Zakat Foundation of America started small. Really small — founding director Khalil Demir, a part-time secretary, and the occasional volunteer, in a one-room office in Chicago’s outskirts. But what it has become over the past 20 years is monumental.
It started off as a humble charity out of suburban Chicago and now provides humanitarian relief to millions of people in about 50 countries on five continents.
“We have built orphanages, and today some of our orphans are doctors, engineers, and teachers,” said founder and Executive Director Khalil Demir. “We built clinics and hospitals that have saved thousands of lives. Millions of refugees' lives are changed for the better because of our services.”
A year after being incorporated as a nonprofit in Illinois in 2001, Zakat Foundation of America started its orphan sponsorship program. It reached 13 countries in its first five years, delivering aid to 7,000 Iraq War victims, opening two orphanages in Pakistan and a vocational training center in Ghana, responding to Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana, and launching its water well construction program among other life-changing campaigns. Charity Navigator has ranked it a top charity for almost 10 straight years, as has Better Business Bureau.
Khalil Demir said the organization’s growth from a volunteer-based group to a global foundation was fueled by nothing other than the world’s unyielding and ever-increasing human crises. Misery, poverty, wars and human suffering has increased, thus, so has the organization’s work, he said. There will always be people who want to help during human crises. People who want to give.
“As long as human suffering exists, our work is an urgent necessity,” Khalil Demir said. “Beyond that, our work to bring awareness to the Muslim community about their Zakat (Charity) obligation will continue until a fair, just and kind world exists.”
Zakat Foundation of America has used Islam’s third pillar — charity — as a guiding principle in helping people lift themselves out of poverty. Since 2001, the organization has empowered millions of people, regardless of creed or color, to recover from disasters and escape poverty by taking control of their own lives. It has addressed the immediate needs of poor communities worldwide. It has established long-term development projects that ensure individual and community growth.
Last year alone, it reached 2,604,970 people with COVID-19 emergency relief and provided more than 5 million pounds of fresh food to some of the hardest-hit areas in the United States. In the last 20 years, Zakat Foundation of America’s aid has reached 80 countries. It published 9 Myths About Muslim Charities: Stories from the Zakat Foundation of America in 2019. It has rapidly delivered lifesaving food, water, shelter, clothing, hygiene, and daily life essentials, directing hundreds of humanitarian relief experts in the field on a daily basis. It provides a professional network of medicinal and mental health specialists and facilities.
“I remember constructing two water wells a year with partners and getting teary eyes in 2011; now, we have 50 water wells being constructed across the globe at any given time,” said Chief Operations Officer Amina Demir. The organization launched a campaign in 2012 called One Year, 100 Water Wells, and the water projects have been flowing smoothly since.
The organization’s growth has been exponential over the years, and its goal is to continue expanding its humanitarian operations, uplifting the disadvantaged here at home and abroad until self-reliance and a dignified life are realities for all.
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In 2020, 81¢ from each dollar donated went directly toward programs serving those in need. 12¢ went to administrative costs & 7¢ went to fundraising costs.