Speaker urges universal humanitarianism

Hany El-Banna is the co-founder of Islamic Relief, a Muslim aid organization.

He’s traveled all over the world and seen many displaced, poor and deprived people.

Dr. Hany El-Banna, co-founder and president of Islamic Relief, visited the University on Thursday to speak about the global role of Muslims in humanitarian aid.

“No organization on Earth could operate without faith,” El-Banna said.

Although the title of the lecture focused on religion, El-Banna emphasized the importance of the concept of humanitarianism alone.

“Religion sometimes could divide the community,” he said, referring to the cases of Darfur and similar ethnic conflicts abroad.

His theory: Men and women are leaders and care-takers of other creatures that have the power to make the decisions that run organizations, or partake in world order.

However, what’s happening right now is that the world is run by private businesses, the government and nongovernmental organizations, he said.

“Nongovernmental organizations shouldn’t be used as consultative only,” El-Banna said. “They should be part of the decision making process to make the changes.”

El-Banna touched on reasons why some nongovernmental organizations don’t receive funding for projects in some areas of the world.

When the tsunami hit Southeast Asia, many relief organizations were able to get monetary help to rebuild the area.

“Funding will have (political) attachments,” El-Banna said.

But when areas like South Sudan, where the poverty rate grows and the infrastructure worsens, little government aid is available, he said.

Students who attended the event were hoping for more clarification on the funding and how Islamic Relief operates.

Public policy graduate student Kristen Rau said she would’ve liked to hear more about the difficulties El-Banna and his organization – as an Islamic group – face when dealing with government funding.

“The theoretical aspect was interesting, but it would be good to know about the practical aspect,” she said.

Michael Barnett, a professor at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, said some Catholic relief organizations have their faith in the title, but that doesn’t mean they solely operate based on values of the religion.

He added that Islamic relief organizations operate similarly.

“Islam has always had a very strong element in compassion, giving and charity,” Barnett said.