Heroics, Heartbreak, and Humor on the Humanitarian Disaster Front – Local Leader in Global Relief Tells His Story

Jan. 11, 2020 (ORLAND PARK, Ill.)—Halil Demir will bring his harrowing story of 30 years in global disaster relief home to Orland Park Prayer Center with a book reading and signing 7 p.m. Thursday, January 23.

Demir’s 9 Myths About Muslim Charities tells the riveting tale of launching the Zakat Foundation of America, a tiny Muslim charity with a national name and cosmic dreams, on the eve of a sunny September day in 2001 that would shatter everything.

“Within weeks of setting up Zakat Foundation, just me and a part-time receptionist, Tuesday, September 11 came along,” he says. “A blinding flash, something surreal. Suddenly the eyes of every agency, official, and neighbor seemed to pierce my soul.

“It was very frightening and daunting, like the weight of the world had come screaming down on all my humanitarian hopes, my lifelong yearning to help the poor, the suffering, people like I had seen, like I had been. It was like suffocating.”

In the nearly 19 years since, Demir, still at the helm of his nonprofit as its executive director, has sailed his human aid vessel into a multimillion-dollar, respected worldwide relief agency, with a glowing four-star rating from industry watchdog Charity Navigator and nearly a hundred major humanitarian partners on six continents.

That’s no small feat, as his book chronicles it. Sudden shoals threatened to scuttle the enterprise at seemingly every point of the compass. No shortage of intrigue — shadowy government interference, spooked banks closing accounts without warning in the name of “de-risking,” and staff staring down the gun barrels of groups that looked upon the Foundation’s red-white-and-blue standard with suspicion.

Even a desperately needed, enthusiastically community supported Southside Chicago vocational school initiative gets snuffed out in eerie silence when a certain Muslim charity rides to the rescue.

That’s right, because this Zakat-fueled humanitarian craft doesn’t just ply the waves of need “over there.” It increasingly rows its charity home, beginning with the Navajo at Window Rock, Arizona, appropriately, as one of its earliest acts of communal aid. (Demir even received his own Navajo name.)

Its human relief led a Caravan of Love in supply-laden trucks down to Houston after Hurricane Harvey dumped a lake on it in September 2017.

It landed with the first U.S. Navy Ships in Puerto Rico and trekked its lifesaving support to those island Americans in its remotest ends in that same month after Hurricane Maria’s devastations.

“Humanitarian work kills,” I like to say. “It terminates your ego. You learn what the poet John Donne said: ‘No man is an island.’ We all need each other, help and compassion from one another. That’s what it’s taught me. I am the one actually being helped, receiving from my brothers and sisters in humanity.

“The Prophet Muhammad, on him be peace, put it best: “The parable of the believers in their affection, mercy, and tender-heartedness for each other is that of a body. When any limb aches, the whole body reacts with sleeplessness and fever.”

All are invited, open questions, good discussion, books available.

Event Information

Date: Thursday, 23 January 2020
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Location: Orland Park Prayer Center
16530 S. 104th Ave.
Orland Park, IL 60467


Abbas Haleem
Marketing & Public Relations
Zakat Foundation of America
Office: 1(708) 233-0555