Ramadan is a special season; for a Muslim charity the usual focus is on fundraising, where a charity can receive between a third and a half of its annual income. But for many working in the charity sector, it is a time where they reconcile their relationship between those in poverty, and their relationship with God. Fasting between dawn and sunset is an enormous physical and spiritual endeavour which requires patience and focus. It is a reminder of the daily lives of those who are going without food and water and for those few hours a day, we experience what they are going through. It acts as a reminder of why many work in the charity sector. This act of worship ultimately brings us closer to God.
This is especially true for an organisation like Islamic Relief where many of the Muslim staff and volunteers in over 40 countries around the world are fasting, but also delivering aid and working on development projects to empower communities out of poverty. Additionally, in some cases, non-Muslim staff and volunteers partake in the fast in solidarity with their colleagues - a wonderful act which builds camaraderie.
More generally, Ramadan holds a special significance for Muslims around the world. As well as being the month of fasting, one of the five pillars of Islam, it is the month in which the holy book - The Qur'an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, Peace Be Upon Him (PBUH). The daylight hours are spent fasting, abstaining from food, drink, marital relations and increasing the time spent in worship taking advantage of the blessings of the month. Amongst this worship, Muslims of course give to charity, remembering those less fortunate locally and internationally. The month is an opportunity to detach ourselves from all materialistic items, to eat less, sleep less, pray more and give more. It is a time to reflect, a time to change and train ourselves to become a better person for the coming year - an annual spiritual service check if you will.
The generosity and spirit of Muslims across the UK and around the world cannot be underestimated. Last Ramadan British Muslim charities raised an estimated £150 million and the estimated worldwide amount can reach the billions. It is through this generosity we are able to reach in need of a helping hand in different parts of the world.
The programmes that charities raise funds for - clean water programmes, hygiene kits, sponsoring orphans - are the bridge between those who want to give, help and show they care. During a month where millions break their fasts with grand feasts, many millions more are suffering with food security issues with a short term food pack the only succour for an even longer fast that they endure.
When Ramadan ends, the challenge for Muslims is to continue the good habits they have started all year round; similarly the challenge for us and other Muslim NGO's is how to turn this short term one month programme into a longer term project. Instead of delivering food packs, we look to empower communities to grown and cultivate their own crops and flocks to ensure a sustainable supply of food and supply the local market with crops and materials. Much like the multiplying rewards of the month of Ramadan, the dignity of being able to grow your own food is a blessing that keeps on giving. We need to look beyond what can be a quick fix and look to long term solutions for many of these problems.
Our aim is to empower people out of poverty. Whether it is at home or around the world, we want to see everyone living in dignity. This is achievable through thinking long term initiatives in both the developing and developed world - much like the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. Maybe learning from the lessons of Ramadan and looking forward is something we all in the aid sector can look towards and embrace for the good of all people.