Charity begins at home
Friday, January 15th, 2016
As the bad weather set in and Storm Desmond hit the North West of Britain, Cumbria became victim to severe flooding leaving people without food, clean water and power. Many people were left homeless as their homes became inhabitable due to flooding. Local emergency services, as well as the army, were mobilised to help the affected. Charity and aid organisations are also usually first to respond, and among them was Muslim aid organisation Al-Imdaad Foundation. Well over 1000 volunteers have helped in the region and as many as 80% of them Muslim.
The organisation, named after famous South Asian scholar and mystic Haji Imdadullah Muhaajir Makki, was established in 2003 in Blackburn as an international aid, relief and development organisation. It is dedicated to providing humanitarian services in crisis and non-crisis situations throughout the world to the most needy, irrespective of race, religion, culture and geographical boundary.
Al-Imdaad Foundation found themselves with plenty of positive media coverage following their involvement in efforts assisting flood victims. It is always welcoming to see such positive stories in the media about Muslims. Al-Imdaad Foundation are one of many UK based Muslim aid and charity organisations working in the UK to provide relief to the afflicted and to those suffering poverty. The world famous boxer Amir “King” Khan has also been involved and leading efforts with Wakefield based international aid organisation, Penny Appeal. He told Manchester Evening News “It’s very sad to see that people have had to leave their homes and all the furniture has been taken out of their houses and the floods have destroyed all the homes, the kids’ toys and everything else. I just want to come here and give kids some new toys and bring moral support really.”
One volunteer, Lukman Darwan from the Dewsbury organisation called Engage, said “The locals have been overwhelmed by the generosity and assistance given by our brothers and sisters around the country. To see grown men crying, unable to express how grateful they were for the help they received was very emotional for our group. The flood victims said that they had not received much help from the local authority and cannot understand why people from afar would travel to help them.”
One of Britain’s largest aid organisations, Islamic Relief, supported families in three areas of northern England in the recent floods. In Bury an Islamic Relief volunteer team worked alongside Irwell Vale Methodist Church coordinating the delivery of food in rural areas cut off from the local shops. Over 50 volunteers assisted with flood prevention efforts in York, working with York Mosque and the city council to bag 110 tonnes of sand and then distribute 3,500 sandbags to families at risk. In Cumbria not only did volunteer teams help with the clear-up efforts after the floods but Islamic Relief also provided a £10,000 grant to Cumbria Community Foundation to help people get back into their homes by replacing furniture and essential items.
Support to communities affected by extreme weather is part of a new UK Community Programme established by Islamic Relief in 2015. Other projects have included mentoring for disadvantaged young people; a day of action to refurbish and redecorate community centres; support for refugees and asylum seekers facing destitution; support for women who have suffered domestic violence; and support for homeless and elderly people in the winter months.
Imran Madden, Islamic Relief UK Director told us: “In the floods we used experience gained through working in disasters around the world to provide practical support to people on our own doorstep. Developing a UK Community Programme alongside our international work in over 30 countries is inspired by the Qur’an which urges us to ‘do good to parents, relatives, and the orphans, and the needy and the neighbour who is near, and the neighbour who is far, and the companion by your side and the traveller’.”
As government cuts to frontline services start to take effect, more and more people will fall under severe hardship. We spoke to Mahboob Hussain of the UK based National Zakat Foundation, he told us “National Zakat Foundation (NZF) offer hardship support to the most vulnerable members of our community who often have no other means of support available to them. NZF receives over 120 applications and referrals every month and this figure is steadily increasing as more families fall below the poverty line and awareness of NZF’s service grows.”
As a result, many British Muslim aid organisations have, over the recent years, turned their attention to domestic issues. A number of organisations have cropped up whose focus is primarily Britain and specifically their own localities. Nottingham based Himmah is one such grassroots organisation. Founded in 2010 when a member of the Nottingham Muslim community found a man rummaging for food from bins and sleeping rough on the streets of Nottingham. This sparked the community into action and everyone came together to help a man who had been abandoned by the society in which he lived. Since its inception, Himmah has helped countless individuals with similar stories and now have a history of supporting individuals, families in need, refugees and discriminated against communities. Himmah also run a very successful food bank programme, with the government austerity measures now taking hold, homelessness and poverty look set to further increase and many people will become reliant on services like food banks.
London based Sufra NW London is a community food bank and kitchen that was set up to tackle the causes and symptoms of food poverty in the London Borough of Brent, and surrounding areas. Last year, Sufra NW London provided emergency food aid to 3,858 people. Alongside the food bank, the charity provides a weekly hot-meals service, a subsidised vegetable box scheme to increase the affordability of fresh produce, advice and welfare surgeries on benefits and housing, a food academy training young people in cookery skills, a food growing project and a variety of skills development programmes that lead to accredited qualifications enabling young people to apply for apprenticeships and find employment in local industries.
Mohammed Mamdani, the Sufra NW London Director told us “In the midst of a challenging economic environment, Sufra NW London provides a lifeline for some of the most vulnerable and isolated in our community. Every week, countless individuals and families, each with their own sorrowful stories, visit the food bank in need of support. We are indebted to our volunteers who provide a compassionate service for those with nowhere else to turn to for help”.
Penny Appeal are also running a ‘Love Thy Neighbour’ campaign specifically for the UK to provide hot meals and food packs to homeless people and vulnerable families and to provide professional one-to-one support sessions for victims of domestic abuse.
Muslim run charities are not just providing food and shelter, but support services too. Women Surviving War was founded shortly after the Syrian War broke out, by registered midwife Nageena Ahmed. Being in the nursing profession, Nageena quickly realised that one area of concern and care that was not being addressed by aid organisations – helping women with their sanitary needs in conflict situations. One reason, perhaps, is because of the taboo surrounding the subject of menstruation. Nageena devised, what she calls, “The Fempack”, a small survival kit for women consisting of underwear, cloth, scissors, needle and thread, miswak (natural toothbrush), flip-flop slippers and a comb. All these items were based on the nursing formula of the activities of daily living based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. All the items are very readily available and the entire pack can be put together for less than £10. Most 21st century women, wherever they may be, rely heavily on disposable sanitary pads, but in areas of civil strife these are not readily available. Poor sanitation leads to other health issues and adds another layer of stress upon women already under immense pressure due to their circumstances. The Fempack helps women to maintain their sanitary needs in the absence of disposable solutions.
Whilst the idea of the Fempack came about to support Syrian women, this solution is also for women in other conflict areas, poverty stricken zones and women in general. Homeless women are another group who can benefit from this solution and the idea is for women up and down the country to make assemble these packs and send them to aid organisations to then distribute to women in need. Nageena told MuslimView “We sent out about one thousand Fempacks, the feedback received from Syrian refugee women is that this is a much needed item for them to manage their menstrual cycle. The next phase for this idea is to develop an education plan around the idea of sustainable and eco-friendly sanitary solutions for women. I am also very concerned for homeless women on the streets of Britain. I would like charities to try and use this concept to allow a positive light to be shed on women finding their instinctive solutions with what can safely work for them. If shelters can provide wash-rooms for the homeless, then these cloth sanitary towels can be made and donated by volunteers. They can be donated through government funded bodies and NGOs, via charity shops and local councils who can then distribute to the women who need them. This solution is not just for far flung places, it is needed right here at home.”
As Muslims from the UK, it is vitally important that we look after our own, and our own are not just Muslims from the UK, it is everyone and anyone who is in need. Looking after the less fortunate of our society is a human duty, a prophetic duty and practice. As Muslims we should be at the forefront of such efforts. These are just a fraction of British Muslim organisations working and making a difference to people’s lives in the UK. There are many other organisations committed to helping fellow Britons in difficult times.
MuslimView commends all the British Muslim organisations involved in this very important and timely work.
Al-Imdaad Foundation UK
National Zakat Foundation
Sufra NW London
Women Surviving War