New initiative to promote Islamic philanthropy
The first international congress of Muslim philanthropists took place in Istanbul in March.
Over 200 philanthropic and charity participants from 27 countries as far-afield as Libya, Malaysia and the UK met to discuss and debate the theme ‘Facing challenges and Finding Solutions’.
It was also attended by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan; the UK Minister for International Development Shahid Malik; the UN Secretary General’s advisor Dr Nafis Sadiq; special assistant to the US Secretary of State Farah Pandit, and World Council of Religions for Peace chairman William Vendley.
The inspiration of Tariq H. Cheema, a Pakistani doctor living in the US, the World Congress of Muslim Philanthropists (WCMP) was his brainchild to bring together the world’s Islamic donors.
The new organisation was formed to help Islamıc donors and non-profit groups to overcome obstacles such as poorly organised efforts in the contributions of Muslims to humanitarian causes and unacknowledged giving of Islamic communities.
It is estimated that Muslim foundations award at least US$20bn annually, with one speaker at the two-day conference saying the total giving by Muslims worldwide is probably 10 times that amount.
Part of the challenge to calculating Islamic philanthropy is the Qur'an. Zakat, Islam’s version of tithing, is one of the faith’s Five Pillars and requires Muslims to yearly purify their increased wealth by providing 2.5% of their assets a year to mosques and the needy.
However, the Qur'an says such gifts are more sacred when they are given quietly.
Speaking at the opening ceremony, Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate head Professor Ali Bardakoğlu stated that social charities are not inferior to religious exercises. "The Qur’an demands of us to think about those living next to us. We should broaden the social aspect of our religious devotion," he said.
One of the main points raised during the congress was the pressure on Muslim countries following the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001 and how this affected the battle against poverty in Islamic regions.
It was agreed by participants that an organisation to coordinate Muslim donations is urgently needed, and that the WCMP and similar outfits are needed to bring Muslim philanthropists together and lead them to help both Muslims and others throughout the world.
The congress plans to create a website, SecureGiving, to rank charities in Muslim countries based on a to-be-decided criteria of governance and management standards. Part of the intention will be to help donors make sure their money is not supporting terrorists posing as Islamic charities, a concern that has grown since the September 11, 2001 attacks.