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Muslim philanthropists

Amina Asad

Monday, March 24, 2008

Philanthropists and charitable organizations the world over are moved by different incentives, said educator Hamza Yusuf Hanson, noting that secular donors help people for secular reasons, while Muslims do it for the sake of God.

Hanson, the founder of the U.S.-based Zaytuna Institute and Academy, was in Istanbul over the weekend to participate in the World Congress of Muslim Philanthropists (WCMP).

“Bill Gates donates $1 billion and he doesn't believe in anything, however Muslims are not that organized and should be ashamed of it,” Hanson said in an interview with the Turkish Daily News. “Gates donates one out of every $6 billion, but it is still not enough, since people like him have billions while poorer people suffer across the world,” said Hanson.

Since Muslim philanthropists are poorly organized, their activities are not visible around the world, many Congress attendees agreed.

Another factor is a modesty inherent to Islam, one participant observed.

“Philanthropy is not visible among Muslims, because we believe in the secrecy of it, said Ebrahim Rasool, premier of the Western Cape of South Africa. “Islam says you should not tell one another about your favor and charity.”

Meanwhile, Christian charities are highly organized, because they lack the stigma of secrecy.

“Everyone who gives publicizes it,” Rasool said. “Muslims give, they but hide it; however, while we remain modest, we must be coordinated, too.”

An organization that coordinates Muslim donations is urgently needed, participants agreed.

Hanson, who converted to Islam in 1977, said Muslim donors should be organized not only to “give fish” but also to “teach poor people how to fish.” He called on nongovernmental organizations and governments to work together, since caring for the poor should not be the government's job, alone.

“People working for NGOs are much more sincere and passionate,” Hanson said.

As the number of charitable organizations increases, corruption invariably shows its ugly head, and this, too, was debated during the meeting.

“Every institution faces this problem, but we have transparency so we can be accountable,” said Peter D. O'Driscoll, executive director of Action Aid.

“One World Trust,” a global accountability project in which governments and NGOs work together, was established for just such a purpose, he said.

Turkey needs an organization that works like the International Monetary Fund to control whether funds collected by aid organizations are distributed fairly or not, Hanson said.

The WCMP and similar outfits are needed to bring Muslim philanthropists together and lead them to help not only Muslims, but also the rest of the world, participants acknowledged. This could change the world's attitude toward Muslims, said Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

After the Sep. 11, 2001 attacks Muslims and many Muslim aid institutions were subject to partial treatment, Awad said.

“We should coordinate with other secular or Christian organizations and governments,” he added. “Otherwise, we will be subject to suspicion and unfair treatment.”

Shahid Malik, United Kingdom Minister for International Development, who also participated in the WCMP, said Muslims have been defined by the actions of a few extremists, but radical Islamists represent neither Muslims nor Islam.

Malik, who became the first British-born Muslim to serve in the British government, said Britain's having a Muslim minister means a lot, as does the country's tradition of championing civil rights and liberties, which makes it the best place in the world for Muslims.

“There are many people against the Iraq war,” Malik said. “We are where we are, and we should now have a stable government in Iraq.”

The killing of Muslims by other Muslims in the name of Islam should be stopped, since it does not represent Islam.

Muslims need middle class

A stable middle class should be established in Muslim countries in order to secure social peace and prosperity, Hamza Yusuf Hanson said.

Compared to other Muslim nations, Turkey's middle class is strong, serving as a firewall to a culture of corruption and bribery.

“I have seen the practice of bribery in some Muslim countries where the middle class is not strong and people are corrupt,” Hanson said.

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