Opinion: The Islamic charities flex their muscles

Nick Cater, a consultant and writer, catercharity@yahoo.co.uk

What a difference a disaster makes. The Kashmir earthquake has killed 100 times as many people as Hurricane Katrina, but it will be lucky if it receives even a fraction of the US disaster's total aid. For the myriad Islamic agencies now struggling to assist in its desperate aftermath, that difference is funding, legitimacy and profile.

Even the ever-contrary soaraway Sun has got in on the act, launching an earthquake fundraising appeal with the veteran charity Islamic Relief.

That said, the newspaper's coverage immediately reverted to negative typecasting, with an image of an injured child captioned "helpless". The reality of the situation, however, remains that resilient local people are doing 99 per cent of the work to help themselves and their communities.

Still, The Sun's endorsement is a small sign that Islamic charities, both domestic and international, are now a very serious force. They are enjoying significant growth in their fundraising and developing the skills, experience and confidence to match other faith and secular charities. Thus, between 2003 and 2004, Islamic Relief saw its overall annual income jump from £14m to £20m. It is now a member of the Disasters Emergency Committee, alongside Christian Aid and the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development.

However, these positive developments reflect the grim reality that the emergence of new charities and the expansion of already established groups is at least partly due to recent crises affecting Islamic countries - Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, the south Asian tsunami and now the Kashmir earthquake.

These crises include conflicts in which, with so many aid workers now targets, Islamic agencies and their staff might be better able to judge the situations and do effective work when others cannot stay.

As with all charities, getting up and running might be a tough task, but survival is even tougher, especially when your expected funding base is narrow. But Islamic charities are logically pursuing vertical integration, with fundraising through mosques, community groups and their annual 'Radio Ramadan' broadcasts.

All this excellent work is being achieved within the Islamophobic atmosphere of the war on terror, often fed by ill-judged media coverage. Let's hope that while raising funds for foreigners, refugees and Muslims, The Sun also learns a little more about Islam.

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