x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Help the needy, UAE donations chief says

"We want to go back to the initiatives that used to exist but through the centuries have trickled away and been phased out,' says the secretary general of the Awqaf and Minors Affairs Foundation (AMAF)

DUBAI // Money spent building mosques in areas already catered for could be better used to help society’s most vulnerable, a religious endowments chief said yesterday.

Endowments known as awqaf were historically the principal source of welfare and support for the needy. Over the centuries their focus has become the provision and maintenance of mosques, and donors often specify that they should be used for this purpose.

“We would like to take awqaf back to 500 years ago,” said Tayeb Al Rais, secretary general of the Awqaf and Minors Affairs Foundation. “We want to go back to the initiatives that used to exist but through the centuries have trickled away.”

There are already more mosques in Dubai than the population required, he said. “If we need to build a mosque in a specific area I’ll be the first one to recommend it. But if we don’t need it, why put good money into something that is not going to be utilised?

“Awqaf is not all about mosques, it is about supporting the community in every way. Orphans need support, abandoned children need support, widows need support, divorcees need support, people who can’t study because they don’t have the money need support, people who have ailments need support. All these people in the community need support.”

Mr Al Rais said: “If you go back 500 years awqaf was the pillar of support, so our idea is to take awqaf back to what it was 500 years ago by supporting the community locally and, hopefully, globally.”

The Awqaf and Minors Affairs Foundation launched a five-year strategic plan yesterday designed to achieve this goal.

It expects work to start next month on the construction of one of its key welfare projects, the Family Village children’s home. It will be Dubai’s first orphanage, and the plans have been revised after the project was allocated a larger than expected plot of land at Al Warqa.

There will be a nursery for children under 3, villas for those up to 12 and a dormitory for those over that age. Staff “mothers” and assistants known as “aunts” will care for between six and eight youngsters in each of the nine villas.

An additional villa will be used as a guest house, and a further six in a walled-off area will be let to provide income for the project. The complex will also include an administration block, a dining hall and a play area.

“The aunts are not maids, they are there to support the mothers,” said Mr Al Rais. “For maid services we will have another organisation, outsourced: they come and clean and they leave, they will not stay with the kids.

“The idea is to have the mother and her assistant concentrate on raising the kids. The mothers are not on a shift system, they are there to live with the kids.”

The construction of another major foundation project, the “green mosque” in Deira, is progressing so well that it will open earlier than expected.

“We were supposed to inaugurate it in 2014 but now it is going to happen in 2013, I would say in the third quarter,” Mr Al Rais said. “We are going to have it open, inshallah, for a very sacred occasion.”

The mosque, the largest in Dubai with space for 4,000 worshippers, will have a host of energy-saving and environment-friendly features.

“It will be the first green mosque in the Middle East, and being green will cut the cost of running that mosque.

“Hopefully by people seeing this concept, when they build they will build according to these parameters, or somebody who wants to refurbish his mosque will follow some of these standards.”

The first initiative launched under the 2013-2017 strategic plan is Noor Awqaf, a joint-venture with the Noor Investment Group that will offer financial services to awqaf organisations around the world.

csimpson@thenational.ae