A life in charity: a phenomenal journey

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Waqas Qureshi talks to Jehangir Malik OBE about his career in the charity sector and his plans for Muslim Aid

Seeing important events unfold before you can often affect the direction people steer their life towards. I remember being in my 20’s watching the fall of Srebrenica in the Bosnian war in the 1990s. Similarly, Jehangir Malik saw the horrors of that war unfold on our TV screens, which pushed him to start volunteering for Islamic Relief in 1992.

He was studying law at the University of Wolverhampton when the civil war in Bosnia first made him aware of humanitarian catastrophe. “I was in my early twenties and I was shocked to see these bloody, brutal, genocidal events taking place on our doorstep in Europe,” he says.

The plight of Bosnian Muslims prompted him to volunteer for Islamic Relief, collecting donations from mosques and community organisations to be sent out in aid convoys.
Before long he was working for the charity full time and a planned career in law was set aside. He spent 23 years with Birmingham-based Islamic Relief, the last six as UK director,
before the recent move to Muslim Aid, which has its headquarters in London’s East End. Muslim Aid, which was set up in 1985, provides humanitarian assistance to disaster-affected countries and runs programmes in more than 70 countries.

In 1993 he set up Islamic Relief’s operations in Los Angeles over seven years, during which time income from offices in numerous states grew from $100,000 to $60m in response to
emergencies including those in Albania, Kosovo and Chechnya.

Afghanistan

At the end of August 2001, he went to southern Afghanistan to assess a serious drought and was on his way back when the take a break from high intensity”.

He became chief executive of the Olympics legacy charity International Inspiration in 2014, but after a year the trustees decided to merge it with another charity and the opportunity
arose for Malik to take the chief executive post at Muslim Aid in September last year.

“When we step onto a flight people may see the badge ‘aid worker’ and may be
thinking ‘aid worker – or terrorist?’”

He talks passionately about the expansion and achievements of both charities, which were founded in the mid-1980s in response to the famine in the Horn of Africa. The well-documented generosity of British Muslims has fuelled the steady rise in their income and the range of countries where they work, and Islamic Relief is now one of the 13 charities in
the Disasters Emergency Committee.

“Both organisations use the same Quranic verse that says if you save a life, you save the whole of humanity,” he says. “They encompass Sunni and Shia Muslims and everything in between, and their operations on the ground do their level best not to be pulled and pushed by politics and sectarian divides.

“In the two and a half decades I have been engaged, the work has been purely humanitarian in nature, responding to the most desperate and difficult circumstances around the globe. I’m very proud of the communities and individuals who are part of that,
and I’m very proud of our teams on the ground, which work in very difficult, life-threatening circumstances.”

Climate of suspicion

But Malik also talks regretfully about the climate of suspicion that can affect Muslim charities because of the fallout of 9/11, the civil war in Syria and the rise of the so-called Islamic state. Matters aren’t helped, in Malik’s view, by the coverage in parts of the media, some “unhelpful” talk by the regulator and the refusal of certain banks to service some Muslim charities. In the current politicised, polarised climate, when people like me and other aid workers go on assessment or fact-finding missions, I fear that the person innocently doing their job at border control or when we step onto a flight sees the badge
‘aid worker’ and may be thinking ‘aid worker – or terrorist?’.

Muslim Aid plans

Malik said he was excited to be chosen to lead Muslim Aid, which he acknowledges has encountered its fair share of challenges over recent years.“I intend to fully resolve both in the short and long term, whilst taking the charity in a new direction of growth and development in every respect.” He is in the process of developing a five-year strategy in
conjunction with staff in 14 field offices across the world who work every day in dangerous and life-threatening conditions. “Their input is invaluable and I believe that they should be
involved in shaping the organisation they helped to build, rather than us taking a top-down approach.”

His vision for the charity’s future is to continue to play a leading role in international development and humanitarian response and improve its position and influence as a key organisation in the sector. “We have long established connections in the field with
exclusive access to some of the most remote and treacherous regions of the world, which is why we forge partnerships with

“Public confidence is paramount for me, and I am glad that the public
are so well informed about humanitarian work”

local organisations, strengthening civil society organisations and working with UN agencies.”

Malik acknowledges the powerful role media plays in communicating to the public and has the power to shape public opinion. “For that reason it is now a necessity, more than ever, to utilise the media to deliver the message of Muslim Aid’s mission, vision and values, its most recent work and how the generosity of communities completely transforms lives across the world.” He said media networks played a critical role in raising desperately needed awareness in humanitarian crises over the years and in turn enabling organisation’s like Muslim Aid to raise much needed funds to help bring some much needed relief to
the plight of people in need.

Savvy donors

He thinks that donors are now more aware and savvy – and is happy with that. With the unfortunate increase in humanitarian crises acrossthe world and with coverage of these crises at the touch of our fingertips in our modern world, he said people understand the
need and want to know exactly how their money will be spent. “Public confidence is paramount for me, and I am glad that the public are so well informed about humanitarian work and can come to us and ask the right questions. It is for this reason that negative coverage and false accusations pose such a problem for our work.” The current climate of suspicion surrounding Muslims, particularly Muslim charities, has led to challenges across the sector and has made almost every aspect of his work a lot more
difficult to carry out.

“We as charity leaders need to ensure we don’t take donors and community support for granted. We must strive for greater transparency and accountability. We must work harder to ensure we can demonstrate the change and impact we have made to the lives of people we serve.”

News, media and marketing

Muslim charity leaders recently spoke out about the problems they have engaging with the government, media and charity regulator at last month’s Muslim Charity Awards. The Muslim Charities Forum organised the awards, where some speakers said it was harder for Muslim charities to engage in public life with a right-wing press publishing negative stories.
Some speakers also blamed politicians, and criticised the chair of the Charity Commission for not being more supportive of the sector.

Conservative peer Baroness Warsi, who is chair of her own foundation and also a trustee of Savayra Foundation, delivered the keynote address in which she stated that Muslim charities play an important role but there are “consequences as a result
of that”. “Over the last decade it has been brutal being a Muslim in public life,” she said, and criticised the media for reporting “false accusations” and “chipping away” of individuals and organisations credibility.

She accused the Department for Communities and Local Government of stopping its funding to the Muslim Charities Forum as a result of “accusations which have never been proven”. Warsi said the Muslim sector had been subjected to a “level of scrutiny” and “often daily vilification” which “makes me question how you keep going,” she said. “We would welcome the drive to higher scrutiny, transparency and accountability if that is was it was all about.” Warsi also said it was up to the Muslim charity sector to “up our game”, and urged the sector ensure there were “no murky areas” and that the sector needs to be part of the local community to “support the needy at home as well as abroad.”

Muslim Aid in figures

  • £30m – Provisional figure for income in 2015 (£34.6m in 2014, 26.7m in 2013). 67% of £29.2m of expenditure in 2014 was on response to emergencies, 33% on development programmes
  • 13 – Number of field offices listed in the 2014 annual report (Bangladesh, Bosnia, Cambodia, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Pakistan, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Myanmar
  • 73 – Total number of staff in UK in 2014 (there are 1,750 in field offices)
  • 70 – The number of countries where the charity carries out work in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East
  • 6 – Development programmes (child sponsorship, economic empowerment, food and nutrition, healthcare, clean water and sanitation, and education).

tackle the issue of unsubstantiated news reports about the sector. “Let all the reporters who propagate fake news about Muslim charities see what we do,” he said, and added that the sector should “be proud of our contribution”.

Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of voluntary sector body NCVO, said: “Muslim charities play an important role, not only representing the Muslim community at its best but also as part of the wider voluntary sector.” Government ministers declined to attend the awards, which was criticised by Othman Moqbel, chief executive of Human Appeal and trustee of MCF. “We have heard tonight about the successes and achievements
of Muslim charities in the UK doing a great job and would have thought that a minister, even a junior minister would be here tonight. It is unfortunate this didn’t happen.”
Malik added that as far as marketing goes, the shift from traditional mediums to online platforms means charities must learn to adapt to remain relevant. “Instead of following what we have done over previous years, charities must identify shifts and patterns and be dynamic in order to successfully engage with our donors and supporters wherever they are.”

While tackling misconceptions through aggressive elements of the media is still an on-going issue, as is the drive to excel in online and social media platforms to get the message
across, Malik clearly has targets and goals to achieve. With his experience dating back to the charity relief he helped work on during the Bosnian war, together with all the other projects he has spear-headed since, Malik is confident he can guide Muslim Aid to further success in the coming years.

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