MANITOBA Mennonites can help the world’s needy through the Mennonite Central Committee. Lutherans in the province can respond through Canadian Lutheran World Relief. Other faith groups have their own relief and development arms.
Muslims in Manitoba are also able to extend a hand to the world’s poor through their own agency — Islamic Relief Canada.
Founded in 1984 in the United Kingdom in response to the famine in Ethiopia, Islamic Relief Worldwide has chapters in Europe, the United States, Australia and South Africa, and provides assistance in 40 developing nations around the world.
The Canadian chapter was founded in 2007. In 2009, it received $1.2 million in donations. Last year, the figure was more than $28 million, making it one of the fastest-growing international relief and development groups in the country.
Of that total, about $236,000 came from the estimated 12,000 Muslims in Manitoba.
A lot of the money it receives comes during Ramadan, which is taking place this year from May 26 to June 24. In addition to fasting and prayer, that is the time when Muslims especially remember those who are in need.
"We get half of our annual income that month," says Reyhana Patel, who heads up media and external relations for Islamic Relief Canada.
For Muslims, one of the five pillars of their faith is the zakat, or the obligatory sharing with the needy. Most Muslims tend to give their zakat during Ramadan, since they believe giving during the holy month provides the giver with a double reward.
In addition to giving their zakat, Muslims also give another special donation in Ramadan during an iftar, the meal that breaks their daily fast.
The ancient formula for how much to give was two kilograms of either flour, wheat, barley or rice for each person in the household. In Canada today, Muslims typically make a gift of about $10 per person for everyone at the meal.
Some of that money is donated to Islamic Relief through what it calls Share Your Blessing. Through the event, Canadian Muslims are invited to sign up to host an iftar with their family and friends, using the occasion to break the daily fast and raise money to help needy people around the world.
Islamic Relief provides a package of materials for each host to share with guests about its work, along with pledge forms so people can make donations. Last year, one iftar in Canada raised $90,000 for the charity.
One misconception about the agency, Patel says, is where the money goes.
"Although most of our programs are in Muslim countries, our assistance is available to all, not just to Muslims," she says, noting the organization provided help after the Haiti earthquake, the typhoon in the Philippines and for people affected by last year’s wildfires in Fort McMurray, Alta. It also funds a program in Toronto for disadvantaged youth.
"We don’t only help Muslims," she adds. "We give to whoever is in need, just like other NGOs."
As well, she notes, "anyone can donate to Islamic Relief, not just Muslims." All donations are tax deductible.
Current appeals include for the famine in Africa and Yemen, as well as for victims of inter-communal violence in Myanmar and refugees from the fighting in Syria.
Ongoing programs include orphan sponsorship, and health, education, medical and water projects.
In addition to donations, the organization also gets grants from the Canadian government for its work overseas. It is also part of the Humanitarian Coalition, which brings together Canada’s major relief agencies to respond to emergencies in the developing world.
For Idris Elbakri, past president of the Manitoba Islamic Association, supporting Islamic Relief is a good way for Muslims to help those in need.
"Through it, Muslims in Canada can realize their obligation to help others both locally and globally," he says.
He supports the organization because of "its professionalism, its expertise, and how it is directly involved in implementing its programs."
But beyond the good work that Islamic Relief is doing around the world, it also means a lot to the Muslim community in Canada.
"The respect and recognition it gets from other NGOs and the Canadian government shows how Canadian Muslims are in the mainstream of Canadian values," he says.