Centre for Development Studies
Paper presented at the annual conference of the Development Studies Association (DSA), Methodist Central Hall, London, 8 November 2008.
Amid tentative recognition of the work of faith-based organisations (FBOs) in responding to humanitarian crises, this paper examines a novel inter-faith partnership between Muslim Aid, the UK’s second largest Islamic development agency, and the US-based United Methodist Committee on Relief, the official development agency of the United Methodist Church. Based on research in the UK, the US and Sri Lanka, and an ethnographic methodology including interviews, focus group discussions, documentary research and participant observation, the article examines the origins of the partnership in August 2006 amid Sri Lanka’s civil war, its formalisation in London in June 2007 and its subsequent development up to September 2008. It examines the successes and set-backs to date and traces the distinct religious, national, ideological and cultural boundaries that must be straddled in developing the partnership. In conclusion, it explores the significance of the partnership in light of our current understanding of the potential and challenges of partnerships among FBOs and between FBOs and their secular peers.
Within the established body of literature which now explores the role of faith-based organisations in promoting international development, there is a tentative recognition of their specific roles in the provision of humanitarian assistance in the context of natural disasters or conflicts. International NGOs, for instance, channel an estimated $29 bn. in emergency or humanitarian aid, and FBOs feature prominently among their numbers (Riddell 2007: xv & 316). Six of the 15 NGOs or NGO coalitions represented on the board which oversees the SPHERE Humanitarian Charter, for instance, have an explicit faith-based ethos as do five of the 13 NGOs which constitute the UK Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC). Religious discourse has long been characterised by a concern for the immediate welfare of humankind, and FBOs play an important role in mobilising the support of millions of people for whom religious values underpin their concern for their neighbours in the global village. FBOs can play a particular role where overt conflicts or less overt inter-group grievances are exacerbated by religious tensions, especially in bridging social or political divides with distinct religious dimensions.
One key source of trans-national conflict over the last three decades stems from the rise of political Islam as a force in international relations, the end of the Cold War and the emergence of distinct tensions between Western countries with a Christian heritage concerned about international threats to their domestic security and countries in North Africa, the Middle East and both South & Central Asia where large sections of the population feel under siege from the foreign policies of leading Western states. Efforts by Christian, Muslim and other organisations (both faith-based and secular) to work together across national and religious boundaries represent a potentially significant anti-dote to such conflict and the perceptions which fuel it.
This paper therefore examines a novel partnership between two significant humanitarian organisations with a faith-based ethos; UK-based Muslim Aid and the US-based United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). It builds on available accounts of the partnership from Muslim Aid and UMCOR, including a short video (Muslim Aid & UMCOR 2007) and a dedicated website. The paper explores the origins of the partnership from August 2006 amid the renewed civil war in Sri Lanka, its formalisation in June 2007 and its development up to September 2008. Based on research in the United Kingdom, the United States and Sri Lanka between February and September 2008, and on a range of methods including interviews, focus group discussions, participant observation, site visits, and documentary study, it provides an ethnographic account of the partnership and its two constituent organisations. The paper is divided into four sections following the introduction. The first provides a history of the partnership’s genesis during the 2006 ‘Muttur Crisis’, an event now central to the history of NGO entanglement in complex political emergencies. The second provides an analysis of each organisation and the religious, national, ideological and cultural differences that must be managed in developing the partnership. The third section examines the formalisation of the partnership in June 2007 and the practical collaboration which has resulted in the short period to September 2008. The final section, the conclusion, explores the partnership’s significance amid a wider consideration of the potential and limitations of partnership among FBOs (and between FBOs and their secular peers) in the context of international development.
2. The Muttur Crisis: August-September 2006.
Muslim Aid and UMCOR began to collaborate in 2006 in Sri Lanka, one of the world’s most complex plural societies and a country wracked by communal conflict since the mid-1950s (De Silva 1998: 7). The conflict is primarily political and ethno-cultural in origin, but has a distinct religious dimension. Three quarters of Sri Lanka’s 21m people are Sinhalese, and two-thirds are Sinhalese Buddhists. The remaining one quarter is split equally between Tamils and Muslims, while a Christian minority exists within both the Tamil and Sinhalese communities (Ibid:8-9). Tamils are concentrated in the drier Eastern and Northern provinces and since 1984, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE) has waged a civil war in pursuit of an autonomous Tamil state focused on these two provinces. The conflict is driven in part by the inter-twining of politics and religion in which the symbols and iconography of Buddhism and Sinhalese culture are championed by the Sri Lankan state. Any visitor to Sri Lanka, for instance, is struck by the omnipresence of the twin flags of Sri Lanka (with its distinct Sinhalese iconography) and of International Buddhism (first flown in 1885 in Sri Lanka). Nearly all public buildings and spaces are dominated by these powerful symbols, provoking opposition from other faith communities who feel marginalised from this important expression of national culture.
The partnership began during the 2006 Muttur Crisis, a complex political emergency of the kind that increasingly envelops international non-governmental organisations (NGOs), many of them faith-based, presenting them with significant challenges. In the early hours of 2 August 2006, roughly 150 LTTE guerrillas occupied the centre of Muttur, a remote coastal town in Sri Lanka’s Eastern province (see Map). Muttur lies in Trincomalee district, a district characterised by a relatively equal split between Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims and long characterised by inter-
Map: Muttur and the Surrounding Area.
communal tension. Muttur’s 57,000 population, however, is predominantly Muslim and since 1984, the town has come under repeated threat or attack from the LTTE, its physical isolation exacerbated by a pervasive sense of insecurity.
After an initial attempt to reoccupy Muttur was rebuffed, the Sri Lankan military began to shell the town early on 3 August, forcing residents to flee their homes. Significantly, it was among faith institutions that people sought sanctuary. By mid-day, almost five thousand people had converged on the Nathwathul Ulama Islamic College and thousands more in two other Islamic schools in the town, Al Hilal and Ashraff High School and in the town’s three mosques. The Tamil community, Hindu and Christian, took refugee in the town’s Catholic and Methodist Churches while most Sinhalese residents evacuated to a prominent Buddhist temple in the nearby town of Seruwila. During the afternoon of 3 August, however, two shells hit the Islamic College, killing 33 people (UTHR 2006), and in an atmosphere of desperation, religious leaders sought external help to organise an evacuation of Muttur. During the evening of 3 August, Muslim figures in Colombo convened by the Jamiat-e-Ulama (Council of Religious Scholars) met to prepare. Among the organisations represented was Muslim Aid, the only one with expertise in humanitarian intervention.
At a regular meeting of the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies (CHA) on Friday morning, 4 August, the Muslim Aid Country Director provided a briefing on the developing crisis and sought help from other agencies in responding. UMCOR offered immediate support and by mid-morning the two had forged an agreement to combine resources. Muslim Aid and UMCOR had established programmes in Sri Lanka in 2005 in the aftermath of the December 2004 tsunami and both had been active in Muttur and surrounding areas, helping to rebuild houses destroyed and to restore livelihoods ruined. Each brought different assets to the collaboration. An established humanitarian agency with close ties to donors such as the United Nations
High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), UMCOR brought money, vehicles and rapid access to emergency supplies such as bottled water, clothes, tarpaulin sheets and medical kits. Muslim Aid, a smaller organisation with a more recent history and less developed ties to the larger humanitarian agencies, brought its established connections to Sri Lanka’s Muslim community and a significant ability, in contrast to many international NGOs in Sri Lanka, to mobilise local community organisations and volunteers. They were joined by two medical staff from a German Christian FBO, Diakonia. Significantly, the organisations were able respond together to the Muttur crisis because of a history of inter-faith dialogue in the town, involving both Muslim and Methodist clerics.
The evacuation of Muttur began after morning prayers on Friday, 4 August, hours before the LTTE guerrillas began to abandon the town to government special forces, with residents walking to Kiliveddi where they were picked up by vehicles mobilised by Jamiat-e-Ulama with financial support from Muslim Aid. Muttur sits at the mouth of the Mahaweli Ganga, Sri Lanka’s longest river (see map above), and is cut off from Trincomalee by four unbridged rivers so refugees were forced to flee South. By nightfall, nearly 10,000 Muslims had arrived in the nearby town of Kantale while hundreds of Tamils headed to Trimcomalee via Kantale or south towards Batticaloa district. By Monday, 7 August, more than 20,000 evacuees had arrived in Kantale, and the full horror of the Muttur crisis had become apparent.
In complex political emergencies, innocent civilians suffer at the hands of contending parties to the conflict and NGOs face life-or-death decisions in responding. The Muttur crisis underlines both points dramatically. Thousands of terrified evacuees were intercepted by LTTE guerrillas on 4 August and diverted into the jungle at Krandi Rock where at least 5 people died at the hands of the LTTE or as a result of government shelling (UTHR 2008). In a separate incident, terrified Tamils were stopped near Kiliveddi by government troops who detained 24 men, sparking a rapid response by UMCOR and Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission (SLMM) observers who feared for the men’s lives. After eight hours of tense negotiations, the 24 were taken to a police station for processing as potential LTTE guerrillas. Others were less lucky and in total, nearly 60 people died during the Muttur crisis, including elderly residents who remained in their homes and who died of hunger and thirst.
NGOs were also caught up tragically in the Muttur crisis. In complex political emergencies, NGOs play an important role where they strictly observe the principles of humanitarian intervention, including the principle of impartiality. Even the most impartial NGOs, however, risk being perceived as partial in the heightened emotions of a conflict, sometimes with terrible consequences. During the Muttur crisis, organisations including the International Committee of the Red Cross were forced to withdraw temporarily from the area after their vehicles were stoned by residents in surrounding villages. Their decision to withdraw amid a developing humanitarian emergency may have been questioned in some quarters but on Sunday 6 August, a team from the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies discovered the bodies of 17 staff of Action Contre La Faim (ACF, Action Against Hunger) at ACF’s Muttur office. All had been lined up against a wall and shot in the single worst atrocity ever perpetrated against an international NGO.
Against this difficult background, Muslim Aid and UMCOR worked to support the 20,000 Muttur evacuees based in Kantale. A town of some 50,000 people, Kantale had a mixed population; 60% Sinhalese, 35% Muslim, and 5% Tamil. An inflow of 20,000 people threatened to overwhelm the local community and exacerbate inter-communal tensions and therefore required careful management and logistical support. Government officials, however, were sceptical that Muttur’s population would flee the town and made no preparations, leaving UMCOR and Muslim Aid to coordinate the reception. UMCOR maintained a warehouse in Kantale and had staff on the ground by the morning of 4 August. Muslim Aid had ties to local community organisations, both Muslim and Sinhalese. By Saturday, 5 August, Muslim Aid had established an office in Kantale, and over the next few days, UMCOR and Muslim Aid assumed direct responsibility for 10,000 evacuees in 11 separate refugee camps, under the overall supervision of Jamiat-e-Ulama. Over the next two months, Muslim Aid and UMCOR staff and volunteers developed a remarkable partnership in supporting the Muttur evacuees, with UMCOR drawing on its established expertise in responding to complex emergencies (especially in the area of logistics) and Muslim Aid providing culturally and religiously sensitive support to the predominantly Muslim evacuees.
In response, both organisations signed a formal agreement in June 2007 to expand the partnership upwards from their Sri Lanka programmes to encompass their headquarters staff and outwards to other countries in which they were both operational. The two had much in common. Both were relatively small organisations specialising in relief and rehabilitation and thus very different from larger mainstream development NGOs combining local development activities with international lobbying and advocacy. From a secular perspective, each has a conservative ethos, opposing homosexuality, gambling, and alcohol consumption or drunkenness. Both organisations, for instance, refuse to accept funding from lotteries, denying them access to a potentially significant income stream. In other respects, however, it was an unusual and unprecedented partnership, one that required the organisations to straddle not only the obvious religious boundaries but also, as the following section reveals, distinct national, ideological and cultural boundaries.
3. Muslim Aid and the United Methodist Committee on Relief
The unusual and unprecedented nature of the partnership is readily apparent in the separate histories of the organisations. Muslim Aid was established in London in November 1985 by the representatives of 23 Muslim community organisations, led by Yusuf Islam, the prominent folk singer formerly known as Cat Stevens. As a religion, Islam has historically embodied a significant concern for the poor and for those in need, although this concern was traditionally focused on the immediate community and channelled through local mosques. Since the early 1980s, however, Islamic traditions of charitable giving have become more institutionalised and are increasingly channelled through specialised charities working at national and international, as well as local level. While British Muslims have always sent money to their extended families overseas, increasingly they sought ways to help a wider, global, community, including, but by no means limited to, fellow Muslims.
In its early years, Muslim Aid established a field-office in Peshawar in Pakistan to help Afghan refugees and sent supplies to help victims of drought in Sudan, floods in Bangladesh and hurricanes in Jamaica. During the 1990s and early 2000s, it responded to natural disasters in Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and Cambodia and to conflicts in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. The tsunami of 26 December 2004 (along with the Pakistan earthquake of August 2005) proved a landmark, however, as Britain’s 1.8m Muslims responded generously, as non-Muslims began to support its work, and as larger donors sought conduits for the unprecedented sums of money raised in Western countries. Muslim Aid’s income grew exponentially as a result, from £4.4m in 2003 to £9.8m in 2005 and to an estimated £24m (or US$48) in 2008. By 2008, Muslim Aid employed 1,217 staff in its head office and in the 14 countries in which it was operational. In total, it supported relief and development activities in 70 countries.
Muslim Aid was founded by British Muslims predominantly of Bangladeshi and Pakistani extraction. Ideologically, many were influenced by Jamaat-e-Islami, a political party which campaigns for the (peaceful) introduction of shar’iah law in both countries. With most of the 17 current trustees in position since the organisation’s establishment, this conservative current continues to permeate Muslim Aid and to influence relations between the London head office and Muslim Aid’s 30 to 40 thousand regular donors. Muslim Aid’s dramatic financial growth, however, has led to an expansion in staff numbers, in their professional expertise and in their ideological orientations, leading to minor schisms between staff and trustees. In March 2008, for instance, the 17 Trustees included neither women, non-Muslims nor Trustees with prior experience of international relief or development work. Like the Board of Trustees, Muslim Aid’s 78 headquarters staff in 2007 were predominantly (70%) of Pakistani or Bangladeshi origin, and 98% were Muslim. However, they were split roughly equally between men and women while 69% of staff were 34 years of age or younger, and many subscribe to the ideas of liberal Islamic figures such as Tariq Ramadan, or Fethullah Gulen.
Muslim Aid can be labelled as ‘active’ in the way it relates Islamic principles to its relief and development work. Its websites and publications are characterised by references to the Qu’ran or the Ahadith, the teachings of the Prophet. It generates most of its non-institutional funding during Islamic festivals or holidays such as Ramadan and the twin Eids. It also raises funds through Islamic charitable norms such as zakat (compulsory social taxes), Qurbani (a sum equivalent to the value of a goat), sadaqa (optional charitable donations), lillah (donations which can cover mosque or charity administrative costs), and waqf (endowments to charitable organisations) which it promotes. Its most important source of non-institutional funding, however, is zakat payments received during Ramadan, along with Qurbani payments during Hajj. In Islamic teaching, the distribution of Qurbani is limited to the Muslim poor while the percentage of zakat-based income which can be used for administrative purposes is limited. In some Islamic circles, distribution of zakat income in limited to Muslims. In headquarters accounts, and in disbursements to field-offices, therefore, zakat and Qurbani funds are separated from other income streams. The distinctions, however, sometimes break down. It can be operationally difficult, for instance, to limit zakat expenditure to the eight categories of deserving recipients specified in the Qu’ran. Similarly, in countries such as Sri Lanka where the plural religious character of local communities, along with the risk of exacerbating inter-communal grievances, makes it difficult to isolate zakat or Qurbani distribution from other expenditure or to limit it to Muslims. In practice, therefore, Islamic norms are central to the work of Muslim Aid but are interpreted pragmatically to take account of realities on the ground.
In contrast, UMCOR wears its faith more lightly and can be labelled as ‘passive’ in the way it grounds its relief and development work in Christian or Methodist principles. UMCOR was established in 1940 as the Methodist Committee on Overseas Relief with an initial mission to help 30m refugees from China’s civil war and to facilitate the repatriation of Methodist missionaries (Haines 1989: 11-12). From the early 1960s, it expanded its remit from relief and refugee resettlement to encompass rehabilitation activities and in 1968, it was renamed the United Methodist Committee on Overseas Relief after the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren combined to form the United Methodist Church (UMC) (Kehrberg 1989: 66-68). In 1972, UMCOR became an official UMC organ under the umbrella of the new General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) and in 1993, a partly autonomous division, UMCOR-NGO, was established to solicit and channel large institutional grants. The 1993 initiative gave rise to a complex dual structure where UMCOR worked through local UMC structures in the United States and through the national Methodist Church overseas, channelling church funds, while UMCOR-NGO established field offices overseas funded directly by institutional donors. In some countries, as a result, UMCOR-NGO effectively competes with the local Methodist Church to implement projects with local partners while some arms of GBGM implement programmes in developing countries independently of UMCOR and UMCOR-NGO, for instance, the United Methodist Global Aids Fund.
This tension, however, is simply one dimension of the complex institutional environment that stems primarily from the decentralised structure of mainstream Protestant denominations, from the political or ideological competition that results, and from the compromises that must be struck to contain it. The UMC is governed by rules and policies approved by delegates at a General Conference held every four years. Like other US mainstream Protestant denominations, the UMC is divided between liberals and conservatives; according to one estimate, 55% of the UMC’s 8m members are conservative and the remaining 45% liberal. The Church leadership is predominantly liberal and recent conferences, including the 2008 conference, have upheld its liberal values. Against this background, however, UMC membership is declining, while that of more conservative congregations across the US is growing, further politicising General Conference debates.
The global Methodist Church was founded in 1784 by the non-conformist preacher John Wesley. A committed evangelist and social reformer, Wesley was instrumental, along with other Church leaders, in the campaign that led to the abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade slavery in 1807 and this tradition of social engagement remains central to the UMC, and its UMCOR arm, tasked with the ‘mission to save lives and restore livelihoods that are threatened by war, conflict or natural disasters’ (UMCOR 2007). UMCOR, for instance, has assisted approximately 60,000 survivors of hurricanes Katrina and Rita and repaired 25,000 homes, while working through local partners (predominantly the local Methodist Church) in over 20 countries (Ibid). UMCOR-NGO has 500 staff, and runs programmes in 12 countries, ‘working collaboratively with local communities to assist them in building peace, restoring social stability, revitalizing community structures and empowering their members to take control of their lives’ (UMCOR-NGO, n.d.).
UMC doctrine and policy are set out respectively in the Book of Discipline and in the Book of Resolutions renewed at each General Conference. The Book of Discipline, for instance, includes a Social Creed, while the Book of Resolutions includes Guidelines for Inter-religious Relationships first adopted in 1980. Along with the general Biblical injunctions to which all Christian Churches subscribe, both books provide the specific theological basis for the work of UMCOR, yet neither UMCOR’s website nor its publications make any reference to this theological mandate. This quasi-secular position is partly explained by the liberal argument that Christian theology should be subsidiary to broader humanitarian principles in the work of UMCOR. Equally, however, it’s framed by UMCOR’s finances. In 2007, UMCOR had income of $78m (£39m), with roughly half provided by institutional donors who are reassured by its ostensibly secular nature, especially its strict prohibition on proselytizing through UMCOR-funded activities. Thus, while it generates millions of dollars, UMCOR’s liberalism and quasi-secularism (and the perceived liberalism of its parent bodies, GBGM and UMC), provokes opposition from organisations lobbying for a more conservative interpretation of Church doctrine in UMC policy. Inevitably, therefore, UMCOR had to contend with this opposition in developing its partnership with Muslim Aid.
4. The Muslim Aid-UMCOR Partnership.
By early October 2006, the Muttur Crisis was largely over and most of the population of 57,000 had returned to the town. UMCOR and Muslim Aid, however, continued to work together, setting up emergency field offices in Muttur’s main mosque and Catholic Church to assist the returnees. With support from donors such as AmeriCares and UNHCR, they provided returnees with short-term supplies to cope with the transition, repaired and rebuilt damaged houses and funded livelihood and employment projects to support the town’s medium term recovery. Significantly, the local perception of both organisations had changed. Prior to the crisis, people in the predominantly Sinhalese villages of Kiliveddi, Seruwila and Serunuwara (see map) were sceptical of international NGOs, both faith-based and secular. They felt that INGOs neglected the Sinhalese poor in helping neighbouring tsunami-affected communities (such as Muttur), that INGOs opposed the Sinhalese-dominated government (and tacitly supported the Tamil Tigers), and that Christian NGOs actively sought converts to Christianity among Sri Lankan Buddhists. In some cases, scepticism poured over into outright opposition, with the stoning of INGO vehicles passing through these villages in the early days of the Muttur Crisis.
In the aftermath of the Crisis, however, news of UMCOR and Muslim Aid’s work in helping the Kantale based-refuges, many of them Sinhalese, had spread to other villages and staff of both organisations were now able to visit these villages relatively unimpeded. For many villagers, the sight of a Christian and Muslim organisation working side by side was unprecedented and a welcome initiative to bridge the ethnic and religious divisions that weighed heavily on the district’s population. Both organisations, for instance, forged ties to local community-based organisations in Kantale during the Crisis, including the Eastern United Women’s Organisation, a predominantly Sinhalese organisation of 750 members. Much more than the words of local religious leaders, according to one source, the practical collaboration of UMCOR and Muslim Aid, and their local partners, challenged local perceptions of conflict among local faith communities and brought hope of new patterns of inter-faith and cross-community co-operation.
The transformation of local perceptions had a significant impact on the leaders of both organisations leading to the June 2007 agreement in London to formalise their partnership. Stephen Timms MP, the Treasury minister, officiated at the signing, a reflection of British government support for an innovative cross-national and trans-faith partnership. Under the terms of the agreement, each agreed to combine programme resources where practicable, to pool office and other facilities, to promote staff exchanges and common training opportunities, to introduce each other to their respective funders and to apply for funding on a joint basis, to engage in advocacy together and to represent each other in field-level operations. Ultimately, the signatories hoped, the agreement would serve as a ‘witness to, and symbol of, the power of cooperation across faiths and communities and by this cooperation, encourage people and organizations of all faiths to work together towards their common peaceful goals’.
The partnership was soon welcomed in other donor and government circles. The Commonwealth Foundation undertook to help promote it and both organisations were invited to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Kampala where in November 2007 they launched a 10 minute DVD and booklet on the partnership and its origins to an audience of government officials, donor representatives, journalists and civil society activists (cf. Muslim Aid & UMCOR 2007). Before and after the Kampala meeting, senior managers visited each others headquarters to familiarise themselves with their respective organisational structures and cultures, building personal ties yet also discovering key organisational differences.
In Sri Lanka, the two organisations began to share office space in Trincomalee, to develop a three-way partnership that included the Methodist Church of Sri Lanka (MCSL) and, most significantly, to launch a joint initiative to promote inter-faith dialogue on peace issues, known as People Accelerating Towards Human Synergy (PATHS). Arising directly from the cross-community collaboration in response to the Muttur Crisis, PATHS is an alliance of local organisations from Sri Lanka’s Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Christian communities that promotes local cross-community interaction through cultural events. In collaboration with UMCOR, Muslim Aid and MCSL, PATHS organised a national conference in December 2007 to consider lessons for Sri Lankan faith communities from the conflict resolution process in the Indonesian state of Aceh, where UMCOR and Muslim Aid’s post-tsunami reconstruction work inevitably involved them in local peace building initiatives (PATHS 2008). PATHS’s leadership now hopes it will evolve into a national civil movement capable of mobilising a nationwide and cross-community pool of volunteers in response to humanitarian crises and of acting as a significant local voice for peace. Beyond Sri Lanka, staff of Muslim Aid and UMCOR spent much of the sixteen months from June 2007 to September 2008 introducing the partnership to field staff in the countries where both are operational, building personal ties and considering joint operational activities, for instance in Cambodia, Myanmar/Burma, and Sudan.
The partnership has also suffered set-backs, most significantly the cancellation of plans to provide schools kits to primary schools in Palestine and Israel. In July 2008, the Israeli government listed Muslim Aid as a banned organisation, along with 35 other organisations which it claimed were allies of the ‘Union of Good’, in both supporting and assisting Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The ban was serious not only for Muslim Aid but for UMCOR, many of whose supporters endorse the Christian right’s trenchant support for Israel and opposition to its enemies, both real and illusory. Muslim Aid officials were incredulous at the ban, and view it as emblematic of the difficulties that established Muslim development agencies face, both in the helping the conflict-ravaged communities of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and in forging alliances with other faith communities. In light of the ban, UMCOR and Muslim Aid switched the focus of the initiative to Lebanon and in late 2008, distributed 15,000 kits containing clothes, books and other school materials to 56 schools through the country catering to Lebanese and Palestinian children. In 2008, Muslim Aid and UMCOR also distributed 2,000 school kits to children and classroom equipment to five schools in Bangladesh affected by cyclone Sidr.
The partnership also generated opposition from some US Methodists and British Muslims revealing another challenge to be confronted in developing it. In Britain, Muslim Aid received critical emails and letters, while supporters in a number of towns in northern England, including Dewsberry and Bradford, voiced concerns to visiting Muslim Aid staff. Muslim Aid, however, is an independent development agency, rather than the official development arm of a representative body of British Muslims, and criticism has therefore been relatively muted. UMCOR, however, has faced opposition not only from a small number of individual Methodists who sent letters, cards and emails of opposition, but from an organised constituency in the form of the Methodist renewal movement. Soon after the partnership was formalised in June 2007, Methodist activists placed stories with conservative Christian newsletters, websites and blogs, encouraging UMC members to challenge UMCOR’s decision and the philosophy which informed it. On the surface, the campaign was unsuccessful, resulting in less than 10 letters of complaint to UMCOR, partly because many UMC members and UMCOR donors remained unaware of the partnership and the controversy surrounding it. Yet other UMC figures and UMCOR supporters were aware of the path-breaking and sensitive nature of the partnership as a result of antipathy to Islam in conservative circles in the US, including the South where the UMC has many members. Such opposition therefore serves to underline the innovative nature of the partnership and the sensitivities which must be overcome to develop it.
Conclusion: Reassembling the Shattered Mirror
In Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers, Kwame Anthony Appiah writes eloquently of the urgent need for ‘ideas and institutions that will allow us to live together as the global tribe we have become’ (2006: xiii). The son of an elder in the Methodist Church of Ghana, Appiah writes of society as a ‘shattered mirror’ in which ‘each shard reflects one part of a complex truth from its own particular angle’. The result, Appiah claims, is that ‘you will find parts of the truth everywhere and the whole truth nowhere’, and our biggest mistake, ‘to think that your little shard can reflect the whole’ (Ibid: 8). We can therefore think of Christianity and Islam as two the biggest shards of glass that make up the shattered mirror of the social world, accounting for 1.9 bn. and 1.2 bn. people respectively of the world’s roughly 6.6 bn. people. Big shards of glass, however, often split into smaller shards and we know that the complex worlds of Christianity and Islam are characterised by their own internal fault lines. In this light, Muslim Aid and UMCOR emerge as small shards of glass brought together by the Muttur crisis to form an embryonic union, and a template for a larger cosmopolitan mosaic.
Although barely 16 months old at the point when this research was concluded, the Muslim Aid-UMCOR partnership reveals much about the possibilities and challenges of partnership among FBOs and between FBOs and their secular peers. It suggests that faith-based humanitarian agencies have an important role to play in responding to natural disasters and conflicts, in significant part because of the trust vested by local communities in local religious institutions and leaders. The ability of Muslim Aid and UMCOR to respond to the Muttur crisis (and the December 2004 tsuanmi which preceded it) arose in part from a history of inter-faith dialogue in the town involving both Muslim and Methodist clerics, and hence a trust in associated institutions from different elements of the local community. Second, it demonstrates that FBOs have a significant ability to mobilise volunteers and other forms of support on the basis of their distinct values and resultant links to local communities. Muslim Aid, for instance, was able to mobilise hundreds of volunteers from around Sri Lanka to staff the Kantale refugee camps and secured the support of Jamiat-e-Ulama, the main representative association of Sri Lanka’s Muslim community in responding to the plight of the Muttur evacuees. Third, it demonstrates that FBOs often provide a vital response to instances of state failure during conflicts and natural disasters. In the Eastern province, for instance, local government authorities failed to anticipate and plan for the Muttur evacuation, leaving Muslim Aid and UMCOR as the first responders, and failed to provide compensation to civilians whose homes were damaged by government shelling, leaving UMCOR to fund house reconstruction with UNHCR support. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it demonstrates that cooperation among FBOs across cultural and religious boundaries can undermine cross-community tensions that stimulate conflict. Both Muslim Aid and UMCOR, for instance, undermined negative perceptions of INGOs, including FBOs, among the predominantly Sinhalese population of villages such as Seruwila and Kiliveddi, as a result of their combined response to the Muttur crisis and their assistance to different sections of the community on a strict non-discriminatory basis.
Equally, however, the Muslim Aid-UMCOR partnership reveals significant challenges for partnerships among FBOs or between FBOs and their secular peers. Trans-faith partnerships, for instance, inevitably provoke opposition from conservative elements of the faithful, although in this instance, relatively few Muslim Aid and UMCOR supporters have opposed the alliance. Nevertheless, it demonstrates that organisations must work hard to contain such opposition and to explain their policies with some care to their supporters. Conservative elements in intended beneficiary communities can be even more suspicious and also need careful treatment both during and after emergency operations. Sensitivity here, however, can yield a substantial dividend, peeling back the layers of suspicion and creating the conditions for cross-community tolerance and co-operation.
Trans-faith partnerships, even more so than other inter-organisational partnerships, also give rise to tensions between hardware and software that are difficult to resolve, between the tangibles such as joint grants, projects or advocacy activities and the intangibles, such as personal relationships or inter-organisational knowledge, that are necessary to achieve them. Within both Muslim Aid and UMCOR, some programme staff are frustrated that the partnership has not delivered more tangible outcomes in its first sixteen months yet others appreciate that it takes time to find ways of working around different organisational structures and cultures. Muslim Aid is a much newer organisation than UMCOR, is smaller in size and is a stand-alone agency, in contrast to UMCOR which is an organ of the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church, embedding it in a complex organisational structure. Muslim Aid has strong connections to British Muslims of Bangladeshi or Pakistani origin, and its staff and trustees remain primarily of Bangladeshi or Pakistani origin, adding a distinct cultural dimension to its character. UMCOR, on the other hand, has closer links to prominent donors such as USAID or UNHCR through the semi-autonomous UMCOR-NGO and is more dependent on large donor grants with the result that its financial and reporting systems are more attuned to large donor needs than Muslim Aid’s and it is more embedded in the policies and procedures of the international donor community. All of these differences represent small shards of glass which, in the analogy of Kwame Anthony Appiah, require careful positioning to create a compelling mosaic. The Muslim Aid-UMCOR partnership has delivered tangible outcomes for beneficiaries in Sri Lanka and, more recently, in Lebanon and Bangladesh but more importantly perhaps the organisations remain committed to engineering the software needed to work effectively in a range of countries in which both are operational. This will never be easy, but remains vitally important for, as Kwame Anthony Appiah illustrates, it involves creating the very ‘ideas and institutions that will allow us to live together as the global tribe we have become’.
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Appendix: Details of Interviews and Focus Group Discussions.
1. Interviews & Focus Group Discussions in London & Cambridge 17-19 March & 15 April 2008.
Hamid Azad, Head of Overseas Development, Muslim Aid, London, 17 March 2008.
Saif Ahmad, Chief Executive Officer, Muslim Aid, London, 17 March & 15 September 2008.
Susannah Pickering, Director of Communication & Partnership, Muslim Aid, London, 17 March and 15 September 2008.
Farooq Murad, Chairman, Board of Trustees, Muslim Aid, London (by telephone), 17 March 2008.
Guy Hovey, European Representative, United Methodist Committee on Relief, London, 17 March 2008.
Focus Group Discussion with employees (Tarak Ali, Catriona Moss and Safa Rahman), Muslim Aid, London, 17 Mar 2008.
Zeb Kasmani, Overseas Development Department, Muslim Aid, London, 17 March 2008.
Sarah Atkinson, Desk Manager: Sudan,Muslim Aid, London, 18 March 2008.
Qasim Ahmed, Desk Manager: Indonesia, Cambodia & the Philippines, Muslim Aid, London, 18 March 2008.
Mohammed Bali, Desk Manager: Lebanon & Iraq, Muslim Aid, London, 18 March 2008.
Focus Group Discussion: Ilford Islamic Centre, London, 18 March 2008 (with G. Ali, G. Hussain & H. Shah)
Mohammed W. Khokhar, Community Liaison Officer, Muslim Aid, London, 18 & 19 March 2008.
Sejad Mekic, Imam, Abubakar Siddiq Mosque, and Hicham Kweider, General Secretary, Cambridge Islamic Welfare Society, Cambridge, 19 March 2009.
Muhammad Jafer Qureshi, Vice Chairman, Board of Trustees, Muslim Aid, by telephone, 15 April 2008.
Zakya Hussain, Head of Human Resources and Training, Muslim Aid, London, 15 September 2008.
Richard Marke, Head of Finance, Muslim Aid, London, 15 September 2008.
2. Interviews & Focus Group Discussions in New York and Washington DC, 18-25 May 2008.
Rev. Sam Dixon, Deputy General Secretary, General Board of Global Ministry, United Methodist Church, New York, 19 May 2008.
Javed Sheikh, Comptroller, United Methodist Committee on Relief, New York, 19 May 2008.
Sharad Aggarwal, Senior Programme Officer, Europe & Asia, United Methodist Committee on Relief, New York, 19 May 2008.
Gina Mintz, Programme Officer, Europe & Asia, United Methodist Committee on Relief, New York, 19 May 2008.
Alberta McKnight, Senior Programme Officer, Africa and the Caribbean, United Methodist Committee on Relief, New York, 19 May 2008.
Katrynn Paik, Programme Officer, Africa and the Caribbean, United Methodist Committee on Relief, New York, 19 May 2008.
Alan Moseley, Programme Officer, Europe and Asia, United Methodist Committee on Relief, New York, 19 May 2008.
Roland Fernandes, General Treasurer, General Board of Global Ministry, United Methodist Church, New York, 20 May 2008.
Michelle Scott, Director of Communications, United Methodist Committee on Relief, New York, 20 May 2008.
Thomas Dwyer, Director of Operations Designate, United Methodist Committee on Relief, New York, 20 May 2008.
Casher Evans, Member, Board of Trustees, United Methodist Committee on Relief, New York, by telephone, 21 May 2008.
Bill McAlilly, District Superintendent (Mississippi)(?check), United Methodist Church, by telephone, 21 May 2008.
Runesha Muderwha, Head of Mission, United Methodist Committee on Relief, Democratic Republic of the Congo, New York, 21 May 2008.
Guy Hovey, Europe Representative, United Methodist Committee on Relief, New York, 21 & 23 May 2008.
Dr Cherian Thomas, Executive Secretary, Health and Welfare Ministries, General Board of Global Ministry, United Methodist Church, New York, 21 May 2008.
Melissa Crutchfield, Assistant General Secretary for Disaster Response, General Board of Global Ministry, United Methodist Church, New York, 21 May 2008.
Clint Rabb, Assistant General Secretary, Mission Volunteers, General Board of Global Ministry, United Methodist Church, New York, 21 May 2008.
Mark Tooley, Executive Director, UM Action, Institute on Religion and Democracy, Washington DC, 22 May 2008.
Group interview with Betty J. Letzig, Barbara E. Campbell & Emma (serving Deaconesses in the United Methodist Church). New York, 24 May 2008.
3. Interviews & Focus Group Discussions in Sri Lanka, 24 June-5 July 2008.
Bharat Pathak, Head of Mission, UMCOR Sri Lanka, Colombo, 25 June 2008.
Sam Selwine, Capacity Director, UMCOR Sri Lanka, Colombo, 25 June.
Focus Group Discussion: Eastern United Women’s Organisation, Kantale, 26 June.
Focus Group Discussion: Muslim Parents Committee, Kantale, 26 June.
Focus Group Discussion: Rural Economic and Community Development Organisation (RECDO), Kantale, 26 June.
Dhambagasara Dharma Keerthy Thera, Seruwila Temple, Seruwila, 27 June 2008.
A.K. Fows, Chairman, Pradeshiya Saba (Local Government Authority), Seruwila, 27 June 2008.
Moulavi Abdul Kareem, Principal, Nathwathul Ulama Islamic College, and Chief, Majlish Shura, Mutur, and Mr Amanula, Chairman, Coordination Committee for Community Development (3CD), Muttur, 27 June 2008.
Thideer Thoufeek, Chairman, Pradeshiya Saba (Local Government Authority), Muttur, 27 June 2008.
Varshini Pakkiatasha and Kaleech Rahaman Museen Belham, Muslim Aid, Muttur, 27 June 2008.
Focus Group Discussion with M.M. Yoosuf, Program Manager, and staff of the UMCOR Muttur Field Office, 27 June 2008.
Shukrum Mohammed and Mowjooth Thawoodza, Muslim Aid, Muttur, 27 June 2008.
Galasingham Uthayashankar, Program Manager and Luxmanan Sasiharan, Technical Engineer, UMCOR Trincomalee Field Office, Trincomalee, 28 June 2008.
Focus Group Discussion: Trincomalee branch of People Accelerating Towards Human Sunergy (PATHS), Trincomalee, 28 June 2008.
Munabu Nuburdeen, Islamic Guidance Centre, Kahatagasdigilaya, 29 June 2008.
Focus Group Discussion: Anuradhapura branch of Future Peace, Anuradhapura, 29 June 2008.
Rev. Dharmaratha, Anuradhapura Buddhist University and Sri Lanka Cultural Foundation, Anuradhapura, 29 June 2008.
Axel Bisschop, Senior Programme Officer, United Nations High Commission for Refugees, Colombo, 1 July 2008.
Dr Mohammed Saleem, President, Gandhi Institute & Swarajya Foundation, Colombo, 1 July 2008.
Amjad Saleem, Head of Mission, Muslim Aid Sri Lanka, Colombo, 1 July 2008.
Rishad Bathiudeen M.P., Minister for Resettlement and Disaster Relief Services, Colombo, 2 July 2008.
Rev. Ebenezer Joseph, President of Conference, Methodist Church of Sri Lanka, Colombo, 2 July 2008.
Firzan Hisham, Deputy Executive Director, Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies, Colombo, 2 July 2008.
Focus Group Discussion: National Steering Committee members, People Accelerating Towards Human Synergy (PATHS), Colombo, 3 July 2008.
Mahrouf Samsudn, Muslim Aid, Colombo, 3 July 2008.
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