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A leading Muslim commentator explains the impact of numerous bloody conflicts in the Islamic world on Muslims in Britain
This week Muslims around the world have been marking Eid al-Fitr, the post-Ramadan celebration; the time for showing gratitude to God for giving us the fast, with its physical and spiritual benefits.
While other religions seem to be losing practising members, mainly due to the onslaught of a secular and atheist lifestyle, Muslims in most places have still been able to retain their religious practices.
During the month-long fast Muslims feel the pain of the poor and malnourished and this self-imposed “mass starvation” across the globe creates an environment of contemplation and prompts charitable giving. Muslim charities have been in the forefront of collecting funds this year for people of Gaza; Muslim Charities Forum was expecting to raise £50m in Ramadan this year.
So this year’s fast was particularly sombre and the Eid celebration subdued because of the massive casualties and indescribable sufferings of Palestinians in Gaza. Despite the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, Palestine is seen as a holy place and the struggle there the longest-running. It's the continuous live news from Gaza on all channels, in the holy month of Ramadan, that has occupied people's psyche.
One of the drivers that most probably inspires Muslims to give to charity is the current dismal humanitarian situation in parts of the Muslim world, with massive refugee problems, poverty and internecine fighting.
Fasting during Ramadan aims, according to the Qur’an, to create “God-consciousness among believers.” It helps one’s self-reflection and reminds us of God’s gifts to us (our physical being, intellect, emotional balance, parents, family and other bounties) that we take for granted in life.
Spiritual rewards for any good deed are multiplied manifold in Ramadan. So Muslims pay their compulsory Zakah (2.5 per cent of one’s yearly savings to needy and destitute, as mentioned in the Qur’an) and other, voluntary charitable donations during this month. Zakah is a religious due and so it is mostly for needy Muslims; however, a part of Zakah can be spent on some non-Muslims.
An ICM poll of 4,000 people last year found that Muslims were Britain’s most generous givers, donating on average £371 each to charity a year, followed by Jews (£270), Protestants (£202) and Catholics (£178) while atheists averaged significantly less giving £116.
Some institutions and Muslim charities may over-enthusiastically fundraise and are thus criticised by some for getting too commercialised. It is important to keep in mind that when it comes to voluntary giving – believers are supposed to donate out of personal piety.
Almost all Muslim charities are regulated by the Charity Commission (CC), so due diligence must be maintained for distribution to the right people – directly 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.
At the end of Ramadan, Muslims celebrate Eid which is about expressing gratitude to God for the gift of a month-long fast. Muslims are advised to make supplication for those who have passed away, are ill and suffering.
The Eid day starts with a short congregational prayer in the morning and then shared eating with neighbours or relatives (Muslims/non-Muslims who are close), visiting people who are sick or frail and most importantly not indulging in any religious sin such as drinking wine. Religion and its practice may be dwindling in recent decades in developed countries, but among Muslims is still alive and kicking.
Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari is an author and commentator on social and political issues. He was Secretary General of Muslim Council of Britain 2006-10.