Sharia, charity, and minjian autonomy in Muslim China

Gift giving in a plural world

by Matthew S. Erie

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The accountant of a mosque recording donations. Photo by the author, 2009.In Marcel Mauss's analysis, the gift exists in the context of a homogenous system of values. But in fact, different types of normative systems can inhabit the same social field. This is the case among Hui, the largest Muslim minority group in China, for whom the “freedom” of the gift resides in the giver's capacity to follow the rules underlying gifting, in this case, the rules of sharia. I call this capacity “minjian (unofficial, popular) autonomy.” Hui follow sharia in pursuit of a good life, but their practices are also informed by mainstream Han Chinese gift practices and by the anxieties of the security state. In their gifting practices, Hui thus endeavor to reconcile the demands of Islamic, postsocialist, and gift economies.

The accountant of a mosque recording donations.
The accountant of a mosque recording donations. (Matthew S. Erie, 2009)