Religion and its practice may be dwindling in recent decades in developed countries, but religious drive for human benefit is still alive and kicking.
According to an ICM poll of 4,000 people, carried out in conjunction with the JustGiving website, religious people give more to charity than non-believers in the UK. People of all three Abrahamic faiths give significantly more than the atheists.
All institutional religions have their in-built infra-structure to serve not only their own congregation or adherents but people from all backgrounds; some religions have more capacity and know-how in them.
Amongst religious groups, the Catholic Church is the largest non-government provider of education and medical services in the world. In 2010, the Church managed "26% of health care facilities in the world, including hospitals, clinics, orphanages, pharmacies and centres for those with leprosy." Mother Teresa of Calcutta was a legend in her time; her life-long service for the sick, the poor and the needy among Indians was recognised with a Nobel peace prize in 1979. The Catholic Church is also actively engaged in international aid and development, refugee advocacy groups and community aid groups.
There are also some living legends within Muslims; one of them is relatively unknown Pakistani philanthropist, Abdul Sattar Edhi, who has inspired others with his humility and simple life style. His Edhi Foundation runs the world's largest ambulance service and operates free nursing homes, orphanages, clinics, women's shelters, and rehab centres for drug addicts and mentally ill individuals in Pakistan and other countries.
British Muslims are getting more enterprising on the ground in raising charities. While other religions are losing practising members due, mainly, to the onslaught of the secular and atheist lifestyle, Muslims in most places appear to have still been able to retain their religious fervour and practices better than others. This is true even in the midst of a creeping laissez-faire life style and continuous negative media portrayal of their religion. One of the drivers that may be inspiring them for this is the current dismal humanitarian situation in parts of the Muslim world, with massive refugee problems and internecine fighting; growing poverty in some places is also a factor.
Muslim Charities Forum in Britain expected to raise £50m during Ramadan 2014, but due to an inhuman Gaza situation for about a month the amount raised would be much higher. Muslims are a youthful community and are getting more educated and professional; they are now more aware of the various charitable opportunities around them and using various innovative techniques. Their passionate effort, until this year's Eid day, to raise funds for the ever-growing dispossessed and traumatised people in Gaza has been responded positively by not only Muslims but people from all backgrounds.
Distributing charities to right people is becoming a big issue now-a-days. However, almost all charities in Britain are now regulated by Charity Commission (CC); so charities are duty-bound to maintain due diligence while transferring money directly to the recipients or through reliable partners acceptable to the CC. In places with political conflict or an insecure situation on the ground, Muslim charities work with international agencies such as the EU or the UN bodies, so that funds are delivered to people in genuine need. Charities must stay out of politics.
Needless to say, this year's Ramadan fasting was particularly sombre and Eid celebration subdued because of the live news of massive casualties and indescribable sufferings of civilians and children in a land that has historic and religious connections with Jews, Christians and Muslims.
Ramadan 2014 and this year's Eid celebration are now over, but Muslims are advised to keep on improving their physical condition and spiritual height by helping the needy and oppressed from all backgrounds for the rest of the year.
With the world currently facing increasing inequalities between the rich and the poor and with man-made and natural disasters becoming a regular occurrence charity giving is now more important than ever and it is encouraging to see faith groups leading the way.
(Dr) Muhammad Abdul Bari is an educationalist, author and parenting consultant (www.amanaparenting.com).