Taking Action to Address Global Poverty

The Islamic Society of North America works to end global poverty through the numerous initiatives, including the Faithful Budget Campaign, the Center for Interfaith Action on Global Poverty, and more.

ISNA is an active member of the Center for Interfaith Action on Global Poverty (CIFA). CIFA mobilizes national and faith leaders to drive impactful interfaith action to promote behavior change through health, education and other development initiatives.  In December 2008, ISNA was among the faith groups that helped launch an initiative against malaria, a meeting which led to the development of the Berkley Center report, Malaria: Scoping New Partnerships.

In 2012, ISNA joined Religions for Peace and other religious organizations for the initiative, “Saving Children through Behavior Change: Religions in Action.”  Every year, 7.6 million children die before their 5th birthday from preventable causes.  This initiative works to reduce preventable deaths of children less than five years of age by engaging religious leaders across diverse faiths to be effective drivers of behavior change.

ISNA also helps raise funds for international disaster relief by partnering with charitable organizations working everywhere from Pakistan to Haiti.

Why ISNA Advocates for Humanitarian and Poverty-Focused International Assistance

Among ISNA’s most critical efforts to end global poverty is its advocacy for humanitarian and poverty-focused international assistance as a critical obligation for America.  This work is ongoing and we work to accomplish it in partnership with other national organizations through coalitions like the Faithful Budget Campaign.

ISNA encourages our government to increase funding for responsible, effective programs in this area. As one of the wealthiest nations in the world, it is imperative that we take the lead on addressing global hunger and poverty by meeting its promised Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of contributing only 0.7% of its gross domestic product (GDP) by the year 2015. This would constitute a mere four percent of our federal budget.  Each day that we remain content with our current contribution of only 0.28 percent of our GDP (less than 1 percent of federal budget) to international aid, millions of lives are being threatened and ended by poverty, hunger, infant mortality and preventable diseases.  As President Barack Obama stated in his speech at the United Nations (UN) MDG Summit in New York in 2010, “progress in even the poorest countries can advance the prosperity and security of people far beyond their borders, including my fellow Americans.” For these reasons and more, ISNA urges the U.S. government to protect the rights and well-being of our neighbors around the world and provide greater attention and funding to humanitarian and poverty-focused international assistance.

Millions of our global neighbors struggle daily to attain basic necessities such as food, shelter, and health care. In many impoverished nations, the situation on the ground presents many people with horrific conditions that they struggle to overcome. Our brothers and sisters persevere due to their incredible courage and resilience, but with immense difficulty.

Humanitarian and poverty-focused international assistance is essential to global human security. It helps avert conflict, saves money, and lays the groundwork for economic growth. Substantial, well-allocated foreign assistance will improve and save millions of lives, build self-reliance among the world’s most vulnerable populations, and benefit the United States by creating a more secure world.

Increasing America’s commitment to our neighbors around the world requires making very intentional and purposeful choices about our national priorities. We certainly cannot do everything, but our priorities should seek to restore our country’s historic commitment to lifting up our neighbors in need and making the world a more secure place for everyone.

The commitment to bettering the lives of others by means of financial aid is part and parcel of our identity both as Americans and as Muslims. The concept of sadaqa, voluntary charity, is central to Islam, as the following verse of the Qur’an indicates: Never shall you attain to true piety unless you spend on others out of what you cherish yourselves; and whatever you spend – verily, God has full knowledge thereof. – The Holy Qur’an 3:92

God commands us to care for our brothers and sisters in humanity, without exception. To further emphasize the importance of this, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: Gabriel [the Angel of Revelation] enjoined me incessantly with the care of my neighbors, to the extent that I thought that God would grant my neighbors the right to inherit me. (Ibn Mâjah)

Caring for others was not just a commandment by God for our beloved Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), but for every believer. His companion Abû Sa’îd Al-Khudarî reported that the Prophet said:  Whosoever of you possesses a spare ride [meaning then, a horse, camel, etc], let him bestow it to one without a ride. Whosoever of you has surplus food, let him bestow it to one without food. Abû Sa’îd continued: The Prophet (s) went on naming various types of wealth until we thought we had no right to anything beyond our basic necessities. (Muslim, No. 1728)

It is our duty, as Muslims and Americans, to support a federal budget that incorporates our faith-inspired values of mercy and compassion in providing adequate humanitarian and poverty-focused international assistance. The following statistics reflect the reality of our brothers and sisters situation around the world:

We believe it is the moral duty of those who have greater wealth and resources to help alleviate extreme hunger, poverty.  In the year 2000, all of the 193 UN-member states, including the 22 wealthiest countries in the world, signed on to the MDG, promising a 0.7% GDP contribution towards eradicating severe poverty and hunger. From among these 22 nations, 5 have already met or exceeded their MDG, while others are still lagging behind. The United States is among the top 22 richest countries in the world, but of these 22 countries that signed UN’s Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of increasing international aid to 0.7 percent, the United States is furthest from achieving this goal. Twelve years after agreeing to this goal, the United States has made only a 0.06% increase in its international aid, to a mere .28 percent in 2012. With only three years remaining until the deadline, the United States’ progress is truly disappointing.

The aim of the MDGs is to encourage development by improving social and economic conditions in the world’s poorest countries, and are categorized into eight target goals: eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowering women, reducing infant mortality rates, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other preventable diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability, and developing a global partnership for development.[xi]  If the U.S., as well as every other nation on the list, provided 0.7 percent of their national income towards meeting these MDG targets, not only will it effectively reduce hunger, poverty, and preventable diseases around the world, but it will also allow the UN to achieve its goals in each of the eight categories.  Signing on to the UN’s Millennium Development Goals in the year 2000 was a step towards restoring that historic commitment, but it is not nearly enough. With only 3 years remaining until the MDG deadline and 0.42 percent of our goal still remaining, the U.S. must reassess its priorities and work harder to make the 0.7% goal a reality by 2015.

The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) is committed to helping reduce hunger, poverty, and preventable diseases worldwide, and frequently partners with international relief organizations to encourage American Muslims to donate to communities facing crisis situations.  In addition, ISNA encourages the U.S. government to allocate more tax dollars to this critically important area.  We stand firmly committed to the Millennium Development Goal to increase our funding to no less than 0.7% of our national income, far more than we currently give and far less than most Americans feel is required of us. As a faith-based organization, we have a religious obligation to remind our lawmakers to make decisions based on moral, American values of compassion and goodwill.

ISNA continues to work with its partners at other faith-based organizations through the Faithful Budget Campaign to promote our core message: Act with mercy and justice by serving the common good, robustly funding support for poor and vulnerable people, both at home and abroad, and exercising proper care and keeping of the earth.

ISNA also works in collaboration with the U.S. Agency for International Development and other government agencies to provide support for awareness campaigns on a variety of issues.  In June 2012, for example, ISNA joined other religious organizations for the initiative, “Saving Children through Behavior Change: Religions in Action.” The initiative will work to reduce preventable deaths of children under five years of age worldwide by engaging religious leaders across diverse faiths to be effective drivers of behavior change.

At this point, the choice is clear: Increasing humanitarian and poverty-focused international assistance is no longer an issue of ability, but a matter of priority. As President Obama said, when we help promote prosperity and security of people in developing countries, they benefit directly, but we also benefit as citizens of a more stable, secure world. In the interest of the safety and wellbeing of all people, we call on Congress and Administration to take seriously the Millennium Development Goal of contributing a robust amount of aid towards humanitarian and poverty-focused international assistance in the years ahead.