UKEFF (UK Education and Faith Foundation) is a charity based in Oldham that has been delivering food directly to the hungry and the needy during the lockdown.
Every Monday, before the lockdown, UKEFF ran a food aid hub which is a lifeline for many service users. This includes some who are homeless and survive off food donations. After having to shut the food hub, they had to adapt to restrictions and began to deliver food to service users.
The Oldham food aid hub not only provided hot meals and warm clothing, but they also offered help and advice. They work with relevant agencies and provide support with legal issues, welfare and housing assistance.
They also promote independence so that service users don’t become completely reliant on food banks and present lectures about Islam and comparative religion to schools, colleges and universities across the country.
While working at a technology and online development company, Nasim Ashraf co-founded UKEFF in 2008 with the Islamic objective of restoring social harmony and balance to the community.
“The Quran compels us to reach out to the poor and the destitute and to the orphans.”
Using his family home as a base he started by collecting food donations to distribute to the needy and the homeless.
The charity has grown ever since with the support of his wife Hafizan, who is a solicitor and a team of like-minded individuals.
Nasim’s primary aim is to “help and feed the needy.” He said in a speech, “The Quran compels us to reach out to the poor and the destitute and to the orphans.”
UKEFF’s work has been recognised as they were saluted at the House of Lords in 2018 for their achievements in Oldham and surrounding areas in combatting destitution and addressing homelessness. UKEFF was referred to at the House of Lords as “the 4th Emergency service of Oldham.”
The charity is run by mainly Muslim volunteers who work with different communities in Oldham. Over the past five years the Oldham Unitarian Church has collaborated with UKEFF to facilitate the weekly food hub.
Winter 2020 will be difficult
Reverend Bob Pounder, minister and leader of the Unitarian Church said, “The food hub has been serving the community over the years and was very busy before the lockdown. The service helps asylum seekers and the homeless. Muslims and Christians work together and have grown to respect and understand each other.”
With the coming winter, homelessness during the Lockdown is a pressing issue in Oldham and throughout the UK. UKEFF’s work will be more important than ever during the first Covid-19 winter.
Before the pandemic started, the food hub regularly served between 100-150 people. Presently however, due to the Covid-19 lockdown, around 40-60 families benefit from UKEFF support.
Throughout December 2019 the food hub provided more than 9000 meals and served about 400 hot breakfasts every Monday.
Feeding the hungry and looking after the needs of the poor is highly emphasised in Islam alongside paying Zakat (Alms Giving) and optional charity (Sadaqah).
Zakat is one of the major pillars of Islam for those that are able to pay it and involves donating 2.5 percent of qualifying wealth on an annual basis.
Muslims believe that giving charity averts calamities so during the Covid-19 lockdown they have donated much more than previous years. Just in the month of Ramadhan 2020, it was reported that donations amounted to about £150 million.
As a charity inspired by Islam, UKEFF is a pioneer in wanting to spend Zakat contributions on local causes rather than sending funds abroad. According to their website, Prophet Muhammad (s) never sent Zakat outside of the area where the donations came from.
Zakat pool worth between $200 billion to $1 trillion
During the reign of Umar Bin Abdul Aziz who was one of the greatest Caliphs (Muslim leader) in Islamic history, poverty was pretty much eradicated and there was a surplus of Zakat funds. He ruled a vast empire with the borders of France to the West and the borders of China to the East.
After careful study, UKEFF believe that the reason for this success was partially due to implementing a policy of distributing Zakat locally. UKEFF uses the same premise to advocate keeping charity local.
The World Bank and IDBG estimated that in 2016 the annual global Zakat contribution was worth between $200 billion to $1 trillion. The potential of the Zakat system can be realised by the precedent set by Caliph Umar bin Abdul Aziz.
Nasim related that while he was delivering a diversity mosque open day exhibition in 2008 a guest asked him about Islam:
“Whilst you tell us all about Islam and how it is the perfect way of life and the word Muslim is a verb, one who helps his neighbours and eradicates poverty and contributes positively to his or her community, can I ask where I would find such Muslims?”
This question made him think about what an ideal Muslim really is. He concluded that it was someone who does all of the above but also provides solutions for his fellow human beings, without seeking payment as it is a duty on every believer.
What started in Nasim’s family home as a side project has developed and helped thousands of vulnerable and genuinely needy people. The charity is making a huge difference in all of Oldham’s communities. Their work has continued throughout the pandemic while observing restrictions. Their campaign has rightfully been recognised on a national level.
To learn more about the work of UKEFF visit https://www.ukeff.org/