Fadi Itani: There has been an overwhelming silence about Muslim communities' response to Covid-19

While those communities have often been accused of a lack of integration, the response from Muslim charities is nothing short of active citizenship

In March, lockdown plunged the UK into crisis. The coronavirus pandemic that we are all now too familiar with, wreaked havoc on the charity landscape as need for aid escalated and donor streams simultaneously plummeted.

Many charities were stretched to their limits, working day and night in dangerous conditions to deliver support to isolated and vulnerable people.

An overwhelming sense of community spirit began to emerge in all communities, and among these the Muslim community were no stranger to the effort.

But while charitable response across all sectors as been phenomenal, for Muslim-led groups the overwhelming silence about their valuable contribution has been almost deafening.

To cast a spotlight on the work of Muslim-led community organisations responding to critical need, the Muslim Charities Forum produced a report titled The Neighbours Next Door

Showcasing the heroic efforts of Muslim-led community groups and charities, and the power of localisation, the report highlights how, in this time of crisis, local communities up and down the UK have come out in mass to support their neighbours in their time of need, no matter what their faith, their race, their migrant status, their health or their wealth.

More than 190 charities responded to the call for information, bringing stories of need and response straight from the frontline.

Integration and inequality

With BAME communities disproportionately affected by Covid-19, physically, emotionally and financially, Muslim-led groups were one of the first to respond.

In Tower Hamlets, one of the worst affected boroughs in London and most diverse, religious and cultural community groups responded rapidly, delivering support to hundreds of families who lost their jobs or their loved ones.

Mosques that were closed across the country turned into burial centres, bereavement support and food banks, open to all.

While Muslim communities have often been accused of a lack of integration, the response from Muslim charities is nothing short of active citizenship and whole community spirit.

The Neighbours Next Door shares stories of Muslim-led groups befriending the isolated and elderly, supporting refugees, offering childcare to single parents, feeding those suffering from homelessness, or supporting the sick and bereaved - quickly, efficiently and on a huge scale.

Covid-19 has exposed the deep social injustices which run throughout our society. From class and gender inequalities to systemic racism and discrimination.

For Muslims, especially those living in disadvantaged areas, being marginalised is no new experience. For many, Covid-19 simply emphasised a level of intersectionality and entwined within it, Islamophobia, that many have endured for years.

Despite this, it was these BAME and Muslim groups who, in many cases, were the first to recognise and respond to this deep level of need during lockdown.

Moving forward

For the Muslim community, data gathering and better representation at a mainstream level is not only needed, but thoroughly deserved.

Many have relied upon community donations to deliver their services – but as is the case for most charities, these have significantly dried up. Those who would donate have now become those in need.

Only a small proportion (16 per cent) of Muslim-led UK charities have accessed available grant funding streams. This is due partly to a lack of awareness but also a lack of understanding and communication from mainstream funders – some of whom wrongly assume that Muslim-led groups only help Muslims or actively promote Islam.  

The effects of Covid-19 will linger. Highlighting the need is imperative – but so is the need to highlight active response and give credit where credit is due. 

To fully reach every section of the UK community, giving space to Muslims at the table in grant-making and policy discussions is essential.

The Neighbours Next Door is an opportunity to recognise the valuable contribution of British Muslims: aiding collaboration, and supporting their efforts will be vital for their future successes.

Fadi Itani is chief executive of the Muslim Charities Forum, the network of British Muslim charities

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