Islam and charity in Russia
This report was presented by Lilia Mukhamedyarova, president of Solidarity Foundation, at a round table on Islamic charity which took place in Kazan (Tatarstan) during II International Summit of Islamic Business and Finances:
In Moscow there exist now about 500 various charitable funds. But do you now how many of them function in accordance with the principles of Islam? This is a question to which not many people can give an answer. And I can tell you why. Until recently there didn’t exist at all in the media-space of Russia such a concept as an Islamic charitable foundation. Do you understand – it DID NOT EXIST.
In other words ISLAM and CHARITY were not connected in people’s minds. Some of us can say that nowadays our Ummah faces so many much greater and more urgent problems . But I believe it is absolutely essential to connect in the consciousness of our community these two words – Islam and Charity. And it is even more important for the Muslims themselves. Because in our hearts there is an acute need for mercy, for bonifying, which is the essence of life. Charity is in fact the very steps by which we approach Almighty.
It might come as a surprise for you but only two years ago in the wards of Moscow hospitals where there are always many volunteers, Orthodox clergy, Protestants, Catholics – you would hardly ever see a Muslim. Almighty said: You are the best commune. That means being an example for everybody. At the time of formation of Islamic state, when people could see the kind of relationship among the Muslims, their brotherly support of each other, their generosity and fairness they would without any compulsion embrace Islam. What kind of example are Muslims of Russia now? I have even published a small article on the subject called “Why don’t we ever see a mullah in a hospital…” The response of our Spiritual Administration (an official body supposed to represent Russian Muslims) was as follows: take the article away. Though later its Charity Department even set a schedule for visiting hospitals. Now our imams visit hospitals once a month. But I would like to tell you not about mosques but about professional charity, because mosques which are basically places for worshipping Allah cannot take on the social function of helping the destitute . They will not be able to cope with it. This is a task for professionals.
Solidarity Foundation is registered with the Ministry of Justice as an ordinary secular fund. But as it has been established by Muslims it works according to Islamic principles. In the beginning most people were shocked, which is quite understandable – considering all they have heard and seen through the media they are simply unable to imagine that Muslims are capable not only to commit acts of terror. It may seem funny but the word “Islamic fund” made fall into a stupor even officials form a Muslim region – North Caucasus. “can there really be such a thing?” – they asked at last incredulously. So what can you expect of non-Muslims?
Generally speaking, Russian society is sick of myths and rumors. Not long ago one of our volunteers had to take an orphan to Moscow Institute of Radiology. As soon as the doctor found out that he represents a charitable foundation his attitude towards our volunteer changed abruptly. The doctor let drop a phrase that he must be getting real good money if he works for a charity.
The guy replied that he earned good money indeed but elsewhere and he takes part in Solidarity just because he is willing to help children. “Such things never happen, – snapped the doctor, – everybody who works for a charitable foundation do it for mercenary reasons”. The young man gave out a laugh: “Yes, I pursue my own mercenary interest too. I want to get to Paradise!” The doctor smiled and after that
treated his visitors with sympathy.
By the way doctors often ask whether we help only “our kin” or all people.
You know, Solidarity Foundation which I represent began to work last year. When our volunteers started to appear in Moscow hospitals the first reaction of other charitable organizations was stunning. We were told: “Well, now you’ve got your own foundation” – and some of the muslim children were immediately denied their allowance. One has to be really sick to base charitable activity upon religious and ethnic principles.
Islam doesn’t divide people by their religion and nationality when it is a matter of saving somebody’s life or helping the poor. But how can you expect our people to know about it if they don’t see any examples of Islamic charity and mercy? If all they can see in the prime time on TV is “Wahhabits”, “Shakhid’s belts” and terrorist acts?
We exist for a little bit more than a year. Within this period we managed to collect more than 10 million rubles (about $325.000) for medical treatment of severely ill children and support of orphans. And summing up this year’s activity I can state that Muslim community is in great need of such a charitable organization that would work on principles of brotherhood, openness and transparency. Hundreds of young muslims-volunteers have already passed through our Foundation. Young people wish – or I would rather say long for helping the destitute. These are all fundamental human instincts – compassion for the oppressed, charity, equality, attaining peace and elimination of conflicts, forgiveness.
Because what do they see now?
They see 10-years-old Ibrahim Magomedov from Dagestan. He lives without mother and father, his old almost illiterate grandmother is bringing him up. Ibrahim has leukemia. For half a year the officials from Dagestan Ministry of Health cannot obtain a quota for him to a Moscow clinic where he would be examined by good specialists. Because we are well aware that they don’t treat leukemia in Makhachkala.
They see little 7-years-old Ira Kuzheleva. Her father has died and her mother cannot find a job because she has to care after Ira all the time. The girl suffers from infantile cerebral paralysis. The state pays her 3000 rubles of pension (about $100). But one lesson with a speech therapist costs 500 rubles.
They can see the orphanage in Nizhny Novgorod region where children sleep in their overcoats in winter because there haven’t been any repairs in the building for ten years. Now multiply these stories by thousands. Such Ibrahims and Iras live all over Russia. They may have other names but their stories are similar – they are full of sufferings. And they need some compassion.
25 million people in our country live below the poverty level. In poor Muslim regions – Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan – the rate of oncological diseases is much higher than in the rest of Russia. Despite favorable medical prognoses thousands of children become disabled because they don’t receive proper treatment in due time. From a thousand children with leukemia only 10% have a real chance of transplantation.
If the high-technology help were available for everybody up to 80% of ill children could be cured.
And I would add to it that if we were more attentive to each other this percentage could be even higher. Mind you every split of a percent means human lives.
That is why I may say that it is an honor for us to help the most severely ill children.
Organizers of this round table have asked me about the future of Islamic charity in Russia. Our desire to help the poor and destitute, as that of other philanthropists, can sometimes get broken against the indifference of the officials on whom depends the future of children. Once we made a proposal to Nizhny Novgorod Region officials, to finance a training course for children’s home staff. So that they would not only feed the children and give them to drink. So that the instructors there would get the children into foster families and work with their blood-related families that can go wrong and loose their children. We received a reply from the Department of Social Protection: “The State itself will solve the problem of getting the children into foster families. And you may keep giving charitable aid to the orphanage as before”. But unfortunately the main mechanisms of solving the problems of those in need exist only on the state level. And we – charitable foundations and philanthropists – just help to solve them.
In this connection we can remember the mechanism of Islamic charity during the rule of Umar ibn Abdul Aziz. Success of this charity was possible only on the background of economic and social reforms in the state. At that time it was a huge territory, bigger than Russia. It included Arabian peninsula, North Africa, India, Transcaucasia and North Caucasus, Central Asia, Iran Iraq, north of China, Spain, south of France.
Having come to power Umar carried out radical reformation of the community social structure. Under his rule people lived so well that it was not easy to find a person who would have need in zakyat money (By the way in Russia quite a big proportion of Muslims doesn’t have any idea of what is zakyat. You can imagine on what stage of Islamic charity we presently are).
Umar’s main feature was careful and sometimes even punctilious attitude to the state treasury. We also know his answer to some officials who asked him to impose taxes on citisens of Khalifat. Angered Khalif replied with emotion: “Allah sent Muhammad (peace be upon him) to direct people onto the right path and not as a tax collector!”
Our state has managed to impose taxes even on the people in need who receive charitable donations. Now they have to pay income tax on charitable aid.
For the first time in Russia Solidarity Foundation has launched a project “You are not an orphan”. Many Islamic charitable funds around the world practice giving monthly allowance to orphans from poor families. You know that orphans have special status in Islam. Allah Almighty says in in the Qur’an: “They ask you what they should spend. Tell them: “All that you spend from your welfare? Spend it on your parents, your relations, orphans, the poor and travellers”.
But here in Russia Ibrahim’s grandmother may become liable to pay taxes on one thousand rubles starting with the second month. According to Russian legislation income tax is imposed on derivative aid.
We remember the hadith of our Prophet: An orphan’s caretaker and I will be in Paradise as these two fingers”. During the last month alone our volunteers took into their care 20 Russian and Palestinian orphans. You wouldn’t believe it but we have had not enough orphans for all those willing to help. The fate of our cobelievers in Gaza has played a big role in it. But having launched the project “You are not an orphan!” we are now expecting the reaction of tax department. Will there come to little Ira Kruzheleva’s mother or Ibrahim’s grandmother an official from fiscal institution to collect his reward? And how is this official going to go and collect the taxes in besieged Caza?
We know that in April this year Russian Ministry of Finances failed to support a proposal to exempt from income tax organizations donating for charitable purposes. But one of the main incentives for an enterprise to engage in charity is exemption from the burden of taxation.
Considering all these facts I propose that upon conclusion of this round table all the participating philanthropists, funds and organizations adopt a resolution formulating the main ideas about the imperfections of the tax legislation in the field of charity.
The officials must acknowledge that their decisions should incorporate opinions and ideas of the private sector, NGOs and the youth. That is, of course, if we work in the name of a common idea – wellbeing of this country and its people. Because it is not an act of folly but a crime – to levy a tax on charity in a country death rate among children is three times higher than in Western Europe.
June 27, 2010