Charity and giving to the needy is a key principal of Islamic faith, and, in the past decades, Muslims in the West used to direct their charitable works to serving needs of their own communities.
And at times, they used to direct it to serve humanitarian purposes abroad,
This has greatly changed over the past 15 years as Muslims-led disaster relief organizations have widened their efforts and presence in the US tackling natural disasters hitting homes and communities.
The 2005 Hurricane Katrina was a shifting point for many Islamic groups, prompting them to start volunteering with other groups to provide help on the ground.
“With Katrina, it became very clear that we should have a footprint in this space,” Imam Rafiq Mahdi, director of disaster relief services for the Islamic Circle of North America’s humanitarian arm, ICNA Relief, Religion News reported.
“That connection to ‘back home’ is shifting. We are home, and we have to contribute to this society.”
For example, Islamic Relief USA, founded in 1993, led a $2 million relief project in the storm’s aftermath, distributing food and medicine, providing shelter and housing, cleaning out homes and funding reconstruction in affected areas of Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.
“This is not cowboy techniques, where you just go get your picture taken to show that you’re helping people in need and come back home,” said Anwar Khan, president of Islamic Relief.
“We only go if the American Red Cross invites us and says, ‘OK, we need your guys to cover this region and see how much damage there is.’
“We’re not here just to help the Muslims and their mosques. We’re here to help everyone in the community,” said Khan.
Fixture on Disaster Relief
With groups like Islamic Relief USA and ICNA Relief, Muslim volunteers are becoming a fixture on the disaster relief landscape.
“It’s progressed now to where if (a disaster) happens, there’s actually the expectation that Muslims do something,” said Chris Blauvelt, who founded the Muslim crowdfunding site LaunchGood in 2013.
“I’ll get prominent imams messaging me and being like, ‘Hey, do you have a page up yet for the wildfires in California?’”
Blauvelt traced the new level of interest in domestic relief to Donald Trump’s presidency.
“I’ve been Muslim 19 years,” he said. “It’s like night and day from when I first became Muslim. We have a bad rap in the general public. When we step up and raise funds and give donations to disaster relief, people see our values in action. And they respect that.”
Solidarity among the community members is one of the strategies that Islam uses to protect the vulnerable.
Charity or Zakat in Islamic Shari’ah is a form of alms-giving. By Qur’anic ranking, it is next after prayer in importance in the five pillars of Islam.
Zakat is also a religious obligation for all Muslims who meet the necessary criteria of wealth.