As the Grenfell tragedy unfolded and catapulted to the fore the failings of society towards those most deprived, it also cast a light on humanity at its best – the frontline charity work being done by British Muslims up and down the country.
Muslim Brits have for years quietly and consistently been doing their duty of charity, and this is never more true than at Christmas. The verdict is in: 3 million of our fellow Brits are wishing us a very merry Muslim Christmas.
While most are busy filling stockings, many Muslims will be busy filling soup kitchens. As we open our homes to families, many Brits will open their mosques, restaurants and most importantly their hearts, to those less fortunate.
While we will be celebrating with those closest to us, many Muslims will be celebrating with strangers.
The first report of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims (supported by the Aziz Foundation), “Faith as the fourth emergency service”, shows us a very different reality.
As co-chairs of the group, we have been moved by the thousands of British Muslim faith-based charities that are bedrocks of their local communities up and down the country – and never more so than at Christmas.
The term “faith-based” is significant: this work is as much a product of a Muslim sense of spiritual duty as it is a British sense of civic pride. Charity workers are largely volunteers: not often recognised, but never forgotten by those touched by their acts of kindness.
Individuals have shown a willingness to volunteer time, professionalism and extend friendship to those who are simply in need of a warm embrace, a friendly face and a place to go for a free hot meal.
These acts are not always considered “newsworthy”, and when Muslim charities do appear in the media coverage, more often than not stories are focused on latent fears about charities being abused for the financing of terrorism – even though evidence gathered by the Charities Commission recognises the near non-existent level of such abuse within the sector.
While charity is a pillar of the Islamic faith, so is observing humility. It is well enough for Muslims to quietly go about charity giving in a way that is consistent with the emphasis in Islam on discretion, of “giving charity so that the left hand does not know what the right hand gives”, but this is a story which needs to be told. And we are honoured to tell it.
It’s a story that cuts across all communities, sects, ages and even religions. For years, the Shia IthnaAshari Community of Middlesex (SICM) have supported West London Churches Homeless Concern with volunteers on Christmas Day and Boxing Day to assist in soup kitchens.
And the Al Mizan Charitable Trust have distributed 1,300 “winter warmer” packs to rough sleepers in London, Birmingham and Manchester. They give people the essentials to see them safely through to the new year: a sleeping bag, a coat, a jumper, a hat, a scarf, a pair of gloves, thermal socks, toiletries, first aid items and emergency snacks.
Sufra Northwest London have invested over £100,000 to provide emergency food aid to 14,800 people. This is part of a relentless focus on local need amongst many British Muslim charities that you probably haven’t heard of.
The InTouch Foundation does the vast majority of its work in local communities in the UK. And there is a lot of that work: to date, the charity has distributed over 200,000 meals and half a million drinks – much of that at Christmas time.
These are just a few examples. As you can see, this is not a recent phenomenon – this work goes back years, and it’s our job as parliamentarians to share this Muslim Christmas story with you.
Press coverage of high profile events where Muslim charities have led efforts, such as the Cumbria floods in 2015 and Grenfell more recently, is welcome – but in between the media scrums, the unsung heroes keep working. It’s time we all sung their song.
Headlines aside, the number of British Muslim Charities supporting non-Muslims during the season of good will is testament to the true nature of the Islamic faith. British Muslim communities are living out their faith by playing an active role and supporting the most deprived in their communities.
So, for Brits of all faiths and none, to those who are unfortunate enough to need to call on “the fourth emergency service” and those lucky enough to never encounter it, we wish you all a very merry Muslim Christmas.
Anna Soubry MP and Wes Streeting MP are co-chairs of the APPG on British Muslims
By The Independent