Zakat for refugees: How Islamic philanthropy boosts humanitarian response

Almost 1.6 million displaced people have been helped by UNHCR, using its Zakat fund in 2022


Nasreen Abdulla

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Published: Mon 20 Mar 2023, 10:25 PM

Last updated: Wed 22 Mar 2023, 5:50 PM

Iraqi resident Om Saker, who was displaced by Daesh fighting, became the sole breadwinner for her three children after her husband went missing and has been living in a tent for over three years. During the winter, rain and leakage would make her life intolerable. Saker is one of the almost 1.6 million refugees who have been helped by UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, using its Zakat fund in 2022.

This announcement came at the launch of the Islamic Philanthropy annual report on Monday in Dubai by the UNHCR in partnership with the Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair Refugee Education Fund. The report highlights the importance of utilising Islamic philanthropy tools and their role in responding to the humanitarian needs of the most vulnerable, forcibly displaced people worldwide.

Khaled Khalifa, UNHCR’s senior advisor and representative to the GCC countries, called the organisation a trendsetter in utilising Islamic philanthropy.

“We started to experiment with Islamic philanthropy before anybody else,” he said. “Islamic philanthropy was only being done by small NGOs and by a few international Islamic NGOs. However, we identified a need for the UNHCR to step in and the value that could add because of our reach to people in areas that Muslim organisations cannot access for various practical reasons.”

According to Khalifa, their success was because of the reach UNHCR had. “We are able to reach anywhere in the world. We are operating in 130 countries worldwide. We have 20,000 staff members and 400 offices, and we can implement in places like Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia, where it is not easy for Muslim organisations to operate. We stepped in and built the infrastructure required to do Islamic philanthropy. When we succeeded, a lot of other organisations followed, and I think this is the largest success we have achieved to date.”

In his keynote speech, Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair, Founder of Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation and Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair Refugee Education Fund, reiterated his commitment towards supporting refugee youth and children through educational grants and programmes.

“Our mission at the Fund is to create opportunities to activate the potential of Arab youth,” he said.

Emphasising on educating refugee children, Dr Sonia Ben Jaafar, CEO, Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation, said: “If you have tertiary education, your lifetime earning goes up by 17 per cent. Globally, 40 per cent of youth are getting that kind of education. However, only six per cent of refugee children get it."

What is the Zakat Fund?

The Zakat Fund was piloted by UNHCR in 2017, when it collected Zakat, Zakat Al Fitr, Sadaqah and Sadaqah Jariyah contributions to help refugees.

Over 15 fatwas were obtained from various sources, a Shariah committee was established, an interest-free bank account was set up to deal with the contributions and all administration fees were waived to make the Zakat Fund a reality.

This year’s report indicates that the Refugee Zakat Fund enabled UNHCR to support millions of refugees and internally displaced people in 26 countries.


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