Dubai- Low on funds to support millions of refugees scattered across the Middle East, the United Nations initiated a program allowing Muslims to make donations from the alms they typically pay state bodies for the benefit of the poor.
The UN High Commission for Refugees said it had obtained religious rulings from top Muslim clerics in Egypt, Morocco and Yemen as well as a senior Islamic scholar in Saudi Arabia, that it hoped would persuade wealthy Muslims to donate their alms directly for relief work.
“It is an innovation in our efforts to raise funding,” Reuters reported Muhammed Abu Asaker, a UNHCR Middle East spokesman as saying. The amount of zakat money distributed each year in Muslim countries ranges from $20 billion to $30 billion, experts say.
“So anything these people had is not completely gone and they need continuous support. So this requires us as an organization to search for creative ways that go in parallel with governmental support, which has become insufficient given the rising number in refugees and internally displaced people.”
The UNHCR posted the rulings on its webpage that appeals for zakat contributions to aid programs.
Muslims around the world are expected to pay “zakat”, typically 2.5 percent of any savings accumulated over the year, generally via state institutions that collect funds for aid to impoverished citizens.
The United Nations has projected it will need a total of $8 billion this year to provide life-saving assistance to millions of Syrians inside their shattered homeland and to refugees and their host communities in neighboring countries.
UNHCR has also called for $2.1 billion to provide food and medicine for Yemen, where 12 million people are at risk of famine and cholera brought on by two years of civil war.
Millions of Syrians, Iraqis and Yemenis have been displaced by years of civil war, sometimes to neighboring countries, straining the hosts’ resources as well as United Nations and other non-governmental humanitarian agencies.
Zakat payments can be a matter of personal choice in many Muslim countries, though it is a religious obligation under Islamic law. The funds tend to be used to help those in poverty, in debt or refugees.