Ramadan 2022: how UAE residents are paying it forward

Nearly half of UAE residents plan to donate more to charity during the holy month this year compared with 2021, survey finds

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This Ramadan, Sean Burgess plans to row his way to a new world record, while raising money for a school in Africa.

The Dubai resident hopes to achieve the longest continual row over 51 consecutive hours and, in doing so, raise at least Dh20,000 ($5,445) for the Enjoro Primary School in Tanzania.

“I was drawn to this challenge because sitting on a rower for over 50 hours staring at a small digital screen, counting down the minutes and watching the distance slowly tick up, is a pure challenge of grit and resilience,” says Mr Burgess, challenge director at Gulf For Good, a UAE-based registered non-profit that runs adventure challenges around the world in support of worthwhile charities.

I was drawn to this challenge because sitting on a rower for over 50 hours staring at a small digital screen, counting down the minutes and watching the distance slowly tick up, is a pure challenge of grit and resilience
Sean Burgess, challenge director at Gulf For Good

“While I have a community of amazing people around me again, success will depend only on how much I can physically and mentally endure over the 50-plus hours on the rower, which is both motivating and daunting.”

Last year, Mr Burgess broke the world record for the “Fastest Crossing of the UAE by Foot”, walking 650km across the Emirates in seven days.

He has also completed several other trials.

“One of the key motivators for taking on these challenges is to fundraise for charity and through Gulf For Good. I'm lucky that I am able to support various children's charities around the world,” he says.

“Taking on these challenges is proof of what ordinary people are capable of and, hopefully, through my endeavours, I can inspire other people to take on their own epic challenges.”

The record attempt takes place from April 22 to 24 at Just Play Sports Complex in Al Quoz, Dubai. People are encouraged to attend and join in.

Extra rowing machines are being set up for supporters to row alongside Mr Burgess. “To have people come down and keep me company will be highly appreciated,” Mr Burgess says, adding people can also donate to the attempt via Gulf For Good's Yallagive fundraising page.

Charity is a key part of Ramadan, when devout Muslims are reminded to be generous and increase their charitable activities. That’s in addition to zakat, one of Islam’s five pillars that requires Muslims to donate 2.5 per cent of their wealth. A special type of zakat, called Zakat Al Fitr, is obligatory in Ramadan and is distributed during Eid Al Fitr.

About 47 per cent of UAE residents plan to donate more to charity this year compared with 2021, a recent survey by market research company YouGov found.

Fifty-seven per cent of Generation Z - those born between 1996 and 2016 - who took part in the survey said they will donate more this year compared with 41 per cent of respondents over the age of 45. YouGov interviewed 1,010 UAE residents in March for the online poll.

“Donations and charity are at the heart of the culture in the UAE and during the holy month of Ramadan, UAE residents typically opt to make monetary contributions, food and essential donations to the needy or volunteer their time to a good cause such as food distribution,” says Zafar Shah, research director at YouGov.

“As we emerge from the challenges of the pandemic over the last couple of years, it is heartening to see that this Ramadan, close to half of UAE residents intend on exceeding their charitable donations made last year.”

Gulf For Good, which raised Dh39,500 with a single Save a Smile campaign last year, is running several other programmes this year, in addition to the Longest Continual Row attempt.

Its Nepal Eid challenge is being held in support of Child Rescue Nepal and each challenger is tasked with raising a minimum of Dh5,000. Its Fund a Farm Ramadan challenge will benefit the Sparkle Foundation in Malawi, the fourth-poorest country in the world. The Sparkle Foundation is seeking to purchase a plot of farmland to feed the 300 children it supports.

“We always notice a bump in donations from individuals and corporations during Ramadan as the holy month is a time for reflection and philanthropy,” says Mr Burgess.

Several other UAE organisations have also launched calls for donations.

On the first day of Ramadan this year, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, launched One Billion Meals, a campaign to provide food support to the underprivileged and undernourished in 50 countries. It has already begun distributing food parcels in India, Lebanon, Jordan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

The Big Heart Foundation, a Sharjah-based humanitarian organisation, is appealing for zakat and general donations to help refugees and people in need across several countries, including Lebanon and Palestine, with food, health care and education.

Emirates Red Crescent has a number of charity initiatives related to Ramadan, including zakat-linked initiatives and the provision of food and clothes to those fasting, while the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has a dedicated charity called the Zakat Fund.

Businesses, too, are stepping in to do their bit.

Tariq Chauhan has institutionalised giving through EFS Facilities Management, where he is group chief executive. “In my role, I advocate making compassion and charity values that are embedded in our day-to-day activities," Mr Chauhan says.

“For us, charity is not just lending a hand of help; it also means providing those in need with tools to have access to a better life.”

EFS has spent more than Dh1 million on charity and corporate social responsibility programmes, Mr Chauhan says.

Among them are NGOs and government-run initiatives, as well as the company’s Abhaar Welfare Foundation, which seeks to address key issues facing migrant workers, including recruitment, remuneration, living conditions, microfinancing needs and rehabilitation.

“From rehabilitation of flood-affected communities in India, earthquakes in Nepal, the blast in Lebanon, to the wildfires that devastated Australia, EFS were among the first responders,” he says.

Elsewhere, Freedom Pizza has joined hands with several other brands, including Here-O Donuts, Alannah’s Pastry Boutique, Coco Yogo and local food technology company Locale to support the UAE’s delivery drivers with iftar recharge kits. UAE residents can also purchase kits through the Locale app; each kit is filled with water, dates, nuts and pastries.

And taking inspiration from the Ramadan Fridges campaign, consumer goods company Dabur International has teamed up with the International Schools Partnership to place cabinets - or Kindness Klosets - outside four schools: the Aquila School and Nibras International School in Dubai, and Aspen Heights British School and Reach British School in Abu Dhabi.

Generosity is a core value of Islam and it is considered the most noble way of spending
Sadia Anwar, founder of Bismillah Buddies

Each cabinet is stocked with personal care products, and parents and pupils are encouraged to add to them.

“The Kindness Kloset at Aspen Heights British School has been placed next to one of our security gates, ensuring that our team is able to monitor the closet 24 hours a day,” says Emma Shanahan, principle of Aspen Heights British School.

“We have asked our school community to donate personal care items while being mindful of expiry dates. Much like the Ramadan Fridges, we encourage those in need to make use of the products donated by the community.”

Across the Emirates, several restaurants allow consumers to pay for free meals to be delivered to blue-collar workers, while numerous retail and other brands have promised to give a percentage of their proceeds to charity.

However you choose to donate, it’s important to be mindful of the UAE’s strict laws around charity. In January, existing laws concerning financial donations were broadened to include food, groceries and medicine.

Donations, whether in cash or in kind (such as services rendered or food), are regulated by Federal Law No 3 of 2021, which provides guidelines for collecting and distributing donations and sets out fines for its contravention, says Ahmad Al Khalil, partner at Hamdan Alshamsi Lawyers & Legal Consultants.

“An individual/entity is prohibited from establishing, organising or performing any act of collecting or receiving donations from the public by any means unless it obtains a specific permit or is registered with the Ministry of Community Development [MoCD],” he says.

The law prohibits unregistered individuals/entities from making social media appeals for fundraising of any kind, including time, acts of service, food items and medicines.

Therefore, collecting items from people on social media platforms or even through WhatsApp groups may be considered prohibited.

“Should you wish to participate in any donations or drives, our advice would be to make sure that such entity contributing is registered with MoCD,” Mr Al Khalil says.

An approved list of charitable organisations is available on the official UAE government portal.

Sadia Anwar, a 45-year-old Indian national living in Dubai, who is the founder of Bismillah Buddies, a start-up aimed at making Islamic education fun, and Storically, which creates personalised books, says she is careful to stay within the law, donating only to registered charitable organisations.

While Ms Anwar donates cash via online means, she also gives away old clothes, toys and books, although she says that’s more decluttering than charity.

In terms of causes, she focuses on activities that cover children’s basic needs, such as food, water and access to education.

“Education, microfinance for small businesses and anything that goes towards rehabilitation and facilities for refugees are very important [to me],” she says.

But Ms Anwar says giving - both within and outside the Islamic tradition - must extend throughout the year.

“Generosity is a core value of Islam and it is considered the most noble way of spending,” she says.

“I give charity around the year through an automated monthly payment system set up with a charity organisation. Charity affects our welfare, both of the giver and receiver, and of society as a whole.”

Updated: April 14, 2022, 5:00 AM