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Zakat and humanitarian action

May 21,2016 - Last updated at May 21,2016

The deliberations of the first international summit conference for humanitarian work will commence on May 23, 2016 in the Turkish city of Istanbul. The purpose of convening the conference is to effect suitable measures for ending the suffering of millions of people affected by conflicts and disasters. 

In a world that has become more vulnerable and less prepared to deal with the myriad shocks caused by the phenomena of financial crises, natural disasters and violent extremism that are transnational, the gap between the humanitarian needs on the one hand and the available resources on the other is undoubtedly widening. This underscores the urgent need for considering the modality of optimal response at the global level to those genuine needs of afflicted communities and segments. 

This summit represents an opportunity for governmental leaders, organisations, and crisis- affected states, the private sector and the academic sector to communicate with each other and to crystallise the will to end and prevent the suffering, whilst alleviating the effects of future crises and directing funding to save lives as a human imperative. 

As stated in the high-level committee report on humanitarian funding submitted to the secretary general of the United Nations (December 2015) under the heading “Social Islamic Funding of Humanitarian Work,” 90 per cent of the humanitarian crises occurring today are in the member countries of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Moreover, 31 out of 32 conflicts today are in countries with Muslim majorities. The mentioned report emphasises the presence of a “genuine possibility for Islamic funding to provide solutions to the problem of funding global humanitarian assistance and relief”. It continues by stating that “only 1 per cent of Zakat money could make an immense difference in terms of defraying the deficit in global funding for the year 2015.”

In this context, I feel obliged to evoke the call that I launched more than thirty years ago, which I continue to reiterate till this day, for establishing a global Zakat and solidarity organisation in order to achieve the aims of Zakat and solidarity in Muslim and non-Muslim societies in a manner removed from political interference. This can be achieved through implementing joint projects, dividing the tasks of relief work in case of the occurrence of disasters, and bolstering the economic and social development plans; this emanates from the belief that the role played by Zakat will definitely lead to extirpating the manifestations of need and poverty in the Muslim World in particular, and in the world at large if accompanied by humanitarian work, in general. 

Among the goals of this project was to contribute to the relief projects and provide assistance to the victims of wars, armed conflicts and refugees; raising awareness and generating knowledge about the significance of Zakat; striving to collect Zakat money from all the individuals and donor quarters; cooperating with the local and regional Zakat institutions within the rubric of the standards of accountability and competence; growing Zakat funds through investing them and establishing strategic projects and partnerships; rehabilitating and supporting needy people in order to enable them to rely on themselves and achieve self-sufficiency through specific developmental projects that are harmonious with their needs and qualifications; supporting the building of schools, orphanages and health clinics; supporting societal development programmes; laying down sustainable solutions that contribute to addressing the causes of poverty, illness and illiteracy; creating new forms of endowment and investment institutions that are capable of responding to the needs of the age; developing legislation and laws that contribute to developing institutions of religious endowments. 

For this vision to materialise in reality attention should be devoted to a host of elements, foremost of which: coordination between local and international organizations and institutions that operate in the field of Zakat, coupled with continual striving to develop contemporary financial and economic thought from an Islamic standpoint. 

It would be possible for this summit conference, in accordance with the ideas contained in the aforementioned report, to be a pulpit for launching the potentialities of Islamic social finance in a manner fulfilling the common humanitarian needs effectively and sustainably. Without a doubt Zakat and Waqf (religious endowments) can play a role in achieving social peace and security. What is urgently needed today is to marshal Zakat and endowments effectively in order to respond to the ever-evolving humanitarian and societal needs. 

The desired aim, which was defined since the launching of our proposal to create the Global Zakat and Solidarity Foundation, is to achieve the objectives of Zakat in human society in a manner distant from political interference and influences, whereby it would be a sustainable global humanitarian institution that represents a distinguished model for an Islamic civilizational discourse in contemporary society. 

According to available statistics, there is a large number of Zakat funds in the various countries of the world which contribute to serving noble humanitarian goals. However, it is clear that those efforts require convergence, systematisation and integration within the framework of a promising global institution that reduces to the extent possible dualism in action. Undoubtedly, the launching of the Global Zakat Foundation will contribute noticeably and effectively to confronting the challenges, problems and disasters of diverse kinds which afflict wide sectors of Muslims at a global level. Moreover, the vision underpinning the Zakat Foundation is not solely confined to religious and spiritual dimensions, but rather incorporates also the idea that Zakat is an economic developmental and comprehensive concept, whose role transcends merely collecting funds from philanthropists and distributing them to the needy. 

As a concrete example, I have recently proposed for the Global Zakat and Solidarity Foundation to be an innovative means for conveying humanitarian assistance to the inhabitants of Old Jerusalem, where today 95 per cent of them live inside the walls in conditions of poverty, while 76 per cent of the Jerusalemites within the boundaries of East Jerusalem occupied in 1967, suffer from poverty and the social problems engendered by it. Jerusalem and its people deserve from us all concrete forms of support and assistance. In this spirit, we renew the call to keep Jerusalem strongly present in the human conscience through supporting the steadfastness of its inhabitants and bolstering their presence in the Holy City which hosts, amid its old quarters, the presence of the adherents of the revealed religions. 


El Hassan Bin Talal is Chairman and Patron of the Arab Thought Forum.  

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