I was born and brought up in some of the most deprived areas of Pakistan. During my childhood, I once lived with my grandparents in a village 114/15, near Mianchannun.
My village did not have a school, so each morning I set off on my journey to a neighbouring village so I could go to school.
Aged only eight years I walked more than 7kms every day so I could receive an education. There were no roads at all, just a dirt track. The landscape was barren and not the green backdrop which is there today.
Not only was the journey hot and dusty, it was filled with fear. At such a young age, I had no idea who – or what – I would encounter on the way to school, something I believe no child should experience. And it’s something that has stayed with me 36 years on, something I do not want other children to encounter.
The horrors of Bosnia
But I was one of the lucky ones; while not from a rich family, we were not steeped in poverty. I was able to do extremely well in my studies; always secured top positions and won Gold Medals and merit scholarships in almost all my exams.
In gaining my MBA from Bahauddin Zakariya University, Multan, I secured first position throughout the university and won the Gold Medal and Government of Pakistan merit scholarship for studies abroad, enabling me to come to the UK to study. I did my MBA at Imperial College, London. I then initially worked as a lecturer in Marketing and Strategic Management at the same university and later in the commercial sector.
It was in 1993-¬94, during the horrors of the Bosnian crisis, that I became interested in the work of charities. This then led me to initially volunteer and later work in the sector for a few years.
Giving the poorest children a better start in life
When I started my own business in 1998 and felt settled, I knew I wanted to give something back to my community. I knew I didn’t want others to face the same hardships I had, not to face the same fears I did on my long journey to school and on the way home. So I started a school in my village to help provide children with quality education, free of fear and on their door¬step. It was here that the seeds of Islamic Aid were sown, a charity that has gone from strength to strength, helping tens of thousands of children in parts of Asia, Africa and Europe access quality education and health care and giving their parents the skills and means to earn a decent living.
Helping people to help themselves
I recognised very early on that the best answer to poverty is to help people to help themselves by giving them the training, tools, livestock and whatever else they need to stand on their own feet. And this remains the guiding principle of Islamic Aid today.In establishing Islamic Aid in 2000, I was able to use my business expertise and experience of the charity sector to give something back to the community I had once belonged to.
Yet during the charity’s infancy of its first year, the world watched in horror as we saw terrorist attacks in New York, where families were devastated as people lost their lives in the twin tower attacks. Understandably, this was a difficult time for Muslim charities – both established and new – as the media and the public began to question why they existed. Such charities were viewed with suspicion as people questioned what activities they may be funding.
For me personally, things did not end there. As the twin towers collapsed, so did one of my major business projects that was set to be launched in November 2001 to offer Islamic banking in the UK and internationally.
From the position of having a very robust business plan, very supportive business partnerships and venture capital in place and a forecast of more than £500 million under management in its fourth year, I saw everything melt away in the tide of opinion against anything Islamic. While it was a big disaster for me and my business, for Islamic Aid it probably was a major turning point in that I was able to focus much more on developing the charity.
Committed to helping those in greatest need
While internationally it was a very difficult time to run a charity with an Islamic name, it made me more determined to succeed and to show the importance of helping desperately poor communities, many of whom had little idea of what the world may be thinking.
Today, alhamdullilah, I have my own successful business and Islamic Aid is growing very fast. Islamic Aid has since inception raised £75 million for our life changing work in many parts of the world and recruited 125,000 donors. We have established Islamic Aid in the US and we continue to expand our support to vital projects in parts of Africa, Asia and Europe. These successes also enabled me to support as a Trustee the cause of poverty alleviation through other charities like Practical Action, (www.practicalaction.org) and Pakistan Foundation.
I continue to be driven by my early life experiences and 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. I very much hope you share my passion for a fairer world and that you will support the work of Islamic Aid now and in the future. Thank you.
Mahmood ul Hassan
Founder and Chairman, Islamic Aid