In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Social Work and Islam

  • Toward a Paradigm of Islamic Social Work
  • Therapeutic Implications of Islamic Practices
  • Indigenization of Social Work and Beyond
  • Conclusion

Social Work Social Work and Islam
Alean Al-Krenawi
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 February 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 February 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0321


The roots of the professional practice of social work lie in 19th-century philanthropic efforts in the United States and Europe. By the early 1900s, according to James Midgley in Professional Imperialism: Social Work in the Third World (1982), the profession had been established and programs were founded to train social workers in these regions. For H. Nagpaul in Analysis of Social Work Teaching Material in India: The Need for Indigenous Foundations, the educational values of social work have been “dominated by ideologies of capitalism, Social Darwinism, the Protestant Ethic and individualism” (1993, p. 214). These ideologies also shaped the social welfare policies of a number of European nations. In turn, such policies served as the basis for parallel policies implemented in various colonized territories. Such cultural and historical framing has rendered social work education and practice deeply situated in professional domains. Indeed, in Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples, L. T. Smith argued that it is difficult to discuss research from indigenous perspectives, “without understanding the complex ways in which the pursuit of knowledge is deeply embedded in the multiple layers of imperial and colonial practices” (1999, p. 2). Drawing on this insight, this article lays the ground for a discussion of Islamic social work by providing a brief overview of four relevant concepts: colonialism, modernization, globalization, and indigenous ways of knowing.

Islam: A Brief Introduction

Islam (from Arabic: “salam,” meaning peace or submission) is the fastest growing faith community in the world. As of 2015, there were 1.8 billion Muslims worldwide, representing some 25 percent of the global population. According to Lipka 2017, approximately 20 percent of Muslims are of Arab descent, and about 50 percent of Muslims in the United States are African Americans who converted to Islam. While Islam is characterized by a range of practices and beliefs, which vary by region, community, and more, unifying features include a monotheistic belief system that holds the Prophet Muhammad as the final true messenger of God. The two main branches of Islam are Sunni, whose adherents make up some 85–90 percent of the Muslim population worldwide, and Shiʿa, whose believers comprise most of the remaining 10–15 percent of this population. Sufism—Islamic mysticism—is found in both Sunni and Shiʿa communities.

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