As explained by Mawlana Hazar Imam:
By civil society I mean an array of institutions which operate on a private, voluntary basis —but which are driven by public motivations. They include institutions dedicated to education, to culture, to science and research. They include commercial, labor, professional and ethnic associations, as well as entities devoted to maintaining health, protectiing the environment, and curing disease. Religious institutions are central to civil society—and so are institutions of the media.
Sometimes, in our preoccupation with government and politics, we neglect the importance of civil institutions. I am not suggesting we ignore politics—but I am suggesting that we think beyond our political preoccupations. A thriving civil sector is essential in renewing the promise of democracy.