WAMY downsizes Western operations

Ghazanfar Ali KHan

RIYADH: The World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), a major Islamic charity of Saudi Arabia, has downsized its operation in the US, Canada and in many other Western countries because of the stringent restrictions imposed by the respective governments on the fundings of Islamic aid organizations.

The WAMY, an UN-recognized NGO, had a “symbolic presence in the US, while it has closed its offices in Canada,” according to Saleh Al-Wohaibi, WAMY’s secretary-general. Al-Wohaibi, however, said that the WAMY values its partnership with the US and will continue to work with the community stakeholders in that country.

The WAMY chief was speaking during the charity’s annual dialogue and iftar party, attended by about 500 guests including 51 ambassadors and diplomats as well as businessmen and donors. Johannes Wimmer, Austrian ambassador, and Syed Omar Al-Saggaf, Malaysian ambassador, were keynote speakers. On behalf of the businessmen, Yousef Al-Yousef, a leading Saudi businessman, addressed the audience.

Referring to the problems faced by WAMY, especially the financial constraints, he said that it was becoming increasingly difficult to meet the operational costs of 26 offices in Saudi Arabia and 38 WAMY chapters across the globe. “Our office in Washington is currently manned by only three aid workers,” said Al-Wohaibi, adding that the Islamic workers associated with WAMY’s Washington chapter were laid off in a staggered schedule after the 9/11.

“The workers there in the US,” he said “seems to be terrified even today.” Asked about the absence of US diplomats from the WAMY’s function, he said, “WAMY invited the US embassy officials, but there was no response … maybe because of security reasons.”

“I am planning to visit the US embassy after Eid Al-Fitr holidays to renew my contacts with them and to discuss if there is any misunderstanding,” said the WAMY chief.

Al-Wohaibi pointed out that WAMY had 39,000 orphans under its sponsorship program across the world. This is in addition to 2,800 scholarships granted by WAMY for poor meritorious students in several countries. He said that the charities today needed more international support. “We, the humanitarian organizations, are mainly concerned with human suffering resulting from poverty and disasters,” said the WAMY chief. In cases of displacement of millions of people as in the case of Pakistan now, the need for relief work becomes more pressing, he added.

In his keynote address, Austrian Ambassador Wimmer spoke very highly about Islam and its concept of fasting with special reference to Muslims living in Austria. He said that Austria greatly “appreciated the interfaith dialogue initiative” of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah. “My country also feels much honored by King Abdullah’s decision to choose Vienna as the future headquarters of the Center for Inter-Religious Dialogue as a follow up to the Madrid conference,” he noted.

The diplomat said: “Islam as a religion was recognized by law in Austria in 1912, and the Muslims represented about 4.2 percent of Austria’s population.” This legal recognition of Muslims forms the basis for the protection of rights for this religious minority group in my country, he added. Wimmer said the rejection of xenophobic attitudes had become stronger over the past 15 years or so in Austria. “Most of us really wish to live in peace with one another whether in Austria, Saudi Arabia or elsewhere,” said the envoy.

He pointed out that around 3,000 Austrian pilgrims travel to the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah every year for Haj and Umrah. On the bridge-building exercises by European and Arab countries, the diplomat said the First Arab-European Young Leaders Forum would be held toward the end of this month in Vienna. This forum, he said, was being organized within the framework of a joint initiative between the Austrian Foreign Ministry, the BMW Stiftung Herbert Quandt and the Arab League.

Addressing the audience, Malaysian Ambassador Al-Saggaf said that the interfaith dialogue initiative “contributed to our common goal of building a culture of peace, tolerance and understanding”. He said the secret of success of Malaysia as a nation “lay in our success of forging unity among the people of diverse faiths in my country”. “Muslims have Qur’an as their constitution, which teaches unity and brotherhood,” said Al-Yousef.

Sep 1, 2010, Arab News

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