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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Vol. 5    Issue 10   01 - 15 October 2010

The Art and Culture of Giving

Professor A. R. Momin

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed individuals can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

Margaret Mead, American anthropologist

The world has never seen such staggering levels of prosperity across several parts of the globe. According to the Forbes 2010 rich list, there are currently 1,011 billionaires in the world, of which 400 own an estimated $1.3 trillion. The income of the world’s three richest people is greater than the combined income of the world’s least developed countries. Despite the global financial downturn that engulfed large parts of the world in 2009, the world’s super rich continue to wallow in incredible opulence. Most of them prefer to travel in their own private jets. The most coveted jet is the Challenger 850, which costs £27 million. But the demand for this luxury jet is greater than supply, and prospective buyers have to wait till 2011 to take possession of their cherished status symbol. In June 2008 one of the paintings of the celebrated French artist Monet was sold by the Christie’s for £40 million. There are apartments for the world’s super rich which cost £36 million. A diamond ring for the rich and the famous is priced at £3 million, and a handbag, made entirely of platinum and diamonds, at £1 million. Luxury stores, which cater to the exclusive tastes of the super rich, are opening up in all the big cities of the world.

On the other hand, there exist wide disparities and asymmetries of wealth, power and resources, globally as well as within nations. The renowned economist and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen has observed that “even though the world is increasingly richer than ever before, ours is also a world of extraordinary deprivation and staggering inequality”. In its 40th anniversary report, Amnesty International points out that “globalisation has led to enormous economic expansion, but has also been accompanied by debt, poverty and inequalities”. The global distribution of wealth and income is highly unequal. The yearly income of the richest 10% of households in the world is nearly as much as that of the bottom 90%. The richest 1% of the world, concentrated in the United States, Europe and Japan, own about 40% of the world’s wealth. In 2005, the wealthiest 20% of the world accounted for 76.6 % of total private consumption, while the poorest fifth accounted for just 1.5%. The richest 10% of the world consume more than 58% of the world’s total energy, 84% of all paper, 45% of all meat and fish, and own nearly 87% of all vehicles. An average American consumes energy, water and other natural resources equivalent to the consumption of 140 people in Afghanistan or Ethiopia. In the late 1990s, 20% of the world’s population living in the industrialised countries accounted for 82% of export markets, 74% of all telephone lines and 97% of all patents worldwide. Nearly 80% of the world stock of foreign direct investment is located in the industrialised countries of the North. The bulk of global trade occurs within three regions, namely, Europe, North America and Asia-Pacific. Contrary to Thomas Friedman’s facile assertion, the world is not flat; only some parts of it are.

Poverty is widespread across the developing countries—where nearly 80% of the world’s population lives. The World Bank defines poverty as living on less than $ 2 a day and absolute or extreme poverty as living on less than $ 1 a day. Though millions of people have been lifted out of poverty and destitution, thanks to impressive economic growth, many more have been left behind. The absolute number of poor people in large parts of the world is rising. Poverty in the developing world has increased over the past two decades. Today, some 40% of the world’s 6.8 billion people in the developing countries live in poverty—up 36% from 1981. A sixth of the world’s people—877 million—live in extreme poverty. In Africa, the percentage of the population living in extreme poverty has increased from 41.6 percent in 1981 to 46.9 percent in 2001. In other words, the number of people living in extreme poverty has almost doubled, from 164 million to 316 million. The former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, recently observed that nearly one billion people out of a global population of 6.8 billion are faced with chronic hunger and starvation.

Global Movement for Philanthropy

There is a silver lining amidst this gloomy cloud. Two of the world’s richest people, Bill Gates, the richest man in the US and founder of Microsoft who currently occupies the second place in the Forbes rich list, and Warren Buffett, who is the world’s third richest man, have launched a global movement for philanthropy. In May 2009, Bill Gates and his wife Melinda Gates invited some of the richest billionaires in the US, including Warren Buffett, George Soros, David Rockefeller Jr, Rockefeller Sr’s great-grandson, Michael Bloomberg and Oprah Winfrey, among others, for a private meeting over dinner in New York. The meeting was a prelude to a campaign to persuade America’s billionaires—who dominate the worldwide billionaires’ list—to pledge at least 50% of their wealth to charity. In the US, the richest 1% own a quarter of the country’s wealth. The total net worth of American billionaires in 2009 was over $1,200 billion. Gates reckons that only about 15% of the wealthy in the US give away large amounts of their fortunes to charity. On June 16, 2010 Bill Gates and Warren Buffett formally launched the campaign, and since then Gates and his wife have spoken to 70-80 US billionaires in a bid to persuade them to give away at least a substantial part of their fortunes. According to the Giving Pledge, the donation can be given during the lifetime or after the death of the donor. The pledge is a moral commitment to give, not a legal contract. About 40 American billionaires have already signed the Giving Pledge by promising to donate 50% or more of their wealth—estimated at $125 billion--to charity. Those who have signed the pledge include Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire mayor of New York, media tycoons Barry Diller and Ted Turner, movie maker George Lucas and energy tycoon Boone Pickens.

No movement can be effective or successful unless its leaders set a personal example of commitment and dedication to the movement’s goals. Bill Gates was the first to sign the Giving Pledge, in which he wrote: “We have been blessed with good fortune beyond our wildest expectations, and we are profoundly grateful. But as these gifts are great, so we feel a great responsibility to use them well….We feel very lucky to have the chance to work together in giving back the resources we are stewards of”.

The number of China’s known billionaires has now reached 130, the second highest after the US. The philanthropic initiative launched by Gates and Buffet has inspired some of them, including Chen Guangbiao, a Chinese billionaire and chairman of Jiangsu Renewable Resources Utilisation, who has pledged to donate his entire fortune—estimated at more than $735 million—to charity after his death, becoming the first in China to do so. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are due to meet some of the wealthiest people in China on September 29 and in India in March 2011. Fifty Chinese billionaires, including Chen, have received an invitation to a banquet during Gates’s and Buffett’s visit to Beijing on September 29.

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Bill Gates has been the richest person on earth for 14 years. More than a decade ago, he decided to establish a charitable foundation and to give away most of his wealth—currently estimated at £36 billion—to help the world’s poor “grow up healthier, get a better education, and gain the power to lift themselves out of poverty”. In 2008 he stopped working full-time for Microsoft, the company that he founded, and decided to concentrate on his foundation. Gates was inspired by the example of his parents, his mother Mary, a teacher, and his father, William H. Gates, a Seattle lawyer, who were both active in the United Way, an international community service organization. Gates’s late mother Mary once wrote to her future daughter-in-law before their wedding in 1994: “From those to whom much is given, much is expected”.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, set up in 1994 in Seattle, has an asset of $33 billion, making it the world’s largest private foundation. The foundation sponsors hundreds of projects relating to poverty alleviation and healthcare, including drought-resistant seeds and malaria vaccines. Since 1994 the foundation has committed $23 billion to charity. The foundation’s activities and programmes are mainly concentrated in Africa and South Asia. It has branch offices in Washington DC, New Delhi, Beijing and London. Two of the bodies the foundation funds heavily, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (Gavi) and the Global Fund to Fight HIV/Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, have delivered vaccines to more than 250 million children in poor countries and thereby prevented more than five million deaths.

Since 2008 Gates and his wife Melinda have been regularly visiting the foreign projects supported by the foundation. He slept a night in a hut in a village in northern India a couple of years ago, to get a feel of what poverty and deprivation mean to tens of millions of people in Africa and Asia. In addition to alleviating the suffering of millions of people in Africa and Asia, the work of the foundation has led to a revival of global interest in the problems of poor countries. This, in turn, has prompted the allocation of greater resources by governments as well as international organizations such as the World Health Organisation and the World Bank for projects and programmes aimed at poverty alleviation and healthcare in developing countries.

Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett, the third richest man in the world with fortunes of $47 billion, was born in Omaha in 1930 to Howard Buffett, a stock broker and Republican Congressman. He has a phenomenal memory and a keen interest in numbers. As a child he knew the populations of scores of American cities on his finger tips. At the age of 11 he began helping out at his father’s brokerage. At the same age he bought his first stock. Quite early in his life he learnt the value of investing in good companies for the long term. At the age of 14 he bought 40 acres of farmland in Nebraska from the money he had saved, which he leased to a tenant farmer, giving him good, steady income. He studied under Benjamin Graham, whose book The Intelligent Investor had greatly impressed him, at the Columbia Business School in New York and obtained a master’s degree from there. In 1957 he started his first investment partnership.

Warren Buffet owns the investment company Berkshire Hathaway and holds about $43.9 billion of the company’s stock, or 23.3 % of the total outstanding. He is a trustee of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and has donated millions of dollars to it. In 2009 he donated $1.5 billion and in July 2010 $1.6 billion to the foundation. In all, he has donated shares worth $1.93 billion to five charitable foundations. He has also given billions of dollars to charitable foundations run by his three children. He was among the first to sign the “Giving Pledge” saying that he would ultimately give away 99% of his wealth. He wrote: “Were we (I and my family) to use more than 1% of my claim checks on ourselves, neither our happiness nor our well-being would be enhanced. In contrast, that remaining 99% can have a huge effect on the health and welfare of others. That reality sets an obvious course for me and my family: Keep all we can conceiveably need and distribute the rest to society, for it needs”.

Buffet continues to live in a modest house in Omaha that he had bought in 1958 for $31,500. He leads a simple and frugal life, and drives his old car to MacDonald’s for burgers and Coca Cola. His children were given very modest allowances when they were growing up. His advice to parents is: Leave your children enough to do anything but not enough to do nothing.

George Soros

George Soros, among the top 100 billionaires in the Forbes rich list with an estimated fortune of $8.5 billion, was born in 1930 in Budapest, Hungary in a Jewish family. In 1947, when Polish Jews were hounded and killed, his family fled to England. He graduated from the London School of Economics, and in 1956 migrated to the US. In the course of time he became one of the world’s leading hedge fund investors and currency traders. His management company controls billions of dollars in investor assets. In 1979 Soros established the Open Society Institute, which is aimed at defending civil rights and liberties and promoting cultural diversity in education and business.

Soros has donated an estimated $5 billion to charity between 1979 and 2007. So far this year Soros has donated about $800 million through his Open Society Foundation. In September 2010 Soros pledged to give $100 million to America’s leading human rights organization, Human Rights Watch, over a period of five years. The New York-based organization has been widely acclaimed as a leading watchdog on the violation of human rights by states and governments around the world. The Soros grant will beef up the organisation’s operations in developing countries. “Human Rights Watch must be present in capitals around the world, addressing local issues, allied with local rights groups and engaging with local government officials,” he said while announcing the grant.

Charity and Philanthropy in the Islamic World

The Islamic tradition places a great deal of emphasis on compassion, altruism, sacrifice and charity. The Quran urges Muslims to spend on the poor and the needy (Quran 2:195, 219, 254, 264, 267, 274; 3:92; 14:31; 57:10-11; 76:8, 9). The Prophet is reported to have said: “All humankind is (like) the family of God and the dearest of them in the sight of God is the one who is the most kind and beneficial to His family.” He also said that a person who renders (some) service to widows and the poor is equal to one who is engaged in jihad in the path of God or to one who spends the whole day in fasting and the whole night in prayers. He warned that a Muslim who eats to his heart’s content while his neighbour keeps hungry is not a true believer.

Islam channelised charity and philanthropy in two inter-related directions: individual actions, and through the institution of waqf (charitable endowment). The institution of waqf was started by the Prophet, when he dedicated seven gardens of date palm for charitable purposes. Inspired by the exhortation in the Quran that one should give away money as well as land in the way of God and by the precepts of the Prophet, many of his Companions donated agricultural land and gardens as waqf. Caliph Umar set up the institution of bayt al-mal (public treasury), which served as a key agency for providing financial assistance to the poor and destitute, widows, orphans, wayfarers and other disadvantaged sections of society.

The institution of waqf had a profound and far-reaching impact on Islamic civilization. Large endowments instituted by Muslim rulers and members of the nobility supported a wide range of institutions, including mosques, madrasas, public libraries, caravanserais, universities and hospitals. The famed Al-Azhar University in Cairo, founded in 972, was financed by revenues which accrued from waqf properties. The institution of waqf has been a highly significant and inseparable part of Muslim societies throughout Islamic history. In the early decades of the 19th century, waqf land comprised 570,000 acres (over 20%) out of a total of 2.375 million acres in Egypt. In 1841 the number of lots of waqf land in Algeria, whose revenues were assigned for the maintenance of the city”s grand mosque, was 543. In Turkey, about one-third of the country’s total land was committed to waqf at the turn of the 20th century. The Indian subcontinent has hundreds of thousands of institutions which are supported by waqf properties.

Poverty and Deprivation in the Islamic World

The world Muslim population today is more than 1.6 billion, making up nearly one-fourth of humanity. The vast majority of Muslims around the world is faced with poverty and deprivation, economic backwardness, illiteracy, malnutrition and disease. The Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), a representative body of Muslim countries around the world, has 57 members. The economies of these 57 countries have a combined GDP of $6.6 trillion—less than half of the US and one-tenth of the global economy. Most of these economies are poor: 25 of the 57 countries are classified as low-income countries by the World Bank, 18 as lower-middle income and only 14 as upper-middle income or high income. The average GDP per capita in the 57 countries is $4,900, less than half the global average of $10,400. One in four persons in Muslim countries—nearly 400 million people—lives in extreme poverty—on less than $1.25 a day. Nearly 300 million Muslims worldwide aged 15 and above are illiterate. Literacy rates are particularly low for Muslim women.

The Arab Human Development Report 2009 revealed that one in five Arabs—20% of the region’s population of 350 million—lives on less than $2 a day. About 34.6 million Arabs are living in extreme poverty. According to national poverty lines, the overall poverty rate in the Arab world ranges from 59.5 per cent in Yemen and about 40% in Egypt to about 30% in Lebanon and Syria. In Somalia alone five million people live below the poverty line. The Arab Human Development Report 2009 reckons that the number of Arabs living in poverty could be as high as 65 million, or about 20% of the region’s population. Despite the abundant natural resources in the region, many Arab countries are faced with a rise in hunger and malnutrition.

According to Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) figures, the Arab region is one of two world’s regions, the other being sub-Saharan Africa, where the number of undernourished people has risen since the beginning of the 1990s—from about 19.8 million in 1990-92 to 25.5 million in 2002-04. Illiteracy rates in the region are higher than the international average and even higher than the average in developing countries. In many Arab countries, nearly 50% of women and one-third of men can neither read nor write.

There is no dearth of natural resources in the Islamic world. Ten of the 18 major oil-producing countries in the world are Muslim, which produce nearly 40% of the world’s oil. Seven Muslim countries, namely Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, UAE, Libya and Nigeria have nearly 70 % of the world’s oil reserves. The Middle East has more than 40% of the global natural gas resources. The Caucasus and Central Asia are rich in oil, natural gas and mineral resources. Turkey has one of the world’s richest boron reserves. Surveys carried out by the Pentagon and the US Geological Survey in Afghanistan over the past few years indicate that huge deposits of valuable minerals, including gold, copper, iron, cobalt, lithium and niobium lie hidden in the country’s mountainous regions. These untapped minerals, as well as rare earth elements, are worth a staggering $1 trillion. Lithium is a highly prized raw material which is used in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys. Niobium is a soft metal which is used in producing superconducting steel. The US officials believe that the huge deposits of minerals, which are scattered throughout Afghanistan, would transform the country’s economy and would make it into one of the most important mining centres in the world.

There are five Muslims among the top 100 billionaires in the Forbes rich list. The Forbes list of 1.011 billionaires includes 28 billionaires from Turkey, one of the emerging, fastest-growing economies.

There are a number of wealthy individuals and families as well as charitable foundations and endowments in the Islamic world, which make huge donations for alleviating the suffering of the poor and the dispossessed and for other noble causes. The following provides brief profiles of some of these individuals and institutions.

Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal

Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, a Saudi billionaire, ranks 19th on the Forbes rich list, with an estimated fortune of $19.4 billion. He obtained a master’s degree in social sciences from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University in 1985. He owns the Kingdom Holding Company, through which he makes investments worth billions of dollars.

Prince Al-Waleed has set up the Al Waleed bin Talal Foundation and has made generous contributions to charitable causes, especially in the field of education and inter-cultural understanding. In 2009 he donated $20 million to Harvard University to expand its Islamic studies department. He gave a huge donation for the establishment of the Prince Al-Waleed Centre for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University in 1993, which seeks to build bridges of understanding between the Muslim world and the West.

Abdul Sattar Edhi

The outbreak of a massive flu epidemic in Karach in 1957 prompted Abdul Sattar Edhi to arrange for the free distribution of immunization material, which paved the way for the establishment of the Edhi Foundation. He is often described as the Mother Theresa of Pakistan. The foundation undertakes a wide range of charitable activities and programmes, including reaching the sick to the hospital, establishment of maternity homes, mental health institutions, orphanages, adoption centres, schools, rescue homes for runaway children and for women who are victims of domestic abuse, homes for the physically handicapped, and a cancer hospital. The Edhi Foundation is now the largest social welfare network in Pakistan, and has offices in several countries. It has undertaken relief work in Africa, the Middle East, the Caucasus, Eastern Europe and the US.

According to the Guiness Book of World Records (2000), the foundation has the largest voluntary ambulance fleet in the world. The foundation’s budget runs into about $10 million, most of which is raised through private donations. Edhi does not accept donations from governments. In 2003 the Italian government offered him a million-dollar donation, but he refused, saying, “Governments set conditions that I cannot accept”. Pakistan’s former president Zia-ul-Haq sent him a cheque for 500,000 rupees, but he sent it back. In 1986 Edhi received the Ramon Magsasay Award for Public Service. He is also the recipient of the Lenin Peace Prize and the Balzan Prize for Humanity, Peace and Brotherhood in 2000.

Hakim Abdul Hamid and Hakim Mohammad Said

In the annals of history, including the history of Islamic civilization, it is extremely rare to come across individuals who began their career with meager resources, but made a fortune with their exceptional abilities, diligence and determination, yet chose to live a life of simplicity and frugality and, more importantly, gave away all their wealth for the welfare of humanity and for the promotion of learning and culture. The Indian subcontinent has produced two such extraordinary individuals, Hakim Abdul Hamid (1908-1999) in India, and Hakim Mohammad Said (1920-1998) in Pakistan, who happened to be brothers. The two illustrious brothers had many things in common: both had a legendary reputation as physicians and as institution-builders; both played a pioneering role in advancing the frontiers of the Unani (Greco-Arab) system of medicine and in getting international recognition for it; both gave away all their wealth for the furtherance of noble causes, and both set up a university, as well as about two dozen educational, medical and cultural institutions in their respective countries entirely with their own resources. Hamdard, the pharmaceutical company they set up in India and Pakistan, has become an epitome of high quality Unani drugs in South Asia. The Hakim brothers have the distinction of having treated 9 million patients in a span of about six decades. Hakim Abdul Hamid treated more than six million patients in and around Delhi in the course of his clinical career, while Hakim Mohammad Said treated nearly 3 million patients in Pakistan as well as in Europe and the Middle East.

Their father, Hakim Abdul Majid, had established a small pharmacy known as Hamdard Dawakhana, with a meager investment in Delhi in 1906. Hakim Abdul Hamid, ably assisted by his younger brother, developed it into a large-size pharmaceutical company. One of his major contributions is the development of an integrated healthcare system, combining the centuries-old legacy of the Unani system with modern clinical methods and technology. In 1947 he made the company into an endowment, calling it Hamdard National Foundation. He established a string of medical, educational and cultural institutions, including a medical university (Jamia Hamdard) in Delhi.

Inspired by the example of his elder brother, Hakim Mohammad Said established a chain of medical, educational and cultural institutions in Pakistan. The crowning glory of his life and career was the founding of Madinat al-Hikmah (City of Wisdom) on the outskirts of Karachi, which comprises a cluster of institutions, including a medical university. Though both Hakim Abdul Hamid and Hakim Mohammad Said lived a life of simplicity and frugality, they spent lavishly on the endowments and institutions they founded. They never charged any fee for clinical consultation; their patients had to pay for only the medicines. Free medicines were provided to indigent and physically handicapped patients. Hakim Mohammad Said set up mobile clinics to cater to the needs of poor patients living in far-flung localities. In 1953 he turned Hamdard into an endowment, which has now grown into the largest endowment in Pakistan.

Al Furqan Islamic Heritage Foundation

Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani, a Saudi businessman and philanthropist and a former minister of oil and mineral resources in Saudi Arabia, established the Al Furqan Islamic Heritage Foundation in London in 1988. The foundation, run under the auspices of the Yamani Cultural and Charitable Foundation, mainly focuses on the conservation, cataloguing, editing and publication of rare Islamic manuscripts. It is estimated that some 3 million manuscripts, which deal with a wide variety of subjects, including Islamic disciplines, science, medicine, mathematics, philosophy and philology, have survived the vicissitudes of time. The library of the foundation has a valuable collection of manuscripts from 76 countries. The foundation also organizes exhibitions of Islamic manuscripts, holds conferences and symposia, and organizes training courses relating to the conservation and cataloguing of manuscripts.

The most monumental project of the foundation is the catalogue of Arabic, Turkish, Persian and Bosnian manuscripts in the Ghazi Husrev-Beg Library in Sarajevo, of which 16 volumes have been published so far. Another important project of the foundation is the Encyclopaedia of Makkah and Madinah in Arabic. Three of the 16 volumes have been published so far.

Arab Centre for Philanthropy

His Highness Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid al-Maktoum, Prime Minster of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, established the Arab Centre for Philanthropy in Dubai in January 2008. The objectives of the centre include promoting the spirit of philanthropy among wealthy Arabs, ensuring coordination among donors and philanthropic organizations, organizing workshops on philanthropy, and preparing a directory of philanthropic initiatives and programmes in the Arab region. The Sheikh has pledged $10 billion to the foundation.

World Congress of Muslim Philanthropists

More than 200 participants from more than 30 countries, representing 106 foundations and NGOs, came together at the first World Congress of Muslim Philanthropists held in Istanbul, Turkey in March 2008. The focal theme of the congress was “Facing Challenges and Finding Solutions”. The congress, convened by Dr Tariq Cheema, a Pakistani-born doctor from Illinois, aimed at creating and expanding philanthropic networks in order to harness, pool and coordinate material and human resources to combat global problems such as poverty, HIV/Aids, environmental degradation, poor education and religious extremism.

The participants at the congress included the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Professor Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Secretary-General of the Organisation of Islamic Conference, Her Royal Highness Sheikha Al Mayassa Bin Hamad al-Thani, daughter of the ruler of Qatar, Sheikha Aisha Bint Faleh al-Thani, founder of Doha Academy, Qatar, Ebrahim Rasool, premier of the South African province of West Cape, and representatives of international organizations such as ActionAid International, Rand Corporation, Gallup and Habitat for Humanity.

The conference decided to focus on wide-ranging areas relating to philanthropy, including capacity building, creating and expanding communication networks among Muslim philanthropists and charitable organizations, developing a worldwide charity rating system, development of an information resource centre and philanthropic consultancy.

The second congress was held in Dubai in 2009. The Third World Congress of Muslim Philanthropists, held in Doha, Qatar in 2010, presented the first Muslim Philanthropy Award to the Emirates Foundation, UAE’s foremost philanthropic organization established in 2005. The foundation offers financial and technical support to projects that seek to enrich the lives of people in the Emirates in the areas of youth development, knowledge creation and social and cultural rejuvenation. Her Royal Highness Sheikha Al-Mayassa Bint Hamad al-Thani was presented with the first Individual Philanthropy Award.

Global Alliance for Islamic Philanthropy

In recent years there has come about a growing recognition among Muslim philanthropists and charitable organizations of the need to institutionalize philanthropy in the Islamic world in the context of our globalizing era. Though tens of thousands of charitable foundations and endowments in the Muslim world are actively engaged in rendering assistance to the poor and the needy, there is an evident absence of coordination and networking among them. The launch of a global movement for philanthropy by Bill Gates and Warren Buffet has prompted a rethinking of the scope and reach of charity and philanthropy in the Muslim world. The following offers some “thinking points” for the consideration of wealthy individuals and families, charitable foundations and endowments, NGOs and governments in Muslim countries.

  • There is a pressing need to identify the areas which should be in the focus of charitable and philanthropic initiatives: alleviation of poverty, hunger and deprivation, spreading literacy and education, healthcare (especially immunization programmes, reducing maternal mortality rates and malnutrition), elimination of child slavery and child labour (prevalent in countries like Egypt, Yemen and Bangladesh), providing relief to families affected by climate change and natural disasters, weaning young people away from drug addiction (rampant in Afghanistan), providing assistance to Muslim refugees (displaced by ethnic and political conflicts and violence, as in some parts of Africa), saving marginalized Muslim communities from apostasy (as in some parts of India and Indonesia), combating Islamophobia as well as the creeping intra-community intolerance and extremism among a section of Muslims around the world, preventing retrogressive and un-Islamic practices (such as female genital mutilations in parts of Africa), building bridges of understanding and peaceful coexistence among Muslims and other faith communities and cultures, dispelling ignorance and misconceptions about Islam and Muslims and presenting and interpreting the principles and teachings of Islam in a persuasive, cogent manner and in the contemporary global context, and projecting and highlighting the multifaceted legacy of Islamic civilization.

  • Some of the afore-mentioned challenges and problems are global in nature while some have a regional flaviour. It is however necessary to combine the global and local perspectives.

  • Charitable and philanthropic intervention should aim at not only providing financial and material assistance to the targeted groups but also at creating awareness, capacity building, and soliciting the involvement of the largest possible number of people from amongst the beneficiaries.

  • Charitable and philanthropic initiatives should aim at creating and fostering a culture of giving. A culture of giving entails a collaborative endeavour, a common commitment to certain cherished ideals and goals, underpinned by the sentiments of compassion, generosity, altruism, and selfless service to humanity, and a keen desire to transmit this legacy to the younger generation. Intentions and motivations are the mainspring of all human actions. From an Islamic perspective, three motivational premises in charity and philanthropy need to be born in mind. First, such acts are to be undertaken not for personal glory, fame or vanity but for God’s pleasure and blessings. Second, acts of charity should not be misconstrued as a favour to the poor, but as a moral obligation. The Quran says that the poor and the dispossessed have a rightful share in the fortunes of the rich (51:19). Third, the Quran says that telling or reminding a poor person of one’s generosity (in order to expect or demand his gratitude) or to cause discomfiture to him (by taunting or shaming him in public or private) vitiates acts of charity (2:264). Giving can be an immensely gratifying act, a profound source of bliss and fulfillment. A culture of giving can strengthen and reinforce this sentiment.

  • This is an opportune moment to launch a global, pan-Islamic movement for philanthropy for the benefit of the Muslim ummah and for the glory of Islam. Called Global Alliance for Islamic Philanthropy or CrescentAid International or some other name, the movement can pave the way for the social, economic and cultural transformation of large parts of the Muslim world. The initiative should not be reduced to something like an elitist Muslim billionaires’ club. Rather, it should solicit the involvement and cooperation of all those who have a keen desire to contribute at least some of their resources for the welfare of their less fortune brethren and for service to their faith. This requires closer cooperation, coordination and networking among wealthy individuals and families, charitable foundations and endowments, grass roots organizations at global, national and regional levels, and bodies such as the OIC, Arab League, Islamic Development Bank and ISESCO.

A global initiative of this nature can also act as an advocacy or pressure group to persuade governments in Muslim countries to allocate greater resources for poverty alleviation, healthcare and literacy programmes. The initiative should be inclusive in its orientation and approach in that its beneficiaries should include not only Muslims but also other faith communities. In the early centuries of the Islamic era, financial assistance from the state treasury was provided to the poor and the needy from amongst Muslims as well as non-Muslims.

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