Organization one of the fastest-growing NGOs in Canada today
Mennonites can help the world’s needy through Mennonite Central Committee. Lutherans in the can respond through Canadian Lutheran World Relief.
Baptists, Presbyterians, Christian Reformed, Catholics and other groups have their own relief and development arms.
Canadian Muslims can also extend a hand to the world’s poor through their own agency—Islamic Relief Canada.
Founded in 1984 in Great Britain in response to the famine in Ethiopia, today Islamic Relief has chapters in a number of countries, and provides assistance in 40 developing nations around the world.
The Canadian chapter was founded in 2007. In 2009, it received $1.2 million in donations. Last year the figure was over $28 million, making it one of the fastest-growing international relief and development groups in the country.
A lot of the money it receives comes during Ramadan, which took place this year from May 26 to June 24. In addition to fasting and prayer, it’s a time when Muslims especially remember those who are hungry and needy.
“We get half of our annual income that month,” says Reyhana Patel, who heads up media and external relations for Islamic Relief.
For Muslims, one of the five pillars of their faith is the zakat, or the obligatory sharing with the needy.
Most Muslims tend to give it during the month of Ramadan, since they believe giving during that holy month provides the giver with a double reward.
In addition to giving their zakat, Muslims also give another special donation in Ramadan during an iftar, the meal that breaks their daily fast.
The ancient formula for how much to give was two kilograms of either flour, wheat, barley or rice for each person in the household. In Canada today, Muslims typically make a gift of about $10 per person for everyone at the meal.
Some of that money is donated to Islamic Relief through what it calls Share Your Blessing.
Through it, Canadian Muslims are invited to sign up to host an iftar with their family and friends, using the occasion to break the daily fast and raise money to help needy people around the world.
Islamic Relief provides a package of materials for each host to share with guests about its work, along with pledge forms so people can make donations. Last year, one iftar in Canada raised $90,000 for the charity.
Once misconception about the organization, Patel says, is where the money goes.
“Although most of our programs are in Muslim countries, our assistance is available to all, not just to Muslims,” she says, noting that the organization provided help after the Haiti earthquake, the typhoon in the Philippines and for people affected by the Fort McMurray wildfires. It also funds a program in Toronto for disadvantaged youth.
“We don’t only help Muslims,” she adds. “We give to whoever is in need, just like other NGOs.”
As well, she notes, “anyone can donate to Islamic Relief, not just Muslims.” All donations are tax deductible.
Current appeals include for the famine in Africa and Yemen, as well as for victims of inter-communal violence in Myanmar and refugees from the fighting in Syria.
Ongoing programs include orphan sponsorship, and health, education, medical and water projects.
In addition to donations, the organization also gets grants from the Canadian government for its work overseas. It is also part of the Humanitarian Coalition, which brings together Canada’s major relief agencies to respond to emergencies in the developing world.
For Idris Elbakri, past president of the Manitoba Islamic Association, supporting Islamic Relief is a good way for Muslims to help those in need.
“Through it Muslims in Canada can realize their obligation to help others both locally and globally,” he says.
Beyond the good work that Islamic Relief is doing around the world, it also means a lot to the Muslim community in Canada.
“The respect and recognition it gets from other NGOs, and the Canadian government, shows how Canadian Muslims are in the mainstream of Canadian values,” he says.
From the June 17 Winnipeg Free Press.