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Tales of Covid – Muslim Charities Forum

Fadi Itani is the CEO of the Muslim Charities Forum, headquartered in Westminster but working for British Muslim organisations across the country. He is therefore well placed to give an overview of the experience of Muslim groups in the capital during the pandemic.

The first point he makes is more of a fundamental one: that the issue of faith has been overlooked for years by civic society funders, and there has been historical underfunding of BAME and faith organisations. In particular, his experience is that smaller Muslim charitable organisations have struggled to access the kind of funding from mainstream sources which might have been available elsewhere. As Covid took hold from March onwards, donations to smaller Muslim charitable organisations in the capital dropped, just at the time when the need was greatest.

Despite this, Muslim faith groups in London supported their neighbours and, as Fadi stresses, without discriminating between the faith of the recipient. Muslim charities believed that their neighbours should be supported whatever their faith so, despite a fall in donations, they immediately responded to the early needs for food and medical supplies.

Muslim Charities Forum: a helping hand

For example, the Hand on Heart charity based in West London formed a collaboration with other charities (Beta Charitable Trust, Sufra, Who Is Hussain, Nishkam SWAT and WF-Aid) to distribute 620 mini essential packs to the homeless in London. In addition, the group sourced over 600 cases of essential food supplies for food banks as well as laptops and printers for home schooling children from deprived families. On Easter Sunday 2020, Hand on Heart assembled 250 Easter Essential Packs for the homeless in London containing hand sanitisers, wet wipes, deodorants, socks/underwear, T-shirts and polo shirts.

Similarly, Islamic Help teamed up with the Ghulam Trust in London to serve those most in need in West London, delivering food and hygiene packs to the doorsteps of residents of all faiths who were in isolation. Sufra is a grassroots charity based in Brent which has its roots deeply in the Muslim community, which has historically been the source of its funding.

The charity is based around the alleviation of poverty in this part of north west London through the provision of food, and has been operating for almost ten years. Brent is the most ethnically diverse area of the UK, with a huge BAME population that is subjected to systemic inequalities and a welfare system decimated by years of austerity.

The pandemic, with its consequent job losses, left significant numbers of people in the borough without any form of income and demand for food aid increased by 371% in the first six months of the pandemic. Sufra teamed
up with other charities in the borough and collaborated with Brent Council to set up a new Community Kitchen delivery service which operated seven days a week.

During the first six months of the pandemic, the service distributed over 53,000 food parcels and hot meals. Sufra collaborated with the Freemasons in Brent to build a new professional kitchen to make the meals. This kind of on-the-ground coordination and collaboration between different faith groups is a remarkable example of how Muslim charities focussed on the entire community.

Muslim Charities Forum: building bridges

Fadi concludes that the lack of understanding between smaller faith groups at the start of the pandemic in some ways encouraged groups to build a bridge from both sides towards each other. He supports the way in which the London Community Response Fund made efforts to direct funding to some of those groups. He is however cautious for the future: does he believe that our society has learned from the experience to set aside preconceptions based on faith and ethnicity? He fears not.

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Thank you for reading. Check out the full Tales of Covid report for more stories.

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