By Siraj Wahab
Published in Arab News on Saturday, May 24, 2008
H. Fadlullah Wilmot oversees the charity and relief efforts in Southeast Asia for the British-based Muslim Aid organization. British born and Australian raised and educated, Wilmot converted to Islam as a student at the University of Tasmania. He later joined Australia’s Volunteers Abroad program and taught English in Aceh, Indonesia, where he met his wife, with whom he resides in Malaysia. Wilmot now serves as Muslim Aid’s director for Indonesia and will be taking over its Bangladesh office this summer.
He said since taking a position with Muslim Aid in 2005 in the aftermath of the deadly tsunami, he has found an organization that lives up to the best traditions of Islam. “The mission of Muslim Aid has always been to serve humanity; to deal with emergencies,” Wilmot told Arab News during a recent visit to Jeddah.
“We can only try to educate people in order to minimize the effects of earthquakes, the effects of tsunamis — you can’t stop them from happening. Muslim Aid is also working to deal with the root causes of poverty; the idea is to enable people to lead a decent life; to get out of poverty. We have a two-pronged strategy — dealing with emergencies and then dealing with poverty. The aim is to help people become self-sufficient. Our vision is a world of peace, compassion and justice where all people achieve fulfillment and is committed to alleviating poverty regardless of religion, ethnicity, nationality, disability, sexual orientation, gender or age.”
At a time when some charitable organizations have come under scrutiny for their activities, Wilmot says this organization is strictly above board. “Muslim Aid is a registered charity under British Charity Commission, and we are responsible to follow all the laws and regulations of Britain,” Wilmot said. “We are audited by international auditors. Everything about Muslim Aid activity is transparent, open and clear.”
Wilmot credits the success of the organization to the founding British Muslims who were unwilling to watch tragedies unfold without getting involved. “Muslim Aid was established in 1986 by 23 leading Muslim organizations in the UK,” he said. “Its first chairman was Yusuf Islam (better known as pop singer Cat Stevens). It was founded during the Ethiopian famine. At the time, Muslims felt that we as Muslims living in the West have a duty to the whole of humanity — Muslim or non-Muslim. When these terrible images of people dying of hunger in Ethiopia emerged, these Muslims thought we have a duty to help them even if they are not Muslim.”
It was a duty Wilmot himself embraced after the tsunami wreaked havoc around the coasts of the Indian Subcontinent and Southeast Asia. “I joined Muslim Aid in 2005, three to four months after the tsunami,” he said. “I was based in Malaysia teaching management basically. Since I knew Acehnese and since I knew the people in Indonesia and Aceh, when the tsunami occurred, the guys at Muslim Aid asked me to help out. Initially, it was on a part-time basis.
However, the enormity of the problem was such that I started working full time for Muslim Aid as the country director for Indonesia. People only know about the tsunami because it got huge coverage and because there was a huge loss of human life; not many people remember the earthquake of 2006 in Yogyakarta. It was enormous — not in terms of the loss of the human life — because of the massive destruction that it left in its wake. In Aceh, there were about a quarter of a million people who died and about 150,000 homes destroyed. In the Yogyakarta earthquake, only about 6,000 people died, but 300,000 houses were destroyed. Because Java is far more densely populated than Aceh, more people were made homeless.
Muslim Aid was at the scene immediately. We along with other international institutions did, and are still doing, massive rehabilitation work in Yogyakarta. Then there were very bad floods in Jakarta, and houses were flooded for two-three weeks. Then there were earthquakes in March last year and later on in November on the west coast of Sumatra, and we assisted there as well. We are helping people to get a decent livelihood, helping them in capacity building.”
To those ends, Wilmot said Muslim Aid takes part in even larger international relief and poverty-eradication initiatives with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). “We are working together to build up the capacity of civil society organizations with United Nations Development Program (UNDP),” Wilmot said. “We are working together with many organizations. We are working with the Asian Development Bank to build houses in Aceh. We are working with the World Bank in order to help Aceh with a flood-mitigation project. We also are working with UNICEF to drill wells for tsunami-affected communities, and we are working with the European Commission of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). In Bangladesh, we just received funding for cyclone relief work.”
Wilmot said all Muslims should take pride in Muslim Aid and urged Muslims to play a role in supporting it. “Muslims in Britain have established a world-class development and emergency relief organization, and I think they should be proud of that achievement,” he said. “Our core donors are basically the Muslims of Britain, and the majority of the donors make small donations. We should support it and encourage it in whatever way we can. Look at the work we are doing. Visit our website www.muslimaid.org.”
Wilmot credits Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the Qur’an for his personal commitment to make a difference.
“I found that here was something logical; that did not have any internal contradictions, that is not in conflict with knowledge; it asks you to think and wants you to ponder over the verses,” Wilmot said of the Qur’an before speaking of the man who inspired him most — the Prophet. “Here is a person of love and compassion, and deep humanity who cared for the whole of humanity — not just his followers who were Muslims.”
— Fadlullah Wilmot can be reached at Hfadlullah@gmail.com.