Charity helping Muslims sees demand more than double within a year

Jemma Crew, PA Social Affairs Correspondent

A charity providing grants to struggling Muslims has seen demand for help more than double within a year in the light of the coronavirus pandemic.

The National Zakat Foundation (NZF) received 19,244 applications for financial support in 2020, more than 2.5 times the 7,348 applications in 2019.

And it distributed £3.8 million in grants, a 27% rise from the previous year when £2.9 million was given out.

Of the applications received last year, 11,740 (61%) were from asylum seekers.

At the end of 2020 demand had risen so much the charity was receiving more than 70 requests a day on average, up from 15 a day before the first lockdown.

NZF gives out grants from Zakat, the obligatory religious levy collected from British Muslims.

With the vast majority of Zakat typically being given in Ramadan, NZF is urgently seeking funds to ensure it can meet the needs of the community in the weeks and months ahead.

Islamic Relief provided NZF with £200,000 to help it meet rising demand after it appealed for funds.

Iqbal Nasim, chief executive of NZF, said this will make a big difference but the charity is concerned its funds could run out by early next year.

Over the past few months it has been giving out around £400,000 a month.

He said: “This is unprecedented. We’ve never seen anything like it before and it is a clear indication of just how much Covid-19 is impacting Muslims across the country.

“Together we must ensure that no Muslim in need who comes to NZF will have to wait for months before receiving support owing to a lack of funds.”

Zia Salik, Director of Islamic Relief UK, said: “Throughout the pandemic we have been helping people affected by Covid-19 in some of the poorest countries in the world, but we can see that people in this country are in desperate need.

“So many can’t afford to eat, pay their rent, clothe themselves or heat their homes. It’s a real emergency and we do not have time to wait to respond to these needs.

“There is no organisation like NZF who can urgently distribute cash to those in need in such a robust and accountable manner and we are grateful to them for allowing us to be able to respond to so many thousands of Muslims in urgent need.”

Green Lanes Mosque in Birmingham has received more than double the number of enquiries it received before the pandemic.

Uthmaan Ahmad, a case worker at the mosque, said families are struggling to pay their bills, rent and afford food, on top of “enormous” mental health strains.

He added: “Muslims find it very difficult to overcome their pride and ask for charity but it is an Islamic duty to help people and if people are in need they shouldn’t feel ashamed to ask.”

Adeel, a taxi driver from Rushden in Northamptonshire who turned to the mosque for support, lost customers as the pandemic hit and started to go without food.

He said: “This has been the worst year of my life.

“I was so stressed that I would lose my home. I can’t even begin to explain; it was so tough.

“Sometimes one or two days would go by where I couldn’t afford to buy food, but thankfully as a Muslim I am used to fasting so I pulled on those resources.”

NZF has also seen demand for support from asylum seekers rise by 51% since May.

Rifhat Malik, co-founder of Islamic Relief partner Give a Gift, a Leeds-based organisation supporting asylum seekers, said: “It’s a real emergency. We’re having mothers calling frantically on the phone, sobbing as they can’t afford to feed their children.

“One woman was giving her baby pasteurised milk from the supermarket as she couldn’t afford to buy baby milk. It’s so upsetting.

“Even before Covid-19, asylum seekers were really struggling; now it’s catastrophic.”

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