By Noor Abdul Rassoul Ali
There are 5 million orphans in Iraq, and the Iraqi government is currently only able to assist 1 million of them. This leaves 4 million vulnerable children in a war-torn country living in extreme poverty. They have little hope of schooling or a future, and provide easy prey for violent gangs. How should we, as a community in Britain react to this, and indeed, should we be active at all from here?
I am a fundraiser with the Iraqi Orphan Foundation, a UK charity set up 6 years ago to help Iraqi orphans regardless of their political, ethnic or religious affiliation. Many Muslims in Britain, either through their own knowledge and experiences or through that of family and friends, know about the destructive effects of war. We cannot divorce ourselves from it. The problem has often been how to channel our feelings of frustration or anger regarding the situation. Islam heavily encourages charity involvement and, truly, there are few other more practically and spiritually satisfying actions than the act of helping others.
It has previously been difficult for first generation Muslims to get too involved in charity work in Britain due to language and cultural barriers – especially women. Now, although the barriers have not completely diminished, we have a new generation of multi-lingual, educated Muslims potentially able to straddle both cultures and bring forth a unique contribution. Charities desperately need to mobilise the help of this new generation, who have many other distractions.
One thing people can do right now is to educate themselves and talk to everyone, Muslim and non-Muslim, about the suffering that is occurring. Awareness is as valuable as money. It can mobilise politicians to act and persuade more people to give, regardless of religion or race. The success of the Channel 4 Gaza appeal, the Tsunami appeals and the Darfur appeal, where the level of human suffering resonated with everyone, is an example of this. The IOF currently helps 5,000 orphans with food, shelter, medical and recreational facilities and financial apprenticeships, and other orphan charities do sterling work too – but much more is required.
The internet offers a wonderful opportunity to act on our increasing feeling of global Muslim identity, awareness and the need to support each other. I have used the internet to organise the raising of money through fundraising dinners and charity walks, attracting people from all over the world, and have been humbled and honoured by the support of my Iraqi community in this matter- both by the people who give thousands and by the people who give £15 a month to sponsor an orphan. It is all essential and appreciated.
However the very construct which can help a Muslim charity get off the ground in Britain, namely, the community, can also be the very thing which hinders its development. Certain rivalries and familial disputes can be magnified in immigrant communities, and can sadly translate into similar charities being competitive, to the detriment of the people we are all trying to help. Moreover, it can be hard to explain the necessity of certain admin costs, such as paying the struggling orphan’s semi-volunteer mothers (the UNICEF definition of an orphan is a child who has lost one or two parents) £1 a day to help run our centres in very dangerous areas. The lack of a stable government in Iraq may also have contributed to lower general levels of trust when it comes to giving money in our Iraqi community. And, lastly, there is also a mildly prevalent tendency where we stick to our own cultural and racial preferences when it comes to supporting certain charitable deeds; I am guilty of this myself, as an Iraqi supporting Iraqi orphans. Whilst this can be a valuable initial motivator, it must not limit us. Compassion is transcendent.
In a country like Britain, where, fortunately, the tradition of charitable involvement is very strong, why can’t we unite all the orphan charities together, as we have the purity of intent, our “niyya” (intention), to really help? Also, on a personal level, in the coming decade I hope to eventually work with more mainstream charities, despite any cultural difficulties faced when mixing Muslim and non-Muslim charities. For now, a massive thank you to all those who have eased the plight of orphans throughout the world.
Noor Abdul Rassoul Ali has a BSc (Hons) in Marketing and Product Management and is a member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing. She worked in various blue chip international companies as Head of Marketing. Currently, she is a mother-of-two, and the UK charity coordinator for Iraqi Orphan Foundation.
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