Imam Rasheed Karim, head of the Felicity Muslim Organisation, as he spoke recently with Guardian Media. (Image: SHASTRI BOODAN)

A Muslim cleric is calling on Government to distribute monies for charities not only to religious organizations, but also to independent religious groups that do charitable work.

Speaking with Guardian Media, Imam Rasheed Karim, head of the Felicity Muslim Organisation, said independent Masjids such as the one he heads, are bypassed whenever the Government sees it fit to send assistance to the community through religious bodies.

The Imam told Guardian Media there are some 128 Masjids in this country, with some 30 of them being independent organisations not affiliated with any larger Islamic groupings. He said the assistance given to the larger groups often does not trickle downwards to the smaller Masjids.

“There are many, many persons who are underprivileged, and they are challenged at this point in time and consideration should be given to these persons via assistance from the various Jammats, at a Jammat level, not only from the Governmental level,” Imam Karim explained.

He added: “From a Jammat level means from a community-based level because Imams like myself—and many, many Imams in the country we know the pulse of the people in our community—we know exactly who are in need and who are not in need.  I think that the government should at least consider us as persons of interest who can assist the impoverished persons in the community.”

Imam Karim said he has been making this plea for several years, but it has been going un-noticed.

“Imams of this country play an integral role and we can assist by distributing to the correct agencies and personnel,” he said. 

The Imam said sometimes, giving hampers to Members of Parliament to distribute may not be effective.

“They might give it to MPs or Members of Parliament for the areas and sometimes, you know, politically inclined again, it doesn’t really reach those persons who are in need. I am not saying that they will take it and use it for themselves,” he clarified.  “What I am saying is that especially this season, where the Islamic community has been fasting and there are many, many poor Muslims we are assisting. The Jammat is assisting. Many of the wealthier Muslims are assisting in whatever ways they can.”

The Imam called for a more collaborative approach to helping the vulnerable between Government and the Islamic community, noting that now was not the time to be bickering about dollars and cents, but to deal with curbing the effects of COVID-19.  

“Remember, the government of the day has a responsibility to shoulder. Not because we are independent—the Islamic community is independent—we have to bear the full burden,” he noted.  “I am saying that the government of the day needs to assist us in carrying about our day-to-day routine.” 

Imam Karim said during the month of Ramadan, Masjids were allowed five persons inside to keep the devotions going, and he commended all Imams for “the charitable services they have been doing”.

He also said things have been particularly challenging this year, given what is now taking place in Palestine.

“It is difficult to celebrate Eid 2021 when Muslims in Palestine are under pressure,” he told Guardian Media.

“In the Quran, the Islamic community is like one body and when one part of the body aches, the entire body feels the pain,” he explained.  “How can we celebrate?”

He stated: “I am saying this loud and clear, and I am sending a clarion call to those in authority, we need to stand up, we need to raise our voices and let the world know of the atrocities taking place in Palestine, with the people of Palestine in Jerusalem.”

In his Eid Message, Imam Karim urged Muslims to look beyond the present dark tunnel they may find themselves in and seek the light at the end of the tunnel. He observed that fasting for Ramadan is a great blessing that teaches persons restraint, along with empathy and kindness.

“COVID-19 here and it might be here for a bit longer.  As believing men and women, we have to understand that we need to cope. We need to practice what we have learnt in the blessed month of Ramadan by helping, by showing care and by being our brother’s keeper,” he said.

Imam Karim also commended all those involved in the battle against COVID-19. 

“We are in a country where there is peace. Where there is peace, there is hope. My Message to the whole of mankind is let us become our brother’s keeper. Show kindness, show solidarity, show obedience to our Creator and those in authority who are guiding us,” he said.  “According to the philosophies that will be more positive in the sense of bringing back some sort of sanity back to humanity.”