UK Muslim Charities shift focus to Local Aid

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Growing poverty is strengthening a trend among UK Muslims to fund charitable work closer to home.

Austerity policies that have worsened poverty in the UK are fuelling a fundamental shift in the activity of Muslim philanthropic organisations for whom charity, increasingly, begins at home. The traditional focus on giving to international causes is now being matched by growing attention to helping the needy within Britain itself.

One outcome of this pioneering change – which also reflects how a younger generation of charity leaders interpret Islamic obligations – is that the recipients are increasingly likely to be non-Muslims.

Domestic focus

Poverty has grown in the UK since austerity policies aimed at tackling the country’s deficit were imposed in 2010 resulting in what charities say is growing hardship, reflected among other things in the drama

UK Food Banks look to Muslim Charities for support
UK Food Banks look to Muslim Charities for support

tic expansion of food banks. Muslim charity leaders say demand for their services has risen accordingly, sharpening a trend towards greater local giving.

This has been particularly apparent during Ramadan, when most Muslims tend to pay their zakat – a pillar of Islam that requires the obligatory giving of a proportion of one’s wealth for those who can afford it.

Ramadan generates considerable charitable activity and the FMO is particularly busy during the fasting month when its Ramadan radio station runs “pledge days” for local charities that in the past have collected up to $850,000.

Non-Muslim recipients

A key feature of Muslim charitable giving in the UK is that a growing number of recipients will ultimately be non-Muslims or people of no faith. Nagdi said that while the charities that directly receive FMO-coordinated donations are often Muslim, many of the people ultimately receiving the help they provide will be non-Muslims. FMO has, for example, collected toys for a local hospital and given money to a hospice in Leicester. During this Ramadan it organised a food drive to help stock food banks in the city.

The Al-Mizan Trust is an example of a Muslim charity that supports vulnerable people living in poverty across the UK regardless of their faith or cultural background. Muslim charities were also praised for stepping in to help non-Muslim communities within the UK earlier this year by launching appeals and relief efforts for victims of serious flooding in the Midlands and southern England.

Debate among scholars

This growing domestic focus is informing a debate among Islamic scholars about charity giving because traditionally zakat has been seen as largely destined for Muslim recipients. The National Zakat Foundation, which uses zakat donations exclusively within the UK, distributes these through grants to those in need, and while 70 percent heads for the Muslim community, the remainder supports faith-sensitive housing projects delivered in partnership with the St Mungo’s Broadway charity.

Members of the ISB believe there should be no dilemmas for Muslims about who should be the recipients when it comes to categories of giving such as sadaqah – or voluntary donations. While some people are encouraged to think that zakat is only applicable in a Muslim context, “the vast majority of British Muslims understand that it is applicable wherever there is need and that is the only criteria – if you can identify a need”.

Yet recipients aside, there is a consensus that raising awareness within mainstream society about the scale of Muslim giving would be in everyone’s interests. A poll of religious groups last year showed that Muslims in Britain now give more annually to charity per capita – almost $633 each – than any other faith group. Income generated by the Muslim Charities Forum member organisations this year could hit $300m. Moreover, Muslim donations in the British Isles have a long history – during the Irish famine, for example, the Ottomans sent the equivalent of $1m in cash and three shiploads of food.

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