Experts weigh in: Toward more effective Islamic aid

Islamic religious endowments have great potential to boost global development efforts if distributed in a more strategic manner, a number of Muslim scholars have argued.

Islamic finance analysts estimate that Muslims around the world give $200 billion to $1 trillion in zakat or mandatory alms and sadaqa or charity annually — an amount IRIN notes is greater than total humanitarian aid provided in 2011. But much of this money is often wasted, mismanaged or used ineffectively, according to Islamic finance experts and scholars.

The waste often comes from a lack of strategy and the tendency to disburse the money “as fast as possible.” That’s why Tariq Cheema of the World Congress of Muslim Philanthropists is suggesting a “paradigm shift from conventional and generous giving to strategic giving,” IRIN says. WCMP is an organization that helps individual Muslim donors increase accountability and sustainability in their donations.

Cheema did note that Muslims around the world are increasingly recognizing the huge potential offered by effective distribution and management of zakat.

Civil society groups in many Muslim countries are also stepping up to the challenge, IRIN notes. An increasing number of Muslim nongovernmental organizations in Egypt are using their funds to provide Islamic or interest-free loans and support livelihood development programs, the news agency says, citing research from Egypt-based social enterprise Madad.

Other aid scholars and experts, meanwhile, are lobbying for changes at the government level.

“The Arab world has to change from a charity culture to a humanitarian action business,” said Ibrahim Osman, director of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ Middle East and North African operations. “This is what is missing. It’s always charity.”

But some scholars are skeptical about the possibility of major reform at the government-level and insist that the “ideas need to come from the public.”

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About the author

  • Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed 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.