A duty of wealth: British Muslim contributions to civil society continues to grow

British Muslim contributions to civil society grows
6 min read
20 February, 2023

Many people are unaware of the huge contributions that British Muslims make to the public sphere.

Work carried out by mosques, Islamic centres, educational institutions, youth associations and social action organisations serve the Muslim community and wider society on a daily basis. This is in addition to their contributions to the public and private sectors which in the case of Britain’s GDP, is in excess of £31 billion and around 40,000 Muslims work in the NHS.

The British Muslim charitable sector generates an estimated £500 million per annum and during the COVID-19 crisis, Muslims were at the frontline in providing food banks, reaching out to the vulnerable and using mosques as mortuaries.

"The British Muslim charitable sector generates an estimated £500 million per annum"

The scale of these contributions has been surveyed in the recently published  British Muslim Civil Society Report 2023. Backed by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims and supported by Mercy Mission UK,  the report provides a valuable map of the  Muslim civil society sector, its achievements and challenges.

The author Dr Usaama al-Azmi spent a year consulting civil society organisations, explored the extent of the contributions made by Muslims to the U.K’s civil society space and offers 27 recommendations to stakeholders within the Muslim community, policymaking circles and wider Third Sector.

Key among these suggestions is the need to tackle systemic and structural causes for Muslim poverty, provide greater support for the Muslim youth sector and increase Muslim women's inclusion in civil society organisations.  

Muslims attend an Iftar meal at Trafalgar Square during Ramadan [Getty Images]
Muslims attend an Iftar meal at Trafalgar Square during Ramadan [Getty Images]

The author of the report makes a persuasive case for the production of a yearly or biennial survey of the needs of the British Muslim community that is modelled on the British Sikh Report.

This would provide an evidence-based understanding of the needs and long-term development of the community, which is not possible with the census figures alone and would produce valuable data for both Muslims and policymakers.

Among the challenges for Muslim social action organisations working in Britain is the increasing demand for their support while not being adequately funded.

The report asks policymakers to recognise the beneficial role faith-based organisations play in civil society and presses for an increase in direct investment and enhancement of relations between Muslim civil society groups and government at every level.

It notes that ‘many Muslims are driven to contribute to civil society out of a sense of civic duty that arises from their Islamic faith. Muslims feel that their faith calls on them to serve their communities and their neighbours of all faiths and none.’

It is also necessary to note that British Muslim voluntary agencies have been actively supporting those in need for decades and continue to help people struggling during the current cost-of-living crisis.

This is despite Britain’s Muslims dealing with the effects of more than a decade of austerity and the impact of the ongoing recession. Analysis of the 2021 Census data indicates that 40 percent of the Muslim population lives in the most deprived 20 percent of local authority districts have been badly affected by the cost-of-living crisis.

Polling conducted by the  Muslim Census indicates the British Muslim population has been disproportionately affected by the cost of living crisis, which has been more painfully felt due to these existing socio-economic inequalities.

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While the recommendations of reports like this are important – translating them into action is what matters most. The Muslim charity sector has to place a greater priority on the challenges of economic inequality on its own doorstep.

There is often a reluctance to do so as raising money for Muslims at home does not appear to attract the same responses as appeals for disaster-stricken causes overseas. If  British Muslims increase their ability to support themselves, they could have a far more significant impact on UK policy with respect to overseas aid than they currently do.

The report suggests that if charitable giving was more strategically deployed in the UK, the result would lead to better outcomes domestically as British Muslim prosperity increases and are likely to give more to worthy causes internationally. This requires Muslims to undergo an attitudinal culture shift when giving donations and adopting of a more strategic outlook on their charitable endeavours. 

"A decade ago, a Muslim Council of Britain report estimated the number of Muslim millionaires in the UK at 10,000 and collectively held £3.6 billion in liquid assets. These figures have undoubtedly increased"

This transformation would also require the formation of more partnerships in the local and national government, as well as within the Muslim business community.

As the author of the report right stated argues ‘A healthy society requires that the public, private and third sectors work in mutually supportive ways to contribute to better outcomes overall for our societies.’ 

He also cites the mission of the  Faith Covenant, which calls on local government and religious groups to work together more closely in addressing crises, or by encouraging successful Muslim businesses to create philanthropic foundations.

A decade ago, a Muslim Council of Britain report estimated the number of Muslim millionaires in the UK at 10,000 and collectively held £3.6 billion in liquid assets. These figures have undoubtedly increased. 

A more strategic Muslim philanthropic sector could systematically invest in the young people who make up a disproportionately large section of the community.

Young people are the leaders, decision-makers, and philanthropists of the future and they need to be supported correspondingly. The report highlights the work of faith-based organisations such as the National Zakat Fund, Aziz Foundation Scholarship Programme and many others who are addressing the financial pressures of Muslims in need here in the U.K.


This report demonstrates the need to invest now to offset the challenges of the future and reminds us that while Muslims are currently a youthful community in Britain,  in the not-too-distant future, it will age and the number of our elderly will grow sharply with the accompanying challenges this will bring.

This reality needs to be factored into strategic planning for the community and underlies the necessity of long-term strategic thinking, investment in research, and enhanced media communication abilities to shape the future of Muslim civil society.

The report concludes on a hopeful note by recognising the growth, development and success of a “deeply civic-minded community, ” which has yet to unleash its full potential.

It invites Muslim civil society organisations to develop thoughtful medium, and long-term horizons to jettison their current tendency towards presentism.

This short-term tendency needs to change so that proactive approaches are the norm rather than the reactive responses that are all too common. Adopting this outlook will help better prepare the UK’s Muslim communities for long-term challenges and will enable them to make Britain better for everyone.

Dr Sadek Hamid is an academic who has written widely about British Muslims. He is the author of  Sufis, Salafis and Islamists: The Contested Ground of British Islamic Activism.

Follow him on Twitter: @SadekHamid