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Muslim Aid

Name Muslim Aid Director(s) Saif Ahmad CEO
Address PO Box 3, London E1 1WP Year formed 1985
Telephone +44(0)20 7377 4200 Main office UK
Fax +44(0)20 7377 4201 Overseas staff (no) Numerous
Website http://www.muslimaid.org HQ staff (no) 39 permanent,
13 temporary

 

Beneficaries of Muslim Aid's operations

The ENN interviewed Hamid Azad, the Head of Overseas programmes in Muslim Aid (MA) for this issues' agency profile slot. Muslim Aid headquarters is located at the business wing of the London Muslim Centre (LMC) next to the East London Mosque in Whitechapel, London and sits amongst as international an array of restaurants, coffee bars and shops as you could wish to see.

Hamid started by telling me a little bit about himself. Trained as a lawyer and with a long-standing interest in development and humanitarian work, Hamid joined 'Faith Regen UK' as a development manager. He then moved from housing and regeneration to head of community development and international projects. Following the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2006, MA approached Faith Regen UK to help with their work in the region and Hamid was seconded as a consultant to work as the tsunami co-ordinator. Hamid stayed on, heading up the rehabilitation programme working mainly on shelter and housing in Somalia, India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka. In 2006, Hamid accepted the head of overseas programme post in MA.

MA was established in 1985 in response to the Ethiopian famine, with 23 Muslim organisations coming together to form the one entity. Yusuf Islam (otherwise known as Cat Stevens for those of us the wrong side of 50) set up MA and was its first chairman. MA currently works in 74 countries and has field offices in 12 of these including Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Lebanon, Dubai, Bosnia, Cambodia and Gambia. New field offices are also about to be opened in the Philippines, India, Canada and Malaysia, with the latter two mainly having a fund raising role.

MA is an international relief and development agency with its roots in the humanitarian teachings of Islam. As Hamid explained by citing the Qur'anic verse '"and whosoever saves the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind" is the ethos that underpins the way MA operates.'

Until recently, MA has largely depended on private donations from Muslims for the majority of its funding. Hamid explained that looking after the needy is a central element of Islamic life and that this creed operates irrespective of race or colour. Since it's inception, private funding has come from three sources. Zakat - where every well-off Muslim pays 2.5% of their surplus income, Fitra - which is normally paid in the month of Ramadan and is obligatory for all Muslims, and Qurbani (animal sacrifice) where every year in the month of Dhul Hujja rich Muslims sacrifice animals to feed the poor. In 2006, MA distributed more than £418,000 for the Ramadan programme and £430,000 for the Qurbani programme which, with the help of 110 partner organisations and field offices, provided food to people in over 60 countries - most of whom would normally have very little opportunity to consume meat.

However, since the Pakistan and Kashmir earthquake in 2005 and the December 26th tsunami the following year, MA's funding base has widened considerably with UNDP, UNHCR, WFP, World Bank and Asian Development Bank, CARE and CAFOD now numbered amongst its funding partners. In 2005, the total income for the year rose to £9.8 million, compared to only £4.8 million in 2004.

Hamid explained that MA has been involved in most humanitarian sectors including food distributions, water and sanitation, health and medical support, education, livelihood, shelter and construction and emergency support. MA has provided food aid packages in countries like Niger, the Philippines and the horn of Africa and also implemented selective feeding programmes with partners. MA has also become pioneers of a programme referred to as 'Food Bank'. This type of activity started in Sudan in partnership with Sudan Airways and various hotels. It involves utilising food that would otherwise be thrown away. Volunteers collect the food and distribute it to the urban poor and street children. The scheme has also been expanded to include supermarkets and food manufacturers as food sources. MAs approach to food insecurity is very much developmental, i.e. they see nutrition as part of livelihoods so that as soon as an emergency is over, the focus switches to promoting sustainable livelihoods, e.g. providing tools and livestock.

In their London HQ, MA has certain technical specialists, e.g. water experts, but no nutritionists. MA prefers to work through specialist agencies. In the recent Pakistan floods, they worked through partners that were expert in water purification. MA has a large cadre of volunteer staff (often students and business men/women). At the same time, their paid staff base is also large - around 2000. In the recent Indonesia crisis, as many as 1500 volunteers were employed to implement the response - most were students and many were unemployed engineers. The Jakarta office is now fully run by volunteers, with the head of office being a businessman who does not want payment.

In countries where there is no field office, e.g. India, MA work via partner agencies like Tamil Nadu relief agency. MA signs a memorandum of understanding with the partner agency once they have confidence in the agency. Partner agencies will sometimes apply to an MA regional office, e.g. Calcutta agencies applied to the Bangladesh field office. In Indonesia (pre-field office), MA worked post-tsunami with local partners identified by government. When an emergency developed in Niger, MA sent a delegation from HQ who identified local implementing partners. As Hamid said "MA try to eliminate the causes of disasters by working through, and building capacity of, local partners who can then get involved in disaster prevention and preparedness". MA has recently tightened up partnership criteria.

MA is continually learning. Hamid felt that the quality of emergency food and nutrition programmes has improved significantly with experience, particularly with regard to food distribution and management. There is also now a far greater awareness and focus on making programme sustainable. Thus, food aid is always implemented in conjunction with seeds programmes. Distribution of milk products as part of selective feeding may be accompanied by provision of cows and training in how to pasteurise milk.

While MA is not a Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) member, it does deliver DEC programmes via agencies like Oxfam. Oxfam helped MA source funding of £2.3 from the DEC for housing and livelihood programmes for the victims of the tsunami in Indonesia, Somalia and Sri Lanka. MA is also a signatory to the IFRC and SPHERE principles.

In response to a question about what sets MA apart from other agencies, Hamid singled out the fact that all field offices endeavour to employ almost exclusively local people (99%) and that there is a huge pool of dedicated volunteers that implement programmes. He also highlighted their enormous private donor funding base, e.g. more than 7000 individuals in the UK alone.

MA is nothing if not ambitious. Long term goals include "becoming a significant player in poverty alleviation by 2015". They aim to achieve this by targeting a few countries where they already have field offices.

Hamid cited a number of challenges for the organisation. These included obtaining longer-term institutional funding, overcoming preconceptions about a 'Muslim organisation' - MA is humanitarian and serves anyone affected by crisis or poverty, and the fact that competition for funding appears to be getting greater.

In response to a question about what it is like for a Muslim organisation to work in the UK, Hamid felt that while dealings with the UK Department for International Development (DFID) have so far been overly bureaucratic, their relationship with UK agencies like Oxfam, CAFOD and CARE International are thriving. As Hamid put it "any agency that gets to know MA ends up becoming a friend of MA."

Given the current climate around Islam and the Muslim world in the UK and west in general, MA presents an interesting challenge for the humanitarian sector. The agency operates in some of the most diffi- cult areas of the world and yet delivers aid to enormous numbers of needy people. The challenge for humanitarian stakeholders will be to increasingly engage with, support and cooperate with agencies like MA who clearly occupy a unique niche and have a critical role to play in future humanitarian and developmental work.

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Reference this page

Muslim Aid. Field Exchange 31, September 2007. p27. www.ennonline.net/fex/31/agencyprofile