Suomen Somalia-verkosto ry
Finnish Somalia Network
Marja Tiilikainen
Maippi Tapanainen
Hassan Abdi Ali
Mohamed Ahmed Elfadl
Peik Johansson
Liisa Laakso
Minna Mayer
Abdirizak Hassan Mohamed
Matti Ripatti
Teppo Tiilikainen

ISSN-L 1799-6163
ISSN 1799-6163

on Somalian, Djiboutin, Eritrean, Etiopian, Sudanin ja Etelä-Sudanin kehityskysymyksiin keskittyvä verkkolehti. Lehteä julkaisee Suomen Somalia-verkosto ry. Afrikan Sarvessa julkaistaan sekä tutkimukseen että käytännön työhön perustuvia artikkeleita ja puheenvuoroja. Afrikan Sarvi on kolmikielinen (suomi, ruotsi, englanti) ja se ilmestyy kaksi kertaa vuodessa.
är en nättidskrift som fokuserar på utvecklingsfrågor i Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea, Etiopien, Sudan och Södra Sudan. Tidningen utges av Suomen Somalia-verkosto (Finlands Somalia-nätverk). Artiklarna och det övriga innehållet i Afrikas Horn baserar sig på både forskning och praktiskt arbete. Afrikas Horn är trespråkig (finska, svenska, engelska) och utkommer två gånger per år.
is an electronic journal which focuses on developmental questions in Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan and South Sudan. It is published by the Finnish Somalia Network. The articles and other materials are based both on research and practical work. Horn of Africa Journal is trilingual (Finnish, Swedish, English) and it is issued twice a year.

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تعريف عن الصحيفة باللغة العربية


Abdalla Ali Duh

Abdalla Ali Duh

Muslim faith-based organizations in Somalia and Kenya

Activities, faith inspired development and securitization.

Faith-based organizations (FBOs) have a long history of working with poor communities around the world, and Islamic as well as Christian FBOs are very active in the context of international relief, humanitarian and development work. Five types of FBOs can be identified: faith-based representative organizations or apex bodies; faith-based charitable or development organizations; faith-based missionary organizations; faith-based socio-political organizations; and faith-based illegal or terrorist organizations.

This article examines the second type of Muslim FBOs in the context of Somalia and Kenya. The aim is to briefly highlight the development activities of Muslim FBOs that in general are not well-known to the wider audience as well as some of the challenges they are facing due to recent securitization measures.

Dozens of transnational Muslim FBOs

Gerard Clarke and Michael Jennings conceptualize FBOs as “any organization that derives its inspiration and guidance for its activities from the teachings and principles of the faith or from a particular interpretation or school of thought within the faith”.

FBOs are heterogeneous even within a particular religion. For instance, within Islam there exist diverse strains between Shia and Sunni organizations. Moreover, they may have different methods of operation and objectives, and belong to different Islamic schools of thought.

Vision of the Young Muslim school. The school is supported by various transnational Muslim FBOs. Photo: Abdalla Ali Duh 2011

However,  majority of them share the basic principles of Islamic ethics: believing in oneness of Allah; prayers; giving of alms; fasting during Ramadan; pilgrimage to Mecca, and six pillars of faith: belief in Allah; Angels; holy books; all Prophets; life after death; and divine decree. The emergence of Muslim FBOs have been prompted by political events such as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, and the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan in 1989. Also, the general growth of NGO sector in the 1970s and 1980s has been behind the rise of FBOs, including Muslims FBOs.

In Somalia and Kenya, Muslim FBOs are involved in a wide range of development and humanitarian activities from emergency relief to education, provision of clean water, healthcare, skills training and income generation projects.

Prior to civil war in Somalia, Muslim FBOs were not active due to various restrictions imposed on them by the military regime. In 1991 Somalia´s educational and health institutions were destroyed by clan-based militia groups, resulting in a humanitarian crisis and the United Nations peacekeeping operation for Somalia (UNOSOM) in 1993. As a result of the US-led UNOSOM operation, various Muslim FBOs joined UN and Western agencies to deliver humanitarian aid. Following the collapse of the UNOSOM mission, UN agencies and Western NGOs fled the country and relocated their field offices to Somalia in Nairobi, Kenya.

However, most Muslim FBOs continued their operations and presence inside Somalia. This presence gave them an opportunity to spread their conception of socioeconomic development by focusing on key social sectors of education, including primary, secondary and university levels, and health.

There are dozens of transnational Muslim FBOs working in Somalia and Kenya. The largest of these are Islamic Relief (UK), World assembly of Muslim youth (Saudi Arabia), Muslim Aid (UK), Muslim World League (Saudi Arabia), African Muslim Agency (Kuwait) and International Islamic Relief Organization (Saudi Arabia).

The following two cases will provide characteristics of Muslim FBOs and their development activities. The remaining sections of the article then examine the sources of funding, notion of development and securitization of these NGOs after the 11th of September 2001 terrorist attacks.

The article is based on a section of my forthcoming PhD research. The empirical data was collected in 2010–2012 in Kenya (Garissa and Mandeera) and in Somalia (Bosaaso and Garowe) through participant observation, semi-structured interviews and focus group discussions with various stakeholders as well as through the analysis of unpublished Arabic documents produced by Muslim FBOs and Islamic schools.

Case 1: Muslim Aid

Muslim Aid (MA) describes itself as “an international relief and development organization working to alleviate poverty worldwide”. (Souvenir Brochure, Muslim Aid, 2010) The organization works in 70 countries in Africa, Asia and Europe, and focuses mainly on the following sectors: responding to emergencies, education, healthcare, income generating programs, provision of clean water, and vocational training.

There are Muslim Aid field offices in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Indonesia, Bosnia, Lebanon, Jordan, Gambia, Kenya (coordinating office), and Cambodia . The East Africa field office is located in Nairobi, and development activities of the organization in Somalia are managed by the field office in Nairobi.

Muslim Aid is believed to be one of the first Muslim FBOs that started development and relief projects in Somalia after the collapse of the Somali state in 1991. The first Muslim Aid field office was established in Mogadishu in 1993 and a branch office in Kismayo in 1999. Explaining the beginning of the organization, a member of management staff in the Muslim Aid regional coordination officer in Nairobi says:

“MA was established in 1985 when concerned British Muslims saw humanitarian crises in various parts of Muslim Ummah including the Horn of Africa, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Palestine. Although in the beginning we were concentrating on emergence relief work, by 1994, long-term development programs accounted for 50% of our activities.” (Interview, Muslim Aid regional coordinator, Nairobi, July 2009.)”

A British convert formerly known as singer Cat Stevens became the first chairman of Muslim Aid. The organization grew from a small UK charity focusing on distribution of emergency aid to a transnational Muslim FBO with a budget of 73 million US dollars and 1,200 permanent staff. It has also grown in terms of development activities, staff and partnership with other international development NGOs. The history of governance of Muslim Aid shows that almost all members of Muslim Aid's Board of Trustees are prominent UK Muslim individuals who have close links to Pakistan or Bangladesh.

 Some of the Muslim Aid Trustees. Photo: Muslim Aid annual review 2012

Main development activities of the organization in Somalia include disaster and emergency relief, education, nutrition and healthcare. In education sector, Muslim Aid supports the Bosaso College for Training and Computing (now renamed Bosaso University) which was established in 2006 to provide vocational training for youth. The college started with 215 students and with teaching staff of 15, all supported by Muslim Aid. The organization has also funded another school in Sanaag region of Puntland, the Kulaal primary school with more than 400 pupils attending the school.

In healthcare and nutrition sector, Muslim Aid has 9 mother and child clinics, 6 TB treating clinics, 5 nutrition centres and 2 mobile clinics across Somalia. In 2012, Muslim Aid funded an education program aiming to help children from internally displaced persons (IDPs) to enroll in schools. The program enabled successful enrolment of 8,596 students in 36 primary schools and 24 child friendly centers. More than 4,000 of the beneficiaries were girls.

In Puntland, Muslim Aid was praised for their achievements in a water-trucking project in drought affected areas: following a prolonged drought, access to water was provided to more 45,000 people in the Puntland region of Somalia.

In Kenya, Muslim Aid focuses on water programs in Mandera district where the organization provides clean drinking water by digging boreholes, constructing water reservoirs, and installing hand pumps.

Case 2: World Assembly of Muslim Youth

World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) was established in 1972 as a non-governmental youth and student organization. The international headquarter of WAMY is located in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, but there are regional and local offices in 55 countries and they work with some 500 Muslim youth organizations in five continents. WAMY´s activities in both Somalia and Kenya are part of their wider work with Muslim youth worldwide.

The organization summarizes its main objectives as supporting Muslim students and youth organizations; publishing and distributing Islamic literature in different languages; sponsoring Muslim youth camps to build their capacity in both spiritual and non-spiritual skills; establishing schools and providing financial support to needy Muslim students.

WAMY offices in Somalia and Kenya try to achieve the stated objectives by organizing Muslim youth and student camps, conferences and meetings; establishing schools; and providing financial support to Muslim youth NGOs. In various organizational materials WAMY focuses on the importance of enhancing Muslim youth livelihood, skills, and capacity through educational and social projects.

Iman al-Nawawi primary school in Garowe, Somalia supported by WAMY. Photo: Abdalla Ali Duh 2013

WAMY´s main development activities in both Somalia and Kenya concentrate on supporting schools; youth leadership capacity building programs; training religious leaders; supporting medical camps; providing financial assistance to orphanage centers; and supporting agricultural programs in lower Juba, Somalia.

WAMY has development projects in south Somalia (Beletwein), Puntland (Bosaaso) and Somaliland (Hargeisa). In Bosaaso, WAMY supports various schools including Imam al-Nawawi schools and a WAMY School, and a youth program aiming to expand opportunities for education for young persons who did not get formal school education as the impact of 23 years of instability and conflict in Somalia.

The well-known Hargeisa Veterinary College in Somaliland is supported jointly by WAMY and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Sources of funding for Muslim FBOs

Unlike secular NGOs, main source of funding for Muslim FBOs are Waqf (endowment); Zakat (obligatory almsgiving); Sadaqa (voluntary charit); Zakat Al-fitr (compulsory charity giving after the holy month of Ramadan); Al- udhiya (animal sacrifice after the completion of the pilgrimage) and Al-tabaru’at (various types of donations and gifts from rich individual Muslims).

According to Islamic sacred texts there must be four essentials for a charity to qualify as Waqf: Al-niyyah (declaration and intention); a property or any other tangible asset; known beneficiaries; and the beneficiary of Waqf cannot be the same as the donor. Good examples of Waqf are land, hospitals, and schools donated to Muslim FBOs. Once the property is donated as Waqf, it ceases to be the property of the donor.

It is obligatory for every able Muslim to pay 2.5% of his/her annual monetary savings as Zakat. Agricultural crops, gold and other savings have their own Zakat calculation. The Quran (chapter 9, verse 60) describes eight categories of people who are eligible to receive funds from Zakat: Fuqara (the poor); Masakin (the needy); Al-amilin (those administering Zakat); Al-mualafa qulubuhum (potential converts); to free the captives; those in debt; those who are in Allah's cause; and the wayfarer.

 Mission of the Young Muslim school, Garissa, Kenya. Photo: Abdalla Ali Duh

Both WAMY and Muslim Aid understand this Quranic verse in a way that allows them to use income from Zakat for their development projects in disaster and emergency relief, poverty reduction, education and healthcare programs.

Third source of funding is Sadaqa which is voluntary donation given for the sake of Allah. For example, when Muslim FBOs want to launch a development project, they usually remind their fellow Muslims of various Quranic verses that encourage Sadaqa (e.g. 9: 10, 57: 18) and ask them to generously donate money for the project.

Fourth, obligatory charity giving after the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Zakat Al-fitr, is required from every Muslim who possesses wealth in excess of his family needs. In 2013, for the Muslims living in Finland, Zakat Al-fitr was estimated to be €7 per person. Zakat Al-fitr must be given to eight categories of people who are entitled to receive the obligatory Zakat (see above).  

Fifth source is Al-udhiyyah (sacrifice of camel, cattle, sheep or goat) in the end of Hajj (pilgrimage) season: every able Muslim is encouraged to sacrifice an animal as charity and in commemoration of Prophet Ibrahim's story.

Finally, Muslim FBOs launch fund-raising campaigns during big Islamic events using the importance of Al-tabaru´at (voluntary charity giving) in Islam. Recently, some Muslim FBOs (especially those based in the West) established collaboration partnership with various international development agencies including the European Commission for Humanitarian Aid (ECHO), UN agencies, other FBOs and secular NGOs. For example, the financial resource and charitable income of Muslim Aid has increased from just 7 million US dollars in 2004 to 72 million US dollars in 2009.

WAMY does not publically disclose their annual charitable income. However, based on Arabic documents produced by the organization, direct observation of their development activities in Kenya, Somalia and my own analysis of their work in 55 countries, I can assume with absolute certainty that WAMY´s charitable income must be more than that of Muslim Aid in 2009.

Muslim FBOs and concepts of development

“Development” is an ambiguous and complex concept which lacks a universally accepted definition. In the 1950s and 1960s, the term “development” was perceived as synonymous with economic growth and removal of traditional values and customs which were considered as constraints for socioeconomic development in the South, following the processes of Western-style modernization process. However, in the 1970s it was recognized that economic growth had been accompanied by worsening income distribution in developing countries and the conception of development focused rather on redistribution strategies, channeling economic growth into investments in agriculture, education and health to increase the income of the poor.

In the late 1980s and beginning of the 1990s, neo-liberalism dominated development discourse and promoted ideas such as private capitalists, entrepreneurs, meager role for the state, and unrestricted market mechanism. However, in 2000, the international community shifted to poverty and inequality themes which were reflected later in the UN Millennium Development Goals.

Young girls in a learning session. Young Muslim Primary school, Garissa, Kenya. Girls and boys are separated in the class: they are in the same class but seated separately. Photo: Abdalla Ali Duh

Although there are various disagreements between the preceding concepts of development over the methods and routes to development, they all agree that “development” is desirable and means “good change”. The problem then is explaining what is good and what sort of change is necessary for development.

Muslim FBOs conceptions of development are based on their Islamic ideals. Their primary motivation for providing development aid is based on the concept of ummah in Islam. The Quran urges Muslims to be one community of believers helping each other and cooperating in what is Ma´ruf (what is righteous including helping to ease the suffering of the poor) and forbidding what is Munkar (forbidding all what is wrong including injustice and human rights abuses).

Both Muslim Aid and WAMY have their own conceptions of who is poor and what poverty means. Islamic sacred texts describe some specific categories of people as poor and in need of assistance: Masakin (the needy who possess some provisions but cannot meet all their basic needs ), Fuqara (the poor who have no income), Kufar (non-Muslims: spiritual poverty), Al-riqab (captives who were wrongly imprisoned), Al-yatama, Al-shuyukh, Al-aramil  (orphans, elderly and widows), Al-dein (those who are in debt), and travelers who are in need of assistance to get back to their home.

All Muslim FBOs in Kenya and Somalia use ideas that can be considered as Islamic concepts of development. For example, they encourage Muslims to develop spiritually and morally before any economic or social development is possible. They see development as being both spiritual and material development. Explaining to me how he defines development, a director of WAMY in East Africa expressed his views as follows:

“Our primary objective is to help the poor, the needy, orphans and provide education to young Muslims. Development for us is not only economic growth, but also spiritual development. We believe that ´al-Daruriyat al-Khams´(five basic human needs in Islam) are essential for any human progress. These needs are al-Din (religion), al-Nafs (life), al-Aql (intellect), al-Nasl (family institution) and al-Mal (wealth). In our development cooperation activities we focus on protecting these needs which are the foundation for socio-economic development.”

WAMY´s conceptualization of development is based on their strong belief in youth as being building blocks of Muslim ummah. They see development as serving Muslim communities through youth education and preserving their Islamic identity. In various organizational materials, WAMY emphasizes the importance of social justice for socioeconomic development. Social justice and development are seen as integral to each other.

Islamic social justice system should lead to real socioeconomic development where the most impoverished and marginalized segments of society are empowered. Muslim Aid also describes its vision of development as embedded in their Islamic ideas of protecting Maqasid al-Sharia –five basic human needs in Islam.

Securitization of Muslim FBOs

The events of the last decades – the terrorist attacks of 1998 on the U.S Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the 11th of September 2001, the 2002 attack on an Israeli-owned tourist resort in Mombasa, Madrid attacks of the 11th of March 2004, the 7th of July 2005 terrorist attack on the London transport network – have all dramatically affected the humanitarian and development work of the Muslim FBOs through new securitization measures.

Muslim FBOs have faced various allegations such as having links with extremist groups; spreading extremism; financing extremist groups such as al-Shabab in Somalia and al-Qaida; recruiting future combatants for violent groups; and lacking humanitarian principles of neutrality in their development interventions. Muslim Aid, for example, was previously praised by various British politicians including Gordon Brown and Prince Charles. However, in April, 2010, The Sunday Telegraph, accused Muslim Aid as having links to Hamas and other Palestinian Muslim organizations.

No evidence was found linking Muslim Aid to extremist groups. However, such allegations damaged their reputation and development activities. Similarly, American security agencies suspected WAMY of having links to extremist groups and it came under FBI scrutiny after 9/11. In May 2004, FBI raided the WAMY's office in Alexandria, Virginia, USA, and took all computers. After investigations, they arrested a volunteer board member of WAMY on immigration charges. Law enforcement sources mentioned reasons for the raid as being part of an investigation into some Muslim FBOs activities around the world. After the allegations, the secretary general of WAMY said:

"If they have any evidence against us, they should go to court. We believe that the court will be fair to both parties. There is no doubt that governments all over the world — whether Muslim or non-Muslim — are under pressure from the American government in particular (to act against Islamic organizations). But we should not yield to the American pressure. We should resist and ask for proof. And if they have any proof, we have courts that can take care of it." (Arab News, 26 March 2004.)

After terrorist attacks in Kenya in 1998, five transnational Muslim FBOs were banned to operate in the country and this created dilemmas for both security agencies and beneficiaries of Muslim FBOs' development interventions. For example, al-Haramain Islamic Foundation (Saudi Arabia) was working in the fields of orphanages, healthcare services, education and income-generating projects for poor families in Kenya. The US accused al-Haramain of funding terrorism and shut down offices of the organization in Kenya, Saudi Arabia and Somalia. Some inhabitants in northeastern Kenya still feel the pain and anger over the closure of al-Haramain:

"Al-Haramain was supporting thousands of vulnerable Muslims, schools, hospitals and income generating projects in Garissa and Mandera. In only one city in northern Kenya, Isiolo, al-Haramain was funding a complex with an orphanage of over 200 children and primary schools. We feel our government was pressured by foreign powers. The foreign governments that banned Muslim organizations such as al-Haramain did not provide any development assistance to us." (Interview, local religious leader, Mandera 2011.)

To reduce mistrust and suspicion about their development intervention, many Muslim FBOs started using mainstream development language such as notions of universalism, common humanity and Millennium Development Goals. Muslim Aid emphasizes in their organizational materials the importance of cooperation with non-Muslim aid agencies and promoting interfaith partnership. For example, in 2006, Muslim Aid established a formal partnership with United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and many Muslim FBOs became members of international non-governmental organizations’ forums.

After 9/11 terrorist attacks, Muslim FBOs also attempted to professionalize their development activities. For example, Muslim Aid describes its current vision of development as “alleviation of poverty, education for all, and the provision of basic amenities for those in need; capacity building, disaster mitigation, microfinance for development and helping local communities achieve the underperformed targets in the UN Millennium Development Goals, especially in educating the girl child, women health, maternity and poverty eradication” (Souvenir Brochure, Muslim Aid 2010).


There are various types of Muslim FBOs that are active in the context of international relief, humanitarian and development work. They have different objectives and methods of operation, and they belong to different Islamic schools of thought, but they share the basic principles of Islamic ethics. Muslim FBOs see development as both spiritual and material development. In the context of Somalia and Kenya, Muslim FBOs are involved in a wide range of development and humanitarian activities, and their fundraising is based on Islamic principles regarding endowment and charity.

The securitization of Muslim FBOs is mainly based on concerns that they might act as a financial channel to extremist groups, spread  radicalism, recruit future combats for violent groups and could be used as safe havens for terrorists. These allegations are denied by the interviewed Muslim FBOs, various Muslim leaders and local beneficiaries.

Those who are skeptical about the work of Muslim FBOs point to conservative beliefs of some Muslim organizations that can be used as a stumbling block to development and their work as being proselytizing. Proponents of Muslim FBOs on the other hand argue that these NGOs can be used as a resource for development in areas such as conflict prevention, peace building, wealth creation, education and health.

Both Islamic Relief and Muslim Aid that have been used here as examples of Muslim FBOs conceptualize “development” in terms of fulfilling five basic human needs in Islam: al-Din (religion), al-Nafs (life), al-Aql (intellect), al-Nasl (family institution) and al-Mal (wealth). This implies that the two NGOs´ conception of development is embedded in their Islamic ideas of protecting Maqasid al-Sharia –five basic human needs in Islam. Some of these needs are similar to the United Nations´ Human Development Index (HDI), which stresses the importance of education (al-Ilm: knowledge), health (al-Nafs: sacredness of human life in the Quran), and income (al-Mal: wealth).

From the start, secular development theories generally overlooked the role of religion and assumed that religion would be a matter of private life. However, in recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the role of religion in development. Transnational Muslim FBOs in north eastern Kenya and Puntland region of Somalia are involved in a wide range of development activities with implications for socio-economic development and Western counter terrorism concerns. These FBOs can be used as a resource for development as well as a hindrance to development. We need greater understanding of the Muslim FBOs´ conceptions of socioeconomic development and their potential challenges.

Abdalla Ali Duh

The author is a PhD candidate at the Department of Political and Economic Studies, University of Helsinki, Finland. He graduated from the faculty of Social Sciences, University of Helsinki, where he studied Development Studies and Sociology and earned both Bachelor and Master of Social Sciences. He worked as a University lecturer from 2008–2010 at the Department of World Culture, University of Helsinki. His research interests include NGOs’ development interventions, education in post-conflict settings, poverty reduction strategies, development cooperation, Islam and socio-economic development.

Contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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- Al-ahdaf wa al-mashari: Unpublished Arabic documents received from the WAMY field office, Nairobi, May 2011.

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- Arab News daily newspaper, Jeddah, 26 March 2004.


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- Muslim Aid field officer, Mandera, Kenya, December 2010.

- WAMY regional director, Nairobi, July 2009.

Suomen Somalia-verkosto ry
Finnish Somalia Network