Poverty. Climate Change. Conflict. What are YOU doing about it?

On 16th July 2010, MADE in Europe and City Circle held a talk at Abrar House, London about the role that British Muslims can play in tackling global poverty.

The talk was chaired by Dr Usama Hassan from City Circle and the panel of speakers included MADE in Europe’s CEO, Saif Ahmad, Deputy Director for Middle East & North Africa from the UK Department for International Development (DfID), Giles Lever and one of MADE in Europe’s volunteers, Omayma El-Ella.

Dr Usama Hassan set the context for the talk with a quotation from the Qur’an, Surah Ma’un, which talks about how the formal ritual aspects of worship such as prayer are not sufficient unless they are accompanied by actively caring for the poor and oppressed.  He said that this is not just about putting money in a box but it should be a constant struggle to challenge structural inequalities.

Giles Lever from DfID talked about how one of the core ideologies of the new Government is that of the “big society” whereby individuals do not just look to the Government to solve every problem but think about what they themselves can contribute.  He mentioned the new Government’s plans to initiate an aid watchdog which will provide more transparency of spending and to give the public more say over what happens with aid money.  Giles noted that while there are many other ways to get involved in tackling global poverty, charitable donations remain extremely important especially in the economic downturn and that this should extend to people’s individual lifestyle choices such as buying Fair Trade Palestinian olive oil even though it is more expensive.

Saif Ahmad, MADE in Europe’s CEO, noted that the alleviation of poverty and injustice is given the highest priority in the Qur’an and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).  The Islamic systems of zakat (duty on Muslims to give 2.5% of annual accumulated wealth) and sadaqah (general charitable giving) provide a mechanism for Muslims to do this.  He talked about how he has had the opportunity to travel and witness poverty first-hand and how he was shocked by how desperate the situation is especially in places like Darfur in Sudan.  Giving money to tackle poverty is very important but we should not stop here.  In the Qur’an, Allah tells us to stand up for justice and MADE in Europe is just one response which aims to build up a Muslim youth movement to tackle global poverty working hand in hand with a worldwide coalition of people of other faiths and none.

Omayma El-Ella who took part in MADE in Europe’s Act Global project in which she travelled to Sri Lanka to work with conflict-displaced communities then talked about why she got involved in the project.  She said that MADE in Europe was the first organisation she had come across which involved Muslims in this way and in particular provided opportunities to Muslim women.  Through her experiences on the Act Global project she came to realise that there are not enough Muslims (and especially women) involved in  volunteering in the field despite the fact that the majority of natural and manmade disasters taking place are in Muslim countries.

The panel’s opening speeches were followed by a Q & A session from the audience.  On the issue of the relationship between the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) and DfID, Giles clarified that there is a good relationship between them but the FCO does not have any say over DfID’s programme budget.  A further question was asked about the impact that public lobbying and campaigning can have on DfID’s policies.  Giles gave Gaza as an example saying that Ministers are aware that this issue is extremely important to the British public and therefore take this as a priority issue to tackle.

One audience member asked the panel for advice on getting a job in international development.  Saif Ahmad responded that volunteering experience is the first step to understanding the area.  He advised that often people are academically prepared for roles but do not show sufficient passion for the work which lets them down.  Giles noted that it is a very competitive sector and you need to think about what skills you will be bringing to the table.

The event closed with the reflections of the panel.  MADE in Europe’s CEO advised that as Muslims we need to remember the life of the Prophet (pbuh) and contextualise his message for today’s world so that Muslims are seen at the forefront of the fight against global poverty and injustice.

Sarah Atkinson
Director of Operations, MADE in Europe