Experts weigh in on accountability in Islamic aid

What does the concept of accountability mean in the world of Islamic aid?

The answer, according to IRIN News, can be contradictory because Muslims often give aid for various reasons. One is because it is required by the Quran in the form of mandatory alms called zakat. This is why Muslims around the world spend billions in zakat, which Tariq Cheema of the World Congress of Muslim Philanthropists describes as an obligation instead of charity.

In fulfilling this obligation, Muslims consider themselves accountable to Allah and see aid as a “way to gain religious rewards and a place in paradise, Marie Juul Petersen of the Danish Institute of International Studies explained.

A number of Muslim nongovernmental organizations have complained that this perception hinders their fundraising activities because donors give depending on what they perceive would gain them rewards instead of what is needed on the ground.

Another view, meanwhile, points out that aid should be used to strengthen the global Muslim community. Some groups says there is nothing wrong with this approach considering how other donors also allocate based on regional, cultural, historical and similar ties. Aid groups that adopt this approach further argue that they become more accountable because they are closer to their beneficiaries. Secular NGOs, however, have criticized this view, claiming that it defeats the principles of neutrality and universalism, IRIN News says.

To be sure, there is a rising consciousness in the world of Islamic aid for the need to be more effective and adopt a more sustainable, needs-based approach. Muslim scholars have previously argued that zakat and similar religious endowments should be distributed more strategically in order to better boost global development efforts.

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    Ivy Mungcal

    As senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributes to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.