(By Mahmood Hassan, Chairman Islamic Aid)

Having grown up in one of the poorest areas of Pakistan, I saw first hand how poverty can ruin people’s lives and deprive children of the hope of a decent future. As my village had no school, every day I had to walk more than seven kilometres to a neighbouring village so that I could get any education.

I still remember how dry and barren the landscape was and how frightened I was at just eight years old as to who or what I might encounter on my walk to and from school. These early memories are still part of what drives me today to help ensure poor children have better opportunities for a proper education.

The terrible effects of war

Thankfully I did very well at school and won many awards, gaining scholarships in most of my exams. This enabled me to go to Bahauddin Zakariya University in Multan where I graduated with an MBA, also winning a Gold Medal and merit scholarship from the Pakistan Government. This opened the door for me to come to the UK where I got my MBA from Imperial College London. I stayed on at the University to become a lecturer in Marketing and Strategic Management.

My interest in charity work also emerged at this time. The terrible effects of the Bosnian War on ordinary people made me want to do something to help and so I became a charity volunteer in 1993, going on to work in various different posts within this sector.

Helping thousands of children every year

By 1998 I had also started my own business and felt in a position to start giving something back to my home community on a larger scale. So I set up a school in my village back in Pakistan to help give children there the chance of a good education without the same fears I had faced on my journeys to and from school.

And this was really where the first idea of Islamic Aid began. The success of this project encouraged me to want to do it again – and again!

I’m proud to say that since then Islamic Aid has gone from strength to strength. The charity is now involved in a wide range of innovative projects in countries across Asia, Africa and Europe. Our efforts are really helping people to receive a proper education and lifesaving healthcare, as well as teaching people the skills and giving them the means to earn an independent living.

Helping people to help themselves

And it’s this that I believe is the most effective answer to poverty. By giving people the fundamental means to help themselves – whether through education, training, equipment, farm animals, whatever – people become best able to stand on their own feet and overcome poverty.

This remains the charity’s guiding principle today.

Not without its challenges!

Like most things in life, nothing is quite as straightforward as one would like. In the aftermath of the appalling terrorist attacks on the twin towers in New York, it became a very difficult time for Muslim charities, with many people viewing them with suspicion.

This coincided with the collapse of one of my major business projects to offer Islamic banking worldwide. Opinion had mover so far against anything Islamic that the previously secured funding for the project melted away.

But in a strange way this became a positive, as I was now able to focus my attention far more on developing Islamic Aid. Today, Alhamdullilah, the charity now has more than 85,000 donors and an annual turnover of £4.5 million. Islamic Aid is now established in the U.S. And I have also become a Trustee for other charities like Pakistan Foundation and Practical Action.

Answering the call

I know that for the rest of my life I will continue to work tirelessly towards my vision of a world where poverty and suffering have been overcome and children are given the chance to grow up and live in dignity, independence and freedom.

It’s my great hope that you share this vision and will support the work of Islamic Aid now and in the future. Thank you.

Mahmood ul Hassan
Founder and Chairman, Islamic Aid