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Winds of change in Muslim world

In the midst of the changes sweeping the Arab world, I recently had the privilege to attend the Fourth World Congress of Muslim Philanthropists in Dubai. Naturally, the meeting was abuzz with talk of the enormous changes underway in the region, or as one speaker described “this fundamental realignment between the rulers and the ruled.” 

There is no doubt that these events will have an impact on Muslim philanthropy and development efforts in Muslim countries. Concern Worldwide does not as yet receive any funding from Muslim governments or donors, but that will hopefully change. The tradition of zakat stipulates that Muslims give 2.5% of their income, or possessions, to the poor and underprivileged in their midst.

Innovations

One of the priorities of the congress is innovation in the fight against global hunger. 

I had the opportunity of presenting some of Concern’s key approaches to tackling hunger. This includes community therapeutic care, which brings treatment to the home through a network of local volunteers. I spoke about our focus on the crucial window of opportunity during the 1,000 days between pregnancy and age two. This is when proper healthcare can prevent stunting and its life-long consequences. 

I also mentioned our recent experience in Niger, when we prevented a food crisis by using mobile phones to distribute cash

Policy changes

In addition to Niger, Concern works in a number of Muslim countries, including Sudan, Chad, Somalia and Pakistan. 

We are working hard to persuade governments in the poorest nations, Muslim or not, to adopt policy changes that will embrace these and other innovations.

Gender equality

The congress also discussed the crucial role women can play in the development of their societies. Dr Anjum Riyazul Haque, the executive director of the Pakistan Center for Philanthropy, argued forcefully that Muslim societies must work harder to give women greater rights. She noted that, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Report – which indexes countries according to the status of women in their societies – 17 out of the lowest ranking nations are Islamic.

Weeks when decades happen

Shahid Malik, the former UK minister of development, speaking of the “Arab spring” underway, quoted Lenin: “There are decades when nothing happens, but then weeks when decades happen.” 

Progress in development will never happen in weeks, of course, but it is clear that the winds of change are sweeping through the Muslim world.