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Muslim Aid Blog

Boxing Day Tsunami 2004 Reflections

At 7:58 in the morning of December 26, 2004 the third largest and longest earthquake ever recorded, unleashed a force 1,500 times greater than the atomic bomb that levelled Hiroshima. Fifteen minutes later waves 30 metres high hit the capital of West Aceh Meulaboh and 30 minutes later they hit Banda Aceh destroying over 60% of its buildings killing 130,000 people. The waves caused deaths in the Nicobar and Andaman Islands, Burma, Malaysia, Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Somalia. The world's people responded generously to this mega disaster -- putting governments to shame. 

Let us remember those who lost their lives and how the world came together to help. It was inspiring to see how men and women all over the world came to help with their donations. For many years I have been able to go back to Aceh and sit on the beach and reflect on the impact and meaning of this disaster and life and death. The lesson that I learnt from the Chief Imam of the Grand Mosque of Banda Aceh was that we should be grateful for all the blessings that God has given us and use them properly when we have the opportunity. God is really testing us when He gives rather than when what we have is taken away.

I imagine the thousands of Acehnese who went to their local mosque to pray that Sunday morning including two of my nephews and grand-nephews, not realising that they would not see that day out. They and the other Acehnese who perished could not have imagined that they would be devoured by the 30 metres of water that hit Aceh. Another nephew died three days later due to lack of medical assistance. Maybe another hundred of my wife's relatives on the cost of west Aceh also lost their lives.

Coming out of retirement, I was privileged to be part of the rebuilding and recovery effort with Muslim Aid which started off my second career in the humanitarian field. it was a wonderful experience to work with one of Indonesia's great public servants Kuntoro, the head of the BRR and witness the marvellous achievements of the reconstruction of Aceh. The hard work and perseverance of families and communities — combined with the commitment of the provincial and national governments and the generosity of the international community — have helped Aceh recover to a degree simply unimaginable in the months after the disaster. 

Muslim Aid started in Aceh (and Indonesia) with me, a vehicle and a driver after I had been volunteering for a while to support the response effort with some colleagues from Malaysia. The late Ibrahim Sa asked me to set up the Muslim Aid office and here was I, a university man now plunged into one of the greatest humanitarian responses in modern times.  I was greatly supported by Hamid Azad who was in charge of overseas programmes of Muslim. Aid. We started with a programme of speedy provision of emergency shelters with Muslim Aid being one of the NGOs which mobilised local talent to build the most temporary shelters in the shortest possible time.  At a meeting we were told that the people of Aceh did not have the skills to carry out the reconstruction but I found 600 local engineering graduates who we trained with the PWD and the ILO to become project staff in Aceh.  We also were one of the first NGOs to build permanent shelters for the community near the shores of the capital Banda Aceh, building homes based on traditional design with stilts which actually doubled the size of the home using local materials and local contractors.   We introduced toilets which were biodegradable and provided water for the garden and insulation in the roof to keep the homes cool. We were grateful to Jo deSilva of ARUP who provided pro bono design review of our traditional and brick housing designs to ensure that they met the standards required in an earthquake zone.  Visiting the district of Pidie where an earthquake occurred in 2016 I was very happy to see that all Muslim Aid constructed houses had withstood the earthquake.  Our success impressed the Asian Development Bank and we erected thousands of homes, many in difficult to reach and conflict-affected areas.  The granddaughter of Winston Churchill who was one of the Directors of the Glastonbury Festival raised funds for houses.  Muslim Aid became the first NGO in the world to have an an agreement signed by the President of the World Bank which was a multi-million dollar project for the drainage system of the central business district of Banda Aceh.  In a satisfaction survey conducted among the Aceh community, Muslim Aid constructed houses were judged by the recipients to be among the top five.    In the first anniversary of the tsunami Muslim Aid received the best publicity of all NGOs for its processes of accountability, transparency and consultation, even receiving praise from Transparency international.   We were happy to also be able to take part in a multi-million dollar livelihood project which helped thousands of Acehnese restore their livelihoods.   Muslim Aid constructed schools, kindergartens and hostels which had been destroyed by the tsunami. In recognition of Muslim Aid's role in the reconstruction effort in 2007 the Secretary General of the OIC Prof Dr. Ekmelnedidn Insanoglu declared open one of the kindergartens erected by Muslim Aid.  

Muslim Air rapidly expanded to other parts of Indonesia and were among the first NGOs responding to the Yogyakarta earthquake in 2006, floods in Jakarta and earthquakes in Bengkulu and West Sumatra and the Muslim Aid team even sent its team to respond to the Solomon Island tsunami getting headlines “Showing the smiling face of Islam”. In Yogyakarta the UN praised Muslim Aid’s temporary shelter design and its programme for providing shelters for the disabled. 

There is still work to be done in Aceh. Demand for action on jobs and the economy and protect the delicate environment under threat by the timber and oil palm mafia is still a challenge 14 years on. Purely from an economic perspective it has been proven that preserving Aceh's rain forest is more profitable than cutting it down for timber or oil palm -- recent floods and landslides have been a consequence of this dereliction of the Islamic principle of preserving the environment. Action is needed to deal with grass roots poverty and utilising Aceh's strategic position as the face of Indonesia on the Indian Ocean. Keeping Aceh's wealth in Aceh, and then directing it to where it's desperately needed still should be a priority

Boxing Day Tsunami 2004 Reflections
  • 6 Sep 2018 update What Is Life Like For The Rohingya Left Behind In Myanmar?

    One year on from the Rohingya crisis, Kawsar Zaman visits Myanmar to witness life for the Rohingya children left behind. 

    This Saturday 25 August marks 1 year on from the start of the mass exodus of the Rohingya people who fled violence in Rakhine State, Myanmar, across the border to Bangladesh. The refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, now home to more than 900,000 people, have been constantly in the international news. However, there are still half a million Rohingya people remaining in camp-like situations in Kachin, Kayan, Shan and Rakhine states. So, what is life like for the Rohingya left behind? 

    Kawsar Zaman, a lawyer in the City of London and a Trustee for the charity Muslim Aid, has just returned from Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State, Myanmar. Kawsar grew up in a council home, in the East End of London. As the youngest of seven siblings, he was the first in his family to go to university, ending up graduating from LSE, Oxford and Harvard Law School. Following his recent visit, Kawsar gives us an insight into life for Rohingya children still inside Myanmar.

    I have just returned from Myanmar on a visit to camps which are home to displaced Rohingya people in Rakhine State, Myanmar – a people described by the United Nations as “most persecuted minority in the world”. Since the outbreak of communal violence in 2012, over a million of the Rohingya community have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh with a 200,000 remaining in Rakhine State; confined to makeshift camps they have called home for six years.

    It was my first visit to the heart of a crisis and I walked along improvised streets beaten by the monsoon rain and lined with tents. For me, the most harrowing experience of all was the sight of children walking bare feet, without any clothes, looking for something to do. And yet, these are children who should be at school. This conflict was not the making or the result of their doing but they now suffer the fate of no access to education and in turn, the prospect of a life in a vicious circle of poverty. 

    I met Abdullah in a camp we visited. He was only 10 years old; but looked much older, perhaps brought on by the stresses and strain of living in the camp. His father had passed away and he was left alone with his younger sibling to support his mother. He had no education and was not in school. However, Abdullah told me he wanted to be a doctor when he grew up.  

    I grew up in disadvantage – in a council home, in the East End of London. As the youngest of seven siblings, I was the first in my family to go to university. I ended up graduating from LSE, Oxford and Harvard Law School. Today, as a lawyer practicing in the City of London, as a governor at a secondary state comprehensive school in Bethnal Green and a trustee of Toynbee Hall, I know the power of schooling to transform lives. Education is the greatest liberating force of our generation.  

    According to data published by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 263 million children and youth worldwide are missing out on the chance to go to school, with conflict being a major barrier to education.  Globally, 35% of all out-of-school children of primary age (22 million), 25% of all out-of-school adolescents of lower secondary age (15 million), and 18% of all out-of-school youth of upper secondary age live in conflict-affected areas (26 million).

    I became a trustee of Muslim Aid UK nine months ago. At 28, I believe I am the youngest trustee of any major British INGO. I live a fairly comfortable life as a lawyer so it was an opportunity I felt I had to take up -  to give back to others and share my own experiences having grown up in disadvantage. The power and opportunity to be part of a team operating in 30 countries across the world is incredible - but most importantly for me, driven by a strong sense of faith based giving, I’m proud to be part of Muslim Aid UK which supports all peoples irrespective of ones’ race, religion, colour, or creed.  

    Muslim Aid is one of only a handful of international aid agencies operating on the ground in Myanmar. It has built a hospital, provided shelter to 720 people, trained people in livelihood skills from helping them set up their own businesses – including masonry and handicraft – with a particular focus on helping vulnerable women. 

    A key focus for Muslim Aid Myanmar is on education with a vision to improve access and equality for both girls and boys in 300 learning centres and in seven temporary learning schools they have constructed, benefiting 3,250 children. Prior to these projects, most children were completely illiterate. Now many of them have school uniform, made by girls trained to sew at a Muslim Aid project, and access to toilets, showers and water when they go to school.   

    As I reflect on my visit, I cannot help but struggle with the thought of how our lives are such lotteries. Where we are born will dictate our lives and our life chances – irrespective of how hardworking or intelligent we may be. Born as a Rohingya child in Rakhine State, Myanmar in the centre of a conflict there is little prospect of you leaving a refugee camp let alone go to school. Born in London – and, you have the prospect of a good education and the opportunities to thrive at will. Globally, we have a duty to do more to eradicate child poverty and give every child the chance to go to school; for education is the greatest liberating force of our generation. It is quite frankly, the very least we can do.

    What Is Life Like For The Rohingya Left Behind In Myanmar?
    • What Is Life Like For The Rohingya Left Behind In Myanmar?
  • 31 Jul 2018 update The Importance of Qurbani

    As a parent, it is a lifelong duty to ensure your family is resilient and united. The leadership role that you play is important to teach and help children understand significant values of life.

    Qurbani is a very important time to educate your children about in order to raise their awareness of the act of giving. Sacrificing livestock has substantial meaning in Islam as the sacrifice of Prophet Ibrahim is what marks the very reason we sacrifice during Qurbani.

    • muslim-qurbani
    • The Importance of Qurbani
  • 23 Jul 2018 update Important Hajj Dates 2018

    If you are embarking on the Hajj pilgrimage this year, it is likely you already have all your travel documents in order and know when you will be arriving in Mecca. However, we thought it would be a good idea to provide a list of important dates in order to give an insight into how the Hajj pilgrimage generally plays out over the months.

    For some people the Hajj pilgrimage starts months before it ‘technically' does. Since around 3 million pilgrims undertake this pilgrimage every year, there is a conscious need to moderate the flow of Haji's in and out of the country. For that the country adapts a ‘first come, first serve' principle. The first batch to arrive is also the first one to leave after Eid ul Adha. With that in mind, below is a dated outline of how Hajj will unfold this year. We'd like to mention that these dates have been provided by the Ministry of Hajj in Saudi Arabia.

    9th Dhul-Hijjah 1436 (approximately Sunday, August 19th 2018)

  • 23 Jul 2018 update Frequently Asked Questions - UK

    UK Qurbani

      • Q: Is the meat Halal?

    Yes, the meat is approved by the Halaal Monitoring Committee (HMC)

      • Q: Which animal will be used for the Qurbani?

    Sheep/mutton weighing approx 17/18kg.

      • Q: When will the meat be delivered?

    Delivery will be made to the donor and beneficiary either on 3rd or 4th September 2017.

      • Q: Is the delivery charge included?

    Yes, delivery is included in the price of £150

      • Q: How is it packed and kept fresh?

    Delivery will be placed in a strong cool-box which prevents the meat from spoiling and protects it from any knocks. Independent tests have shown that the unique travel packs keep your order chilled during transit between 24 and 48 hours.

    • Q: Who are the recipients of the 1/3 of the meat given through UK Qurbani?

    Our clients are credible local partners and organisations who work with the most poorest and vulnerable people in the UK. Our beneficiaries are people from single parent families on a low income, the homeless, individuals or families who have  applied for Zakat due to financial hardships and people who have been referred to access local food banks.

      • Q: Will I receive two thirds of the meat?

    Yes, the donor will receive 2/3rds of the meat and 1/3rd will be send to a poor, needy or homeless beneficiary in the UK.

    • Q: What is the green colour mark on the meat?

    HMC use a green alcohol free meat marking ink which sometimes stains the meat, it is totally safe and doesn’t change the quality of the meat in anyway.

    Read more about the Programme

  • 23 Jul 2018 update Hajj Facts

    Hajj is no doubt an amazing spiritual journey that every Muslim aspires to embark on. There is an enormous amount of information associated with Hajj; most is critical to ensure that Hajj is performed not only in the best intentions but also in the correct manner. With that being said there is a ton of information related to Hajj including important Hajj facts that all Muslims should be aware of. Here we will outline a few very important details for our readers in order to get them further acquainted with this immensely important and complex ritual.

    • There are 5 pillars of Islam. Hajj is the 5th.
    • Performing Hajj is compulsory on every Muslim at least once in their life time.
    • Hajj occurs on the 8th to 12th of Dhul Hijjah, the last month of the Islamic calendar
    • Muslims who have performed Hajj are called Hajjis. Some even add the title in front of their name to denote their accomplishment.
    • During Hajj, men are required to dress in Ehraam which is basically two pieces of white sheets they wrap themselves up with. Women are required to dress normal stay in Hijab.
    • Pilgrims stay at Mount Arafat then move to Muzdalfah and Mina where they perform the stoning ritual at the Jamaraat.
    • Mount Arafat is where Prophet Muhammad PBUH delivered his final sermon in which he preached on how men should treat women; that all Muslims are brothers and should stay united.
    • Jamaraat are three walls located in close vicinity to each other that donate the exact spot where the devil, in human form, tried to mislead Prophet Ibrahim against following Allah's instructions. Prophet Ibrahim rebuked him by throwing stones at him and he went away.
    • Millions of Muslims today follow in the same ritual and stone the 3 walls at the Jamaraat.
    • After the stoning ritual, Muslims perform Udhiya, also known as Qurbani in which they sacrifice a goat, sheep, cow or camel. The meat is distributed to the poor and the needy as well as neighbours and relatives. Many people donate their Qurbani to the poor.
    • Pilgrims perform the Tawaf Al-Wida after Hajj before heading home. Tawaf-al-Wida entails walking around the Holy Kabaa inside Masjid Al-Haram in circle 7 times.
    • Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) performed Umrah 4 times and Hajj once
    • Over 3 million pilgrims performed Hajj last year. This number is expected to grow even further this year.

    The above mentioned Hajj facts outline some of the most noteworthy and important aspects of the pilgrimage. May Allah SWT give all Muslims the opportunity to perform Hajj and all those who are embarking on Hajj this year have a safe stay and swift journey home.