rework “development” in light of Islamic values. I argue that, while dominant development frameworks marginalize religion as either an obstacle or a tool to create local buy-in, Islam is central to how these organizations redefine the project of development itself: they center “spiritual” or internal (bātini) progress alongside the material, reimagine “sustainability” as sustained wealth redistribution through the waqf (pious charitable endowment), chart alternative trajectories of “modernization” culminating in the Arabian Peninsula rather than Europe, and creatively push back against the forces of neoliberal capitalism by employing communal forms of agency. Scholarship on Islamic development often describes it as either “pious neoliberalism”—simply Islamic dressing on hegemonic economic processes—or a whole alternative to the West, engaged in a romanticized “resistance.” In contrast, I use the global confluence of Zanzibar as an analytical method to reveal how Zanzibari Muslims draw upon and create new meaning from multiple global ideologies, such as by creatively blending a liberal notion of economic/technical progress toward an infinitely perfectible future with that invoking a return back to a glorious Islamic past.

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