Islamic Relief Canada: Defining Islam Through Philanthropy
In an increasingly skeptical world where poverty and disaster are spreading like disease, and where age-old religions are constantly being rejected and redefined, it may seem like it is getting considerably harder for people to believe in any cause. Yet, Islamic Relief Canada, a charitable organization, is determined to challenge that notion.
“Our vision is to help the world’s poorest people. Without any conditions – just help the poor. We don’t make any distinctions with people’s race, religion, color, creed or anything,” says Zaid Al-Rawni, CEO of Islamic Relief Canada.
With many people having their reservations about associating with big charitable organizations, I sat down with Al-Rawni to discuss and deconstruct common misconceptions about Islam, what social issues Islamic Relief Canada aims to tackle and some common qualms in regards to donating.
Islamic Relief Canada is a charity that works at ending poverty, illiteracy, and disease as well as aiding in disaster relief. Being an Islamic charity, but not restricted to only helping Muslims, it is propelled by its five pillars which are based on Islamic principles: sincerity, mercy, excellence, social justice and custodianship. Hence, when I asked Al-Rawni what drove him to work for Islamic Relief Canada as opposed to any other charitable organization, he explained that “Muslims, globally, have universal human values such as equality, fairness, love, care and compassion, and these values need to be espoused as Islamic values. So, that’s why I chose Islamic Relief – because it’s one of the few global institutions that says Muslims stand for these values.”
In a time where Islam and Muslims everywhere are being looked at through an inspective and agitated lens, this comforting notion is definitely welcome, especially when many media outlets and proposed leaders are trying to define what Islam means by constructing their own stories based on conflated principles. “They think Islam is chauvinistic and that it’s all the things that go against the grain of our understanding of decent human values and what Islam teaches us to be. So, it’s really important for me to be a part of redefining what Islam really means to the majority of us,” adds Al-Rawni.
Thus, as a big supporter of Al-Rawni’s testimonial and his goal to unshackle Islam from its perceived stigma, I still had some questions of concern, particularly: does Islamic Relief Canada incorporate proselytism into its humanitarian work? This is a perfectly valid concern that many donors have when approaching any charity, especially one whose name clearly states its religious affiliation.
Not surprised by my question, Al-Rawni graciously explained that, though Islamic Relief Canada works on the basis of Islamic principles, the organization does not believe in taking advantage of the vulnerabilities of poverty-stricken communities by persuading them to accept Islam. “Helping people in vulnerable positions or vulnerable situations should not be mixed with trying to convince them of a particular set of values. There should be no ulterior motive,” he says.
“Islamic Relief does have an advocacy element to its work, but that’s never been and never will be a religious-based position.” -Zaid Al Rawni
Al-Rawni mentioned a campaign that is being launched by Islamic Relief Canada in May which aims to shed light on gender-based violence among the poorest communities on the planet and how many women suffer on top of their already blind suffering. Hence, he adds, “what we’re saying is that the effects of global inequality have a huge impact on global poverty. So, things related to poverty where we think there’s a very clear issue that needs to be addressed, we’ll speak about it openly.”
Thus, with several concerns addressed, one very prominent issue was left to tackle – the question of whether or not the donors’ funds actually reach the place of need. How do we know that the organization is not being fraudulent by keeping the funds for itself? How come a certain percentage of the donations goes to overhead funding instead of all the money going to the place of need? The list goes on.
Though it is natural for people to have their doubts about the guarantee of their generous donations being delivered to the actual place of intent, Al-Rawni explained that Islamic Relief Canada is headed by seven board members whose job it is to ensure that all funds are being spent accordingly. Furthermore, the organization has external auditors who fly across the world to make sure that the projects in the designated areas of need are actually being implemented. Yet, to further keep the trust between charity and donor, Islamic Relief Canada invites some senior donors, annually, to go to the communities they have invested in to check on the progress of the work that their donations have supported. With all that proof, donors may still be unsatisfied with the fact that a sum of their donations is going to overhead funding. However, without overhead funding, a charitable organization is unable to grow and sustain itself to do the humanitarian work that it promises to do. Funding must be invested in employee compensation, advertising and marketing, and several other crucial factors that make up the support system of a charitable organization and propel it to greatness.
It may indeed seem like an overwhelmingly scary and hostile world we live in, yet with charities like Islamic Relief Canada that are determined to counter all the animosity with peace and humanitarian efforts, there is still hope for a brighter future.
Not only does the organization seek to eradicate poverty, but it aims to redefine what Islam and being a Muslim truly means.
“Islam has gone through so much, but it’s really important that Muslims who actually have decent human values stand up and define what Islam means to them,” adds Al-Rawni. And for those questions that are directed towards a charitable organization’s integrity in actually delivering the entire sum of a donation to the place of need, I will leave it to Dan Pallotta who says, “The next time you’re looking at a charity, don’t ask about the rate of their overhead – ask about the scale of their dreams, how they measure their progress towards those dreams and what resources they need to make them come true, regardless of what the overhead is.”
Latest posts by Leila Almawy (see all)
- Breaking the Ice: The Arctic Food Bank - August 18, 2015
- Islamic Relief Canada: Defining Islam Through Philanthropy - April 30, 2015