Celebrated by millions of Muslims around the world, Ramadan is a time “to come together, bound by our common humanity“, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in a video message just ahead of the holy month.
The UN chief drew a parallel between the spirit of “understanding and compassion” which characterizes Ramadan, and the mission of the United Nations, “to foster dialogue, unity and peace.”
“In these challenging times, my thoughts are with those facing conflict, displacement and suffering. I join everyone observing Ramadan to call for peace, mutual respect and solidarity.”
Ramadan is also known as a “month of giving”, and a high point in charitable giving motivated by faith, towards the displaced. Islamic philanthropy plays a growing role in supporting refugees worldwide, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Friday.
In a new report, UNHCR shows that its pioneering Refugee Zakat Fund has supported six million forcibly displaced people in 26 countries since its launch in 2017.
‘New kids on the block’
“We are new to this sector as a UN organization,” Khaled Khalifa, Senior Advisor to the High Commissioner for Refugees and UNHCR Representative to Gulf Cooperation Council Countries, told reporters in Geneva.
“We wanted to offer a new platform to enable giving in places where Muslim organizations do not operate at ease, because of financial restrictions, because we need the large machinery of the UN to implement, like in Afghanistan, in Somalia and for the Rohingya,” he said, before adding: “Islamic giving has always been there – we are the new kids on the block.”
Central role of charity
UNHCR’s Islamic Philanthropy Annual Report shows that some $38 million were raised through the fund in 2022. Mr. Khalifa highlighted how harnessing the central role of charitable giving in Islam has been key to the initiative’s success. He explained the principle of “Zakat”, or obligatory almsgiving, whereby Muslims need to contribute 2.5 per cent of their unused savings to charity every year, adding that it was one of the five pillars of Islam.
Assisting the most vulnerable
Mr. Khalifa also pointed out that, while resources from the fund are not exclusively dedicated to supporting refugees in Muslim countries, more than 50 per cent of the forcibly displaced under UNHCR’s global purview are in the Muslim world.
The agency lists the Rohingya crisis in Bangladesh, the internal displacement situation in Yemen and the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon as the main “recipient operations” of proceeds from the fund since 2017. The contributions were distributed through cash assistance and direct provision of goods.
While the fund represents a “small contribution” to the budget of the agency, its positive impact is increasingly apparent.
To continue leveraging the potential of Islamic philanthropy, last year UNHCR launched a new initiative in partnership with the Islamic Development Bank, called the Global Islamic Fund for Refugees.
Mr. Khalifa said that the agency was increasingly looking to “innovative finance” to generate new revenue streams for refugees worldwide.
UNHCR notes that its Refugee Zakat Fund has been “endorsed by several legal Islamic scholars and institutions” to receive and distribute donations to eligible refugees and internally displaced people.