It is too often forgotten that it is not always the global South that benefits, learns from or receives from the global North. This complex binary is translated globally, nationally and locally. We are not surprised to see British NGOs raise funds for a relief effort after a natural disaster abroad, or to provide services to migrants in the UK; however, it is rare to come across a charity founded and supported by British Muslims serving 80% of its beneficiaries from outside the Muslim community.
These are the statistics of Al-Mizan Trust, set up two and a half years ago by British Muslim Mohammed Mamdani, a Muslim grant-funder which supports disadvantaged people and deprived communities across the UK, regardless of their faith or cultural background. The charity was founded and is directed by Mamdani who won a prestigious award from Britain’s Home Office for setting up an innovative, award winning Muslim Youth Helpline to give young Muslims the opportunity to talk confidentially about a range of sensitive personal issues, and later set up the Al-Mizan Trust.
Known for starting charities that emerge from his own personal stories, Al Mizan was no exception. Mohammed found a close friend in grinding financial turmoil, sectioned in a mental institute abroad, and desperately needing cash to come home. After raising some funds from friends, Mohammed travelled to him and brought him home where he could access treatment. Today, his friend is self-employed and runs his own business. This story highlighted a gap in the market for the need of a charity that offered financial grants to individuals who had nowhere to turn to support. Impressed by the transformation that can result from a small financial grant, an anonymous benefactor offered Mamdani a donation of £10,000 to launch the new charity.
Asked what inspired Mamdani to focus on poverty in the UK and not in the developing world, he says “Our work focuses on UK poverty because one poverty is not more important than the other, but rises from a need to remedy all forms of suffering. Comparing poverty in Africa to the poverty in the UK is a nonsensical exercise. In different cultural contexts needs are different. One family was desperate for carpet because the house was so cold during winter. You wouldn’t dream of installing carpet in your home in Sub-Saharan Africa. Similarly malaria nets might be useful in East Africa, but pretty useless in Newcastle. One of the greatest challenges is that some people can simply not fathom the idea of poverty in the UK. With a welfare system in place, there is an assumption that all needs are catered to by the state. Yes, it may be true that a family can receive hundreds of pounds in benefits every month, but how much does that buy? We cite the number of families who live in Africa on a dollar a day. What we must realise is that a dollar a day buys a lot more in Africa than it does in the UK.”
An inspirational example of integration and acting on that social commitment of making the UK an identifiable home, Mamdani says, “As a Muslim inspired charity there is also a certain mentality that we have duties towards “our own”, which presumably implies those of Muslim faith. I have no doubt that there is greater empathy for identities; which are similar to our own, but “our own” means little to me, as it encompasses all of humanity. Al-Mizan Charitable Trust has a fervent policy to help all those in need with little reflection on their faith or cultural background.”
Al-Mizan’s work has been well received, the people who work for the trust are proud to mention a card signed by 50 asylum seekers, supported by a charity with Catholic roots, who received food parcels this Ramadan. Mamdani says that is exciting to see an interfaith response to social need – faith based organisations working in unison for true social action.
Currently, the charity is working on developing a food bank model they are piloting in North West London that they hope to replicate in other parts of the country. If you would like more information on the very important work the team does, visit their website http://www.almizantrust.org.uk