This year Muslims have had to weigh up giving Zakat to Ukrainian Muslim refugees or to refugees in the Middle East (Courtesy: UNHCR).

Islamic Lifestyle

Ramadan prompted Muslims to target Zakat alms on Ukrainian refugees

Russo-Ukrainian War has prompted the largest European refugee crisis since World War II.


Muslims have been considering how their Zakat charitable obligations during Ramadan could deliver an obligation to support Muslim refugees from Ukraine, forced from their home by the Russian invasion.

The war has prompted the largest refugee crises Europe has experienced this century, outweighing the impact of the Syrian civil war. According to the most recent figures from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), more than 4 million refugees have fled to bordering countries and over 2 million Ukrainians have been displaced internally since Russian military forces invaded on February 24.

With Ramadan this year occurring concurrently with the conflict, some Muslims have been supporting Ukrainian refugees as part of their Zakat almsgiving duties that are often a focus during the holy month.

Under Zakat, Muslims must make an annual payment comprising 2.5% (one-fortieth) of their wealth (income and possessions) to assist the poor. These are often targeted on local needy people, but the administration of Zakat varies around the world, said Zenobia Ismail, a research fellow at the University of Birmingham’s International Development Department. “There are not many rules on how it is collected. Some people give to their local mosque or community group, while others give to Islamic charities like Islamic Relief Worldwide (based in the UK), Muslim Hands (also UK-based) or Gift of the Givers (in South Africa),” she said.

As a result, some Islamic almsgiving is helping fund Ukrainian refugee programmes, including those supporting the country’s minority Muslim population and the indigenous Crimean Tatars, who fled the peninsular after it was annexed by Russia in 2014.

Muslim Hands prepared Ramadan Iftar food packs for refugees breaking their daily Ramadan fast at sunset, in addition to other emergency aid. In early March 2022 it deployed a team with another UK-based Muslim non-government organisation (NGO) Al-Khair Foundation to Poland and Romania. Its members were charged with conducting a rapid-needs assessment of refugees arriving in these countries and are currently distributing aid in the Polish cities of Warsaw, Kraków and Katowice.

Emergency aid packs consist of a month’s worth of food for a family as well as blankets and hygiene kits, said Muslim Hands UK’s fundraising director Yasrab Shah.

“With the need so great, we will continue with this vital work during Ramadan and provide emergency food packs as well as hot meals that are halal, but also in line with the Ukrainian diet,” Shah told Salaam Gateway.

To date, Muslim Hands has distributed 600 emergency food packs (all halal) that have reached over 4,000 beneficiaries. When considering both its initial response and its Ramadan distribution, the NGO will have distributed ₤50,000 ($65,000) worth of aid, it said.

The Nottingham-based NGO collects and distributes Zakat globally, as well as other forms of Muslim alms such as voluntary Sadaqat and general charity.

While most fleeing refugees are women and children, there are also foreign workers and students among those seeking refuge in Poland and other bordering countries. These include Muslims from central Asian countries like Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan who face passing Ramadan 2022 displaced in another country, said Muslim Hands UK.

It estimates 5-10% of those fleeing the conflict are Muslims.

Ukraine has a relatively small, yet multinational, Muslim population. The most recent figures available from a 2018 survey conducted by the Ukrainian non-governmental public policy think tank Razumkov Centre found Islam represented about 2.5% of Ukraine’s 44 million people.

The capital city Kyiv is home to an estimated 100,000 practising Muslims from Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan as well as the Crimean Tatars, who have lived in that region for centuries. Many are staunch opponents of Russia; about 10% of the then 250,000 Crimean Tatars voluntarily moved to Kherson, a city in southern Ukraine, or Kyiv from the peninsula following Russia’s 2014 annexation.

More recently Ukraine has also become home to a growing number of Russian-origin Muslims, mainly from the North Caucasus region, due to the growing tensions there with Russia’s central government.

The potential for Zakat to aid these Muslim refugees and war victims is immense given the Islamic Development Bank recently estimated annual Zakat contributions amount to around $300 billion across the Islamic world.

It is an important source of funding for large Muslim humanitarian organisations. The bigger Muslim charities function like charitable organisation Oxfam International and can use Zakat funds combined with other sources for humanitarian work, Ismail said.

Muslim Hands was created in 1993 in response to a previous European crisis harming Muslims, specifically the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina and thus has had an international scope from its beginning, Shah said.

“We are grateful to see how our donor base has generously responded to the Ukrainian crisis, giving tens of thousands of pounds. We hope this will continue during Ramadan and to all our other campaigns that aim to help those in desperate need,” said Shah.

Turkish NGO Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) has also been at the forefront of international aid, reaching the needy in 123 countries including Ukraine's Crimean Tatars. It is providing support to Ukrainian citizens within conflict zones as well as in bordering countries where refugees have fled.

Relief ranges from food and blankets to medical supplies including distributing some 2,000 loaves of bread daily and Iftar food packages during Ramadan.

“Because the Turkish people have always demonstrated their sensitivity in standing up for the oppressed, they have shown the required care in the Ukrainian crisis and have not shied away from offering any assistance they can. Since this sensitivity increases during Ramadan, we can predict they will help the people of Ukraine more,” said an IHH spokesperson.

IHH collects and distributes Zakat for humanitarian purposes, but the sole beneficiaries of these funds are poor Muslims, he said. However, since other alms, such as Sadaqat and general charity, can be given to non-Muslims, he believes IHH donors will not forget non-Muslim Ukrainian people in their general almsgiving.

“We are obliged to spend Zakat in places where people send it and to fulfil this trust in the most reliable way. For this reason, we can say the aid given to the oppressed in Ukraine will generally consist of charity and aid,” the spokesperson told Salaam Gateway.

Due to the high levels of poverty in many Middle Eastern countries, most Zakat donations and charity aid this Ramadan probably came from wealthier Muslims in Europe, the spokesperson said.

“Unfortunately, many Muslim countries have long struggled with poverty, civil war, famine and occupation. Despite these difficult conditions, Muslims who have a good economic situation try to help people in need in the world without discrimination,” the spokesperson noted.

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Brenda Dionisi