By Farheen Khan
(July 24, 2009) – While working in the non-profit sector, I have heard more than once that “Muslims don’t give back.”
With a large number of new immigrants being Muslims, mainstream organizations are always looking for ways to teach Muslims to give back and engage in the broader community.
I disagree with this opinion and would contend that Muslims do give back.
Perhaps not in the conventional way of giving, but we do in our own way.
Many of us grow up volunteering and fundraising for local mosques and community organizations.
We take time out of our busy schedules to run community events and attend community fundraising dinners.
We are required to give Zakat, the 2.5% of surplus earning in charity each year, and many Muslims also give Sadaqah (volunteer charity).
Charitable giving is emphasized in our religion, so that we are reminded about the importance of sacrifice.
It is a way to rid us of selfishness, greed and vanity and it teaches us to live within our means and appreciate what we have.
Then, why is it that people in the mainstream feel that we don’t give?
In my opinion, there are two reasons that this is the case.
The first being that, as Muslims, we are taught to donate money in secrecy to the extent that the ‘that the left hand does not know what the right hand gives’. It’s a way to instil humbleness in us.
The second reason is that we often give only to setup religious institutions or we send our money abroad (‘back home’).
This is often the case because we don’t associate issues, such as hunger and poverty, with our local community as these things are far more hidden than abroad.
However, poverty is a reality even here.
According to the Peel Newcomer Strategy Group of Peel, “48% of new immigrant children under the age of 6 live in poverty.”
So while Muslims do engage in charitable giving, how do we connect them with local projects beyond their religious community?
I think we need to educate the community about the wider benefits of giving and the impact it has on society.
Giving back isn’t just about donating money.
It’s also about participating, raising awareness and reaching out.
People often feel that giving back is only beneficial to the recipients of the funds that are given.
But that’s not the case at all.
There are plenty of benefits to the “giver” as well.
It is a great way to develop a wide range of transferable skills and to expand your network.
Finally, the most important reason to give back is to portray a positive image of Muslims.
Sir Winston Churchill once said: “We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.”
And I truly believe that this is the case…. Ready, Set, Go!
(Farheen Khan currently works as a Consultant to create a Community Engagement strategy for the United Way of Peel’s South Asian Advisory Council under their diversity initiative, Farheen is also the President of CAMP Toronto (Council for the advancement of Muslim Professionals). She is a graduate of the CITY Leaders program and sits on the Advisory Board for the CITY Leaders program at the United Way of Greater Toronto and the Maytree Foundation’s “Leader for Change” program).