Through an agreement with UK-based Alliance magazine, PND is pleased to be able to offer a series of articles about global philanthropy.

The Untapped Potential of Muslim Giving

The Untapped Potential of Muslim Giving

Almost a quarter of the world's population is giving money, charity, and alms and undertaking huge philanthropy inspired by their Muslim faith. Some estimates put the value of this giving at around $1 trillion a year, though exact figures are impossible to pin down. Yet if Muslim giving is so generous in spirit and massive in scale, why are these numbers just estimates? Where is the research data? Why, to the best of my knowledge, is there no specific study to confirm these estimates? Where is the data that records the social impact of this giving?

In any other sector where such a volume of funds is changing hands annually, there would surely be more systematic data and research offering insight and learning to those who want to give and create change. In the absence of such data, we can only wonder: Who is the $1 trillion of Muslim giving actually reaching? What impact is it having? Can it be shifted for even greater impact?

These questions are urgent because when we look at the distribution of poverty in the world, at least six of the poorest countries have a Muslim majority. According to Indian dissident and social critic Khalid Umar, these same countries foster "illiteracy, violence, and hate-mongering." It's a paradox that Muslim communities are so generous and yet poverty, hatred, and conflict are simmering and, in some cases, increasing in Muslim countries.

The World Congress of Muslim Philanthropists (WCMP) and its Global Donors Forum (GDF), which meets this year in London, is not afraid to ask hard questions about the state and status of Muslim philanthropy. Is Muslim philanthropy too often stoking and feeding the status quo rather than addressing and building communities to tackle the deep roots of poverty and other problems? How can we move Muslim philanthropy from being individually driven or cause driven to being strategy driven?

At GDF this year, we are asking and responding to some of these questions. In doing so, we are bringing together and challenging our network of donors to take even more responsibility for their giving and pushing for greater transparency, social impact, and efficient delivery of resources. How can we change the status quo so that the positive impact of Muslim philanthropy gets the attention it deserves rather than media attention focused on terrorism and conflict? 

Imagine and dream big

While we shouldn't be afraid to question, we shouldn't fear dreaming big, either. What if that trillion dollars of Ramadan and annual Muslim giving across the world was collected and channeled strategically and transparently? What if a trillion dollars was put into a single global fund every year? Forget the administrative and bureaucratic nightmare for a moment. Just imagine. Such a fund could become the greatest philanthropic force on the planet.

What if a small group of the world's top humanitarians and visionaries were brought together with the sole aim of eradicating poverty and illiteracy, a country at a time? Imagine billions of dollars from a trillion-dollar pool arriving in a particular country with the long-term aim of tackling social injustice, illiteracy, poverty, disease, water scarcity, and food shortages. Imagine that process evaluated and improved and repeated in another country a year later. Of course, this is hypothetical and intended only to serve as an example of the potential impact of the sector.

What's next?

The Global Donors Forum taking place in London this month will bring together a group of people with grand ideas. It will launch an accelerator for entrepreneurs in the Middle East and a special research fund to facilitate learning for better Muslim philanthropy.

These are just two examples of a much bigger project. In the months and years ahead, we are confident that our network — the WCMP — will continue to model change for a better society. A society that is resilient, equal, and values all genders, faiths, religions, and races. A society that values everyone's humanity above all else.

Philanthropy is a word that means love. In these pages [Ed note: Alliance's special issue on Muslim philanthropy], and at all future gatherings of Muslim philanthropy, may we start by talking about love of humanity and love of philanthropy.

Yunus Sola is a co-founder of the Academy of Philanthropy, a project of the World Congress of Muslim Philanthropists.