Dr. Hany El-Banna sums up his life’s achievements in one simple sentence – “The heartfelt thanks on the face of an elderly widow”.
The sentence is the cornerstone of Dr. El-Banna’s values as a humanitarian worker which has remained a constant throughout his career.
Working tirelessly in the field of humanitarian aid and development for over 30 years, Dr. El-Banna has been described as “a pioneer in the field of Islamic Humanitarianism”. Though he sees himself as a grassroots humanitarian worker, his impact on the humanitarian sector cannot be denied
A co-founder and former president of Islamic Relief, the largest western Muslim NGO in the world, Dr El-Banna has visited over 70 countries in pursuit of relieving people from suffering.
Born in Egypt, Dr. El-Banna completed his MBBCH in Medicine at Al Azhar University, Cairo, along with a Diploma in Islamic Studies in 1976. He then furthered his medical training, completing a Doctorate of Medicine (MD) in Foetal Pathology in 1991 at Birmingham Medical School.
Through a varied humanitarian career which has taken him through numerous challenges, Dr. El-Banna highlights four key turning points which have shaped the past three decades: a trip to Sudan in 1983, a visit to Bosnia in the early 1990s, Chechnya in 1995 and China in 2001.
A trip to Sudan in 1983 to a medical conference in Khartoum, gave him great insight into the famine ravaging East Africa. What he saw compelled him to raise money from family to go towards relief from the famine in Sudan. These early efforts lead to the creation of Islamic Relief Worldwide in 1984.
A visit to Bosnia in 1992, five weeks after the war broke out in the Balkans, was a visit fraught with danger at every turn. Working on impulse and due to a chance meeting with the Grand Sheikh of Bosnia, he encouraged the Grand Sheikh to join him of a tour of the UK and Qatar, Egypt, Bahrain, UAE as well as several other Gulf states to recount the devastation of the war and the loss of lives of men, women and children. This culminated in a visit to Qatar which led to an increase in donations across the board for Islamic Relief.
A particular visit to Chechnya in 1995, helped to build a vision for Islamic Relief and himself which continues to this day: the neutrality required by aid agencies despite coming under scrutiny at checkpoints while travelling through troubled regions.
Finally, a trip to China in 2001 which highlighted a vital role that aid organisations can play by helping governments and local communities through dialogue.
Today Islamic Relief has become an international NGO working in over 40 countries across the world, with over 3,000 staff and field workers helping the poor, needy and destitute.
A voice sending a message
Since his time at Islamic Relief, Dr. El-Banna has spoken at a variety of conferences to heads of state, ministers and political leaders on stages such as the United Nations, World Economic Forum, UN Agencies, Organisation of the Islamic Cooperation, League of Arab States and Crans Montana Forum and others.
He has delivered speeches on topics such as HIV, encouraging a greater understanding of the Islamic World and justice through humanitarianism.
Through engagement and dialogue, he has worked to create a new philosophical approach to bridge building between the West, Islamic world and the South.
Tackling a different challenge
His experience with Islamic Relief, travels and speaking engagements, held him in great stead for this next chapter of his life.
In 2008, 24 years after founding Islamic Relief, Dr. El-Banna decided to leave to concentrate on the work he started with The Humanitarian Forum founded in 2006 to be a bridge between humanitarian organisations around the world, and particularly between those in the west and NGO’s from Islamic countries. Supporters and advisors of The Humanitarian Forum include the British Red Cross, World Assembly for Muslim Youth, Mercy Crops and Qatar Charity alongside UNOCHA, the International Committee of the Red Cross, International Islamic Charitable Organisation, the Charity Commission of England and Wales, and Islamic Relief Worldwide.
Also in that year, with the support of Muslim NGOs from across the UK, the Muslim Charities Forum was founded to act as an advocacy body for Muslim charities based in the UK. Members of the Forum include Islamic Relief, Muslim Aid, Muslim Hands and Human Appeal International. Dr El-Banna is the Chairman of the Muslim Charities Forum.
Not resting on his laurels, Dr. El-Banna’s vision saw him support the foundation of two innovative and groundbreaking organisations in 2010: The International HIV Fund and Zakat House UK.
In 2007, an international conference in South Africa with representatives from over 200 aid agencies, international government departments, academics and medical experts from across the world came together to discuss Islam and HIV. Dr El-Banna played a key role in encouraging Muslim organisations to play a greater role in HIV prevention. The conference led to the foundation of the International HIV Fund.
The International HIV Fund is a grassroots Muslim-based approach at raising awareness of the effects of HIV amongst the Muslim community in the UK and encouraging a holistic and values based
approach of preventing HIV in different countries around the world. The organisation has moved into a new phase of being by becoming incorporated within the charity Human Appeal International.
Zakat House UK was founded to support the development of small and growing charities all under one roof. The concept is that these charities support and collaborate with each other and share experiences to help each other grow responsibly and work effectively, reducing waste. Charities that Zakat House has supported include the Somali Relief and Development Forum and the Yemen Relief and Development Forum – both of which were also supported by Dr. El-Banna.
Dr. El-Banna has also worked with Muslim broadcasters, newspapers and magazines to form the Muslim Media Forum. The idea that was formed was focused on these companies giving back to the Muslim community in the UK – the main customers they attract – in the form of education about working in the media, engaging with media organisations and offering youth opportunities to work within their organisations.
Engaging with the Civil Society
More recently Dr. El-Banna has focused his energies in supporting diaspora communities in the UK and in Egypt. In 2011, during the height of the famine in East Africa, he worked with Somali community organisations, helping them organise under an umbrella organisation – the Somali Relief and Development Forum – to support aid and development efforts within Somalia.
Similarly he has worked with the Yemeni diaspora community in the UK with similar effect helping Yemenis from across the UK organise to support development projects in Yemen as the Yemen Relief and Development Forum.
Away from the UK, Dr El-Banna has worked to strengthen the civil society in Egypt, by holding lectures and workshops amongst grassroots communities within the country.
Dr El-Banna has been recognised by several awards and bodies for his contribution to humanitarian work, most notably an Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2004 for his services to the community. Other awards include:
* Honorary Degree from the University of Birmingham, Doctor Honoris Causa (2007)
* Lifetime Achievement Award, Muslim Power 100 Award (2007)
* Asian Jewel Awards (2006)
* Friends of Islam Annual Achievement Award (2005)
* Kashmiri and Pakistani Professional Association Award (2005)
* Ibn Khaldun Award, for Excellence in Promoting Understanding between Global Cultures and Faiths awarded by The Muslim News (2004)
* Award for Service to Medicine and Humanity, the Egyptian Medical Syndicate (2004)
* Hamilton Bailey Prize, Dudley Road (City) Hospital Birmingham (1981)
Entering a fourth decade in the humanitarian sector, Dr. El-Banna is looking forward to the humanitarian picture beyond 2015. As part of his work with The Humanitarian Forum, he is looking forward to the World Humanitarian Summit 2016, organised by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA). He will be taking part by facilitating workshops in Muslim countries across the world from Morocco to Malaysia to discuss the summit objectives with communities from Muslim countries at a grassroots level.
This summit aims to bring people and groups together to address future humanitarian challenges related to natural hazards and conflicts. The wider summit events will aim to develop stronger partnerships and seek innovative solutions to persistent and new challenges.
So far Dr. El-Banna has visited Tunisia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, UAE and France in order to plan local consultations within each of these countries. He has met with local charities and government officials such as the Royal Charity of Bahrain, Qatar Charity, Islamic Development Bank and Secours Islamique in France to plan the workshops in each of these countries and Gain support for the summit in 2016. He will continue to travel to other countries to ensure participation in the summit from a wide variety of actors as possible.
Dr. El-Banna’s belief and values have remained constant throughout his humanitarian and medical career. Seeing a person smile due to the positive change you have made in their lives, is an achievement in itself. But with age and experience he has found that the ideals of his youth have changed. He believes that it is important to work together, to communicate effectively and build partnerships and relationships. There are some goals in life that you can’t achieve alone.
Max has over 25 years of experience with Charities and Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) and has managed projects in Asia and Africa. He is qualified with a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA), with specialisation in Accounting and Finance and proficient in setting internal standards on appropriate due diligence. Max has worked with USAID, UNHCR, UNDP, AusAID, Asian Development Bank and The World Bank.
Fatima Hersi has long experience with a proven track record of success spanning 12 years in the UK charitable sector working with the public, directors, staff and charities at local, regional, national and international levels.
She has started as a volunteer working at the office of Dr Hany ElBanna in 2004, who was then the president of Islamic Relief Worldwide. Fatima took on different roles within the organisation, and later joined The Humanitarian Forum in 2014, as the ‘World Humanitarian Summit’ coordinator.