Britain's pride in charitable giving
Britain's contribution to philanthropy and charity, at home or abroad, is exemplary. It is a country of givers and is recognised as the most charitable developed nation in the world. The ethos of volunteering among Britons, in giving money and time, is enviable.
Muslims in the country are 'Britain's top charity givers', giving an average of almost £371 each a year". Prime Minister David Cameron, in his video message to mark the start of Ramadan 2014, said "Here in Britain, Muslims are our biggest donors - they give more to charity than any other faith group."
The crying need for charity giving is now increasingly felt everywhere, as the number of refugees in the world is at an all time high; according to figures released in the annual Global Trends report of UNHCR, "the number of forcibly displaced people worldwide is a staggering 45.2 million; about 28.8 million people are forcibly uprooted and displaced within their own country as internally displaced people (IDPs)."
Global inequality and poverty has risen sharply over the decades, partly due to a long economic slowdown. "Poverty has hit twice as many British households as 30 years ago. While "the UK economy has doubled in size since the early 1980s, the number of those suffering below-minimum living standards has grown by more than twice." Food banks have risen in shocking proportions. A food bank charity, The Trussell Trust, says it has "handed out 913,000 food parcels in the last year, up from 347,000 the year before."
It is not only poverty that is affecting some of our own people in Britain, social ills such as drugs, domestic violence and anti-social behaviour are inflicting wounds in many inner city areas and draining public coffers. The charity sector needs to bring in their resources and expertise to reduce this affliction; our charities need to find a good balance between spending overseas and spending at home.
Charity giving is a religious imperative for Muslims
As the month-long fasting (Ramadan) begins, British Muslims, like fellow believers across the world, are geared to not only experience long (over 19 hours) voluntary physical hunger and thirst but also to maximise their charity giving. Muslims consider this month as a blessing and mercy from God; with devotion, introspection and heightened spirituality they will pay their compulsory yearly charity (Zakah) and increase their voluntary charity (sadaqah) manifold.
Islam's Prophet gave a very broad definition of charity that includes whatever good an individual can do with his/her energy, time and wealth.
"Indeed the gates to goodness are many: glorifying God, praising Him, magnifying Him, saying 'There is no god but Allah,' enjoining the good and forbidding the wrong, removing (any source of) harm from the road, making the deaf hear (and understand), guiding the blind, showing the seeker his/her need, striving as far as your two legs could carry you and with deep concern to give succour to him/her who asks, carrying with the strength of your arms (the burdens of) the weak. All these are (acts of) charity." And he added, "And your smiling in the face of your brother is charity, your removing of stones, thorns, and bones from people's paths is charity, and your guiding a man gone astray in the world is charity for you."
Modern day philanthropy and Third Sector
The ethos of charity giving is embedded in human nature. In modern times we find new ideas of philanthropy, some are highly entrepreneurial. Entrepreneurs nowadays prefer to apply business-like methods when making social investments and judge their achievements through key performance indicators and rates of return. Business entrepreneurs, in general, do not believe in giving handouts; they want to help others to help themselves by increasing their capacity and 'know-how'.
Some highly connected philanthropists use their position and wealth to leverage investments and frequently partner with others, including governments. Others who have achieved fame in life - film actors, football stars, politicians - have given charity a global dimension. In addition to the inner peace that they may achieve through helping the needy, they get recognition and honorary titles.
These 'big-givers' of all backgrounds have become national and international players in the charity sector; through their wealth and fame they are digging people's pockets for charity giving; without them the world will definitely be worse off.
Voluntary redistribution of wealth, however, is not a substitute for the eradication of poverty and addressing people's basic needs. The third sector and government should work hand in hand to reduce inequality and enhance social justice in a country. The power of Ramadan in bringing this synergy is enormous.
(Dr) Muhammad Abdul Bari is an educationalist, author and parenting consultant (www.amanaparenting.com).