Ramadan 2021: Muna AbuSulayman on the importance of giving back to those less fortunate

'The power of the collective is one of the most important elements of Islamic society,' says the Saudi businesswoman and philanthropist

Muna AbuSulayman says she is very 'protective' of marking Ramadan in her personal life. Getty Images
Muna AbuSulayman says she is very 'protective' of marking Ramadan in her personal life. Getty Images

Throughout her career, Muna AbuSulayman has successfully launched and led numerous companies and foundations, resulting in her often being cited as one of the region's most influential figures.

The Saudi entrepreneur and philanthropist, however, is well aware that success does not come overnight.

"In philanthropy and social impact, results are not immediate. You plant a seed and see the results five to 20 years down the line," she tells The National. “Nothing is as rewarding as when you see something you helped create or design become a reality."

AbuSulayman believes the Arab world in particular is a hot-pot of creative thinking, especially among the younger generation.

"The Arab world has become a hub for innovation as the youth are trying to create solutions for unmet needs," she says. "We are finding many more young entrepreneurs who are thinking about the UN's Sustainable Development Goals and creating social impact businesses to help deliver on these."

As well as today's young people, AbuSulayman, who in 2007 became the first Saudi woman to be appointed a UN Goodwill Ambassador, is a keen champion of women in the region through her work.

The power of the collective is one of the most important elements of Islamic society

Muna AbuSulayman

"Despite all the advances being made, the reality on the ground is that women still pay many penalties for being female and becoming mothers,” she says.

“The poorest segment of society is always the mothers raising kids by themselves. For those working women, the income disparity between what they make and what their male colleagues make reaches 30 to 50 per cent."

In an effort to expand conversations on gender equality, AbuSulayman founded and co-hosted MBC TV show Kalam Nawaem, during which she discussed topics such as relationships and motherhood.

She was also part of the Saudi Arabia government's think-tank ahead of G20, where she advised various foundations on youth, media and women's rights.

"Childless women are still the most successful and most promoted women in the workforce," AbuSulayman adds. "Women tend to drop out of the workforce by their second child, or are given less challenging projects, which eventually hurts their promotion prospects and income.

"Sadly, the needle has not moved much, and the world is still 100 years behind total equity for women, according to the World Economic Forum."

The philanthropist says the holy month, however, has always been a balancing force in her personal and professional life.

"Ramadan is the month of giving and spirituality. I am very protective of it and try not to engage in anything that can take away from that," she says. “I don't watch TV, I don't go out and I try to do a silent i'tikaf for three days near the end of the month."

I'tikaf is a period of retreat from worldly affairs, during which one often reads the Quran and hadiths, and performs salah prayers.

The premise of zakat – one of the five pillars of Islam that requires Muslims above a certain financial threshold to donate 2.5 per cent of their wealth – can also provide inspiration year-round, AbuSulayman believes.

"Efficient use of philanthropic and zakat funds can help resolve most of the poverty and inequity problems we have in the Arab world," she says.

"There will always be vulnerable members of society who need extra help and support, but there are many more segments of society that can stand up on their own two feet and become zakat givers rather than zakat receivers if we enable them and help them in a well thought-out manner.

"The power of the collective is one of the most important elements of Islamic society. When we, as a people, decide to solve a problem, nothing can stop us.”

Updated: May 5, 2021 03:29 PM

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