Disaster Relief, charitable work and Nigerian Muslims, By Muhammad Jameel Yusha

To call the situation in Plateau pathetic is simply stating the obvious. And it is not the only state in Nigeria that suffers from this kind of treatment. The amount of people that now live in refugee camps in Kaduna and other states affected by the recent breakdown in law and order can only be described as shameful, especially where there is supposedly a government in place.

For Nigerian Muslims, who are the majority of the victims of these disasters, even though the media, both local and international, presents a completely different picture, this presents an opportunity to learn something that we neglect. Or in some cases it is done, but the effort needs to be professionalised. And this is nothing more than engagement in charitable activities. 

For too long, people are used to relying hundred per cent on government for all social services. That in itself is not bad, and it is also not an excuse for the government to relax and suggest that people should be responsible for themselves as we are seeing in the healthcare debate in the United States. But engaging in charitable activities has so many benefits. First, it is a means of seeking the pleasure of Allah. Secondly, it is a means of helping fellow human beings afflicted by disaster. Thirdly, it is a way of building the capacity of members of the community into resourceful individuals. Fourthly, it will help in reducing enmity and misconception, especially if the charitable work is extended to people of other faiths or a different nationality or ethnic group.

You might think that you need to be rich to engage in the charitable activities that I am talking about. No, you don’t have to be rich to engage in charitable activities. All you need is a combination of sincere intention, getting few like minds to work together, discipline and organisation.

Let me mention briefly the story of one of the most successful Muslim charities in the world, which provides relief to so many people around the world, both Muslim and non-Muslim, as Allah commanded in the Qur’an chapter 21:107, “We sent thee not, but as a Mercy for all creatures”.  In the exegesis of this verse, ibn Kathir stated clearly that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was sent to be a source of relief and mercy to the entire humanity.

The Islamic charity I am referring to is Islamic Relief; perhaps we can learn one or two things about this charity and see how we can work towards putting into practice the meaning of the above verse. Islamic  Relief was established  with less than  one British pound or less than N250 in 1984, according to information available to me. An excerpt from an interview with Dr Hany El-Banna, the Egyptian medical doctor who co-founded the charity and was its president until his retirement recently carry some lessons for us. “It started with the famines and food shortages that affected Ethiopia and Sudan in the mid-1980s. The images of starving people shocked me, like people around the globe, profoundly,” said Dr El-Banna.

“I visited Sudan in December 1983, and was shocked to see with my own eyes the suffering there. I decided then that I had to do something about it. It was a challenge for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. So I came back with my story and photos and began speaking and working to raise money in Egypt, the United Kingdom and beyond. I presented it as a moral issue, and our response as a duty, not just for Muslims and Christians, but every single human being. It is an issue of basic responsibility”, he continued.

In fact, according to EL-Banna, “We had no place to work, no vision, no strategic plan, no policy statements, nothing except will and determination. We began working with grass roots individuals, and raised money penny by penny, then pound by pound.  Our message was about need and responsibility, and we stressed the need to help our fellow human beings”.  The key motto of Islamic Relief today is the Qur’anic verse which states: “Whoever saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind” (5:32).

Today the charity that started with few coins is a multi-million dollar non-governmental organisation working in different locations from Palestine, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan and many parts of the world some of whom are not even Muslims by faith. So, what is the learning point here? In the last few days there have been some efforts to generate assistance, especially for the victims of the unfortunate disaster, particularly in Plateau state. The people who are engaged in this effort, just like Dr El-Banna, are not rich; they are simply Muslim professionals who are tired of the neglect of their brothers by the government that should help them. Such effort should be commended, but it shouldn’t stop there, they should continue, but they also need to professionalise in the process.

It also provides an opportunity for Nigerian Muslims to extend the mercy of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) to other human beings. Those who engage in this should also know that they are not alone. Here in the UK, the Nigeria Muslim Forum  (http://nmfuk.org/), which is a young charity, has recently made some fundraising to support the victims of these disasters in Nigeria. Engaging in charitable work should be a venture that we should all embark upon for the good of humanity.


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