Archives Hub feature for February 2022
In 1984 reports of an unfolding famine crisis in East Africa began to reach the international community. Band Aid’s ‘Feed the World’ charity song and the Live Aid concerts are probably the most well-known of the responses to the situation, but these were by no means the only efforts. In Birmingham a group of young Muslim volunteers led by Dr Hany El Bana OBE, then a medical student at University of Birmingham, began to fundraise in mosques, though friends and family and local Islamic associations. They were successful in raising enough funds to implement a project to build two chicken farms in Sudan along with two other projects to distribute biscuits and multivitamins (also to Sudan) and flour to Mauritania in one year. As fundraising efforts took off the name ‘Islamic Relief’ was adopted and a small one-room office was rented from which the group coordinated their growing operations.
Fundraising around the seasonal observance of Ramadan (a sacred month of fasting in Islam) soon became a mainstay. The group organised tours of national mosques selling prayer mats and other small items in a van they called the ‘Caravan’. Raising money through the Islamic principles of zakat (a form of alms-giving and religious tax) and sadaqah (voluntary charity giving) were also a key part of the work and remain so at Islamic Relief to this day. This evidence of Muslim community based voluntary action is one part of what makes the Islamic Relief Archive truly unique and significant. Today Islamic Relief Worldwide has grown to one of, if not the world’s largest Islamic faith-inspired NGOs currently working in over 40 countries. Islamic Relief was founded with a single donation of 20p, in 2020 we had and income of over £149 million.
Humanitarian and development work has always been at the heart of what Islamic Relief does. The archive documents major humanitarian responses to some of the most notable global events of the last four decades. This includes conflict in Bosnia and Chechnya in the 1990s, crises in Iraq and Afghanistan in the 2000s, tsunami in Asia 2004, genocide in Rwanda in 1994 and earthquake in Pakistan in 2006. The ‘International Programmes’ series (IRW/IP) contains a wealth of materials relating to both emergency responses and also development work in countries such as India, Bangladesh, Mali, Niger and Occupied Palestinian Territories. Here you can find records such as project reports, country strategy documents and case studies. You can also find related photographic materials in the ‘Audio Visual’ (IRW/AV) series, publications such as emergency update reports, country annual reports and newsletters in the ‘Publications and ephemera’ series (IRW/PUB). Within the fundraising the ‘Emergency appeals’ sub-series (IRW/FU/2/3) will also yield results on IRW’s fundraising efforts in relation to specific international situations. Today, Islamic Relief is present at crises in Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen. The archive continues to collect materials relating to these significant global events.
In 2021 Islamic Relief made its archive accessible to the public for the first time with our catalogues newly available through Archives Hub. The records have meaning at a local, national and international level and we believe that in making them accessible they will not only contribute to research in the fields of humanitarianism and histories of the charity sector, they will also importantly increase the representation of Muslims and Muslim communities in the shared archival landscape. As the archive continues to grow and further cataloguing is undertaken we hope that researchers and a wide public audience will be able to benefit from this rich and valuable source of local and global memory.
Elizabeth Shuck, Archivist
Islamic Relief Worldwide
Records of Islamic Relief Worldwide (1984 to date) on the Archives Hub
All images copyright Islamic Relief Worldwide. Reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holders.