The Rise and Decline of Saudi Overseas Humanitarian Charities

CIRS Occasional Paper No. 20

52 Pages Posted: 5 Oct 2018

See all articles by Jonathan Benthall

Jonathan Benthall

University College London - Department of Anthropology

Date Written: September 12, 2018


This paper records and interprets the rise and decline of Saudi overseas humanitarian charities, with special reference to the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO or IIROSA). Founded in 1975, IIROSA grew as a vehicle for a distinctively Saudi version of Islamic humanitarianism. By the mid-1990s, IIROSA was the world’s largest Islamic charity. Following the dismissal of its secretary general in 1996, and the crises of 9/11 and the Al-Aqsa Intifada, which cast a cloud to varying degrees over nearly all Islamic charities, IIROSA’s activities were reduced but efforts were made to revive them. In 2017, however, the kingdom’s new policy of centralization, and its disengagement from the “comprehensive call to Islam,” resulted in a remodeling of IIROSA’s role in support of the kingdom’s diplomatic interests but marginalized and stripped of religious content.

Keywords: CIRS, Saudi Arabia, Humanitarian Charity, International Islamic Relief Organization, IIRO, World Assembly of Muslim Youth, WAMY, Humanitarianism, Charity, Islam, Islamic Charity

Suggested Citation

Benthall, Jonathan, The Rise and Decline of Saudi Overseas Humanitarian Charities (September 12, 2018). CIRS Occasional Paper No. 20, Available at SSRN:

Jonathan Benthall (Contact Author)

University College London - Department of Anthropology ( email )

University College London
14 Taviton Street
London, WC1H 0BW
United Kingdom

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