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Unexpected Partners

Muslims Helping Haiti

by WAJAHAT ALI

Haiti is experiencing unimaginable suffering from its devastating earthquake, with more than 150,000 dead and one to three million individuals displaced. Individuals, groups and governments from around the world have stepped in to do what they can. United by their religious tradition of charity, Muslims have emerged as effective partners in aid and relief work.

The international effort to aid Haiti by individuals, Islamic relief organizations and the governments of Muslim-majority countries reflects a proactive generosity and empathy espoused by the Prophet Muhammad and the teachings of the Qur’an. Charity, in fact, is one of the five obligations for Muslims, and Muslim organizations have been working alongside other faith-based groups to fulfill this duty.

Islamic Relief, one of the most respected and successful disaster relief charities in the world, has used technology, new media and social networking sites to mobilize people. Along with “Seekers Digest”, a popular Muslim community blog run out of Canada, Islamic Relief hosted the “Muslim Online Haiti Fundraiser” and raised over $100,000 in two hours. The organization also used its existing partnership with the Mormon Church to send hygiene kits and temporary shelters to Haiti, in addition to pledging a total of $2.5 million.

Islamic Relief also sent an emergency response team to directly assist victims in Haiti. These Muslim aid workers have been updating a daily blog with sobering first-hand accounts of the tragedy.

Assisting Islamic Relief, Muslim American artists and community activists convened to put on a concert in New York City, hosted by the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN), and used the opportunity to raise donations for Haiti. In Chicago, IMAN partnered with a local synagogue and church to raise aid money.

Governments and non-governmental organizations (NGO) of countries that are more often known as recipients of aid have also reached out. Two Pakistani NGOs, Al-Khidmat Foundation and Edhi Foundation, are mobilizing relief efforts to help Haitians despite the country’s own political and economic volatility. Both organizations have considerable expertise in this area due to the massive 2005 earthquake that killed nearly 80,000 in northern Pakistan. The Edhi Foundation has already pledged $500,000 to assist Haiti.

Speaking on Haiti’s catastrophe, the president of Al-Khidmat Foundation, Niamatullah Khan, said, “Islam exhorts us to help those who are in trouble…. Humanity comes first.”

In the Middle East, Dubai Cares, a non-profit dedicated to ensuring education for young children, is providing immediate assistance to 200,000 children in Haiti through its international partners who are already on the ground. And the governments of Bahrain, Kuwait, Morocco and Turkey have each pledged $1 million in aid, in addition to sending cargo planes filled with medical supplies, food, tents and blankets.

Iran donated 30 tons of humanitarian aid, including food, tents and medicine through its Red Crescent Society. And Palestinians, through the Red Cross, have begun an effort to send donations.

Furthermore, Lebanon sent a plane with 25 tons of tents and three tons of medical supplies. And Indonesia, the most populous Muslim nation, sent $2.1 million in aid. “As a country that has been itself devastated by a similar situation, we are absolutely saddened by what’s happening in Haiti,” Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said at an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting in Vietnam. “We call on the ASEAN community, including ourselves, of course, to do what we can do to assist them.”

According to Habiba Hamid, a Fellow of the Centre for the Study of Global Governance at the London School of Economics, this pattern of charity is not an aberration but the norm for Muslim communities. She says, “Without [Muslim countries], we would not have the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) today, which is proving critical in Haiti currently.” In 2008, when the WFP issued an urgent call for funds in light of increased food and fuel prices that raised global hunger and poverty levels, Saudi Arabia pledged $500 million, leading the WFP to recognize King Abdullah as a “Champion in the Battle Against Hunger.”

Although the journey to rebuilding Haiti is long and painstaking, Muslim relief efforts worldwide prove that sometimes our most reliable and effective partners in humanitarian endeavors are not always the ones we expect.

WAJAHAT ALI is a Muslim American of Pakistani descent. He is a playwright, essayist, humorist and Attorney at Law, whose work, “The Domestic Crusaders” is the first major play about Muslim Americans living in a post 9-11 America. His blog is at http://goatmilk.wordpress.com/