Social Suffering

Both essays analyze the aspect of giving and particularly the concept of Resala in Egypt. The concept involves youths volunteering to give to the poor in society and in some way connecting with God. Although similar, the essays are also different both in the approach that they take and the content in each. The first essay, “Beyond Compassion: Islamic Voluntarism in Egypt” analyzes the idea of giving and how Resala is different from compassion. In the second essay, the emphasis is much more on the youths involved and the driving force for their actions. This essay compares the two articles with a view of finding similar answers to the issues raised by the authors.

The first article defines Resala as the ‘Islamic ethics of giving’ (Amira, 2014, pp 518) and then goes ahead to state that the founder of the concept borrowed it from Canada. In this statement, the author goes to show the irony of the concept and thereby showing the universality of the same. It is quite clear that the concept is not ideally sourced from the Islamic faith but from the human need to connect with other beings. In fact, the author quotes the founder as begging him not to ‘exoticize the concept of Resala’. To the founder, the commitment of Canadians to helping the less privileged in society and the degree to which they smile at each other motivated him to introduce the concept to Egyptian youths.

The second article, defines Resala as a message of giving directly translated from the English meaning of Resala which is ‘message’. The author initiates the concept as one that fills the youths with so much enthusiasm and devotion. In this regard, the concept is also differentiated from the Islamic faith and studied as a universal concept that is similar in all the regions of the world, regardless of the religion that one ascribes to. The size of the organization is testament of the nature of humans to want to do good and actually doing it (Sparre, 2012, pp 107). In fact, the organization started as a student initiative in the University of Cairo before growing to become the largest charity organization in the Arab world. People have always rubbished the concept as similar to any other charitable work that makes the volunteers feel good about themselves. Moreover, the ability to contribute to long term development has been a question often asked in reference to the concept of social responsibility (Adler & Kwon, 2002).

Sparre (2012) illustrates how organizations like Resala contribute towards shared experiences and understanding among the youths involved.  The concept of giving provides the discourses and organizational space that allow people to embark on a shared practice. This in turn cultivates a shared imaginary of abilities within the country of Egypt. However, the author lists society’s prevailing ethos, intergenerational relations and important historical events as major determinants of such initiatives as Resala. According to Amira (2014) the concept cultivates citizenship among the youths involved and in t5he process builds compassion. Ideally, compassion is a human trait that is evident in every other person. However, the trait must be nourished by, among other thing, volunteering. The author cites the founder of the organization as stating that it brings interconnectedness and is capable of transforming the country from being a state of many people each with their own ego. The author frames the concept as the same as any other charitable work because the ideal end is to help the people in need.

Amira, (2014) outlines the feelings of worth, coupled with compassion for the poor and human reasons, as the motivation behind the giving by the young people in the program. These traits are common in all human beings and they motivate everyone to do well to the less fortunate in society. Moreover, the author frames the concept within the global voluntarism that is uniformly applied everywhere. The many layers of the volunteers’ ethics are explored in the article and pointing to the concept of altruism among the Islamic youths in Egypt. Sparre, (2012) takes on a different approach and focuses on the activities in Resala and their ability to expose the volunteers to the production of a certain image of Egypt. In addition, the concept is depicted as going way above the minimal Islamic social responsibilities towards the less privileged in society.

The concept of Resala, in the second article is depicted through the lives of two students who are among many young volunteers in the program. Majority of the volunteers are listed as between the ages of eighteen and twenty five years of age. Resala provides an opportunity to give and all the volunteers share the overall vision of change and engagement (Sparre, 2012, pp 115). The different volunteers understand and perceive the act of giving in different perspectives but they all agree on the reason for giving and the beneficiaries of such actions. In essence, the interaction of the volunteer with the poor shapes the perceptions of the volunteer on giving and compassion.  The interaction has the effect of achieving a new understanding of the society among the youths involved. Moreover, the youths can develop a new collective consciousness of themselves as social actors within their society.

The concept of Resala has the ability to accommodate a diverse group of actors sourced from either divide of the social class. While some of the volunteers come from poor backgrounds and themselves deserve to be helped, others are from rather privileged backgrounds. This contrast means that the volunteers have different ways of approaching the poor based on the various conceptions that they have.  Therefore, Resala is not a one way traffic where only the poor benefit from the volunteers’ benevolence. Rather, it is two way in the sense that it is a place to engage and learn about particular morals. In addition, the youths get insights on the socioeconomic aspects of the Egyptian society and the different ways of making it better. Adler  & Kwon (2002) assert that the interactions among and between the different youth volunteers is also beneficial in that they all learn from each other in aspects that they would otherwise have not learnt.

The concept of compassion is deeply entrenched in the Egyptian culture despite there being no direct Arabic translation for the English word (Amira, 2014, pp 519). Nevertheless, the aspect is visibly present in the ads run by charitable organization in their appeals for financial help from the populace. The uprising in 2011 helped in articulating the concept much more as people worked round the clock to help the affected. Additionally, volunteerism was also much more rooted during the protests in Egypt and a willingness to help strangers was common among the people. In fact, doctors volunteered their services in field clinics to treat people who were injured in the protests. Many other people volunteered their blankets, food and water to the people actively involved in the protests. Further afield, people poured into the streets to clean the debris and collect the garbage after the dictator had been overthrown.

Resala, as well as other charitable organizations transform religious calls for helping those in need and building on social solidarity. Charitable organizations, in their large numbers in Egypt, fill the many gaps left behind by the government’s withdrawal of social services to the people. In fact, the state gets less work to do if the citizens become much more charitable in the entire world. The images of people in suffering usually direct people to help by acts of sacrificing their resources (Amira, 2014, pp 520). These images have the impact of moving people to act by committing either their money or time to the charitable causes.

The inspiration for most volunteers in Egypt is drawn from the Islamic teachings of living piously (Amira, 2014, pp 527). Many people consider helping the poor as a form of worshipping God, political activism and self-cultivation. Regardless of the religious or political discourses that one ascribes to, the volunteers are all willing to help the poor and thereby feel good about themselves. The volunteers in the many Resala branches arrive early in the morning to prepare food that they then distribute in the slums in Egypt. To these people, volunteering is all about helping and there is no better way to impact on the poor than through helping and associating with them. The giving and volunteering that Resala cultivates among the young people is a gesture toward a new society where everyone cares for the other people.

Voluntarism is diverse in the fact that the motivations for giving are also diverse and volunteers have a variety of intentions. While some depict derivation of pleasure from helping the poor, others are driven by the need to heed to the religious call of helping others. Still, other volunteers consider giving and volunteering a form of worship. All in all, voluntarism as portrayed by Resala organization is impactful in the society and inculcates the willingness to help other people among the Egyptian youths.



Amira Mittermaier. (2014). Beyond Compassion: Islamic Voluntarism in Egypt. American Ethnologist 41(3): 518-531.

Adler, P. S., & Kwon, S. W. (2002). Social capital: Prospects for a new concept. Academy of management review, 27(1), 17-40.

Sparre, S. L. (2012). ‘Resala–a message about giving’: Charity, youth voluntarism and an emerging imaginary of Egypt. Takaful 2012, 105-120.


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