Beyond borders, Turkish aid group gives help to needy
Turkey's Diyanet Vakfi to expand aid projects to 145 countries, including iftar events and Eid al-Adha operations, says head of aid group
By Fatih Hafız Mehmet
The charity group of Turkey's top religious authority always stands ready to help those in need, wherever they are, without regard to borders, according to the group’s head.
"We don't have any borders in our minds, as wherever there are needy people we're making the utmost efforts to reach them and give them aid and support," Mehmet Savas Polat, the head of the Turkiye Diyanet Foundation, told Anadolu Agency in an exclusive interview.
Speaking about the foundation's projects, Polat said one of its biggest campaigns centers around the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
"In the Ramadan campaign, we distributed 90,000 aid packages, like food aid and cleaning supplies and other things,” he explained.
“We distributed these aid packages in around 140 countries. We served people through iftar dinner events."
He added that they organized 250,000 iftar events for this year’s Ramadan, which started in mid-May and ended in mid-June.
Sacrificial animal meat for 130 countries
Telling about the foundation's "The Quran is My Present" project, Polat said when the project started in 2013 they gathered donations from volunteers and benefactors.
"We got around one million mus'hafs,” or copies of the Quran, he said, using donations through a cellphone SMS campaign.
“Each SMS costs 15 Turkish liras [$2.50]. Around 70 percent of these donations were distributed abroad, and 30 percent were distributed in Turkey," he said.
Polat said they translated the Quran into 17 languages and distributed the translations in nearly 50 countries.
On the foundation's project for Eid al-Adha, Polat said that last year, they distributed around 260,000 shares of the meat of sacrificial animal worldwide in almost 130 countries.
Muslims sacrifice livestock during the Eid al-Adha and share at least one-third of it among needy and poor people.
For the meat donations, small cattle are counted as one share, and cows count for seven. Polat said they mostly use small cattle, but sometimes they also use cows.
"This year, God willing, we will carry out this project in 145 countries. We’re also carrying out iftar events and Qurban [Eid al-Adha] operations inside Turkey, not just abroad," Polat said.
100 mosques built abroad
Turning to the group's mosque-building projects, Polat said the Turkiye Diyanet Foundation has built many mosques both in Turkey and abroad.
"We have carried out the construction of mosques in 25 countries, with some 100 built just abroad. Fourteen mosques are still under construction," he said.
Polat said that within Turkey, they have completed around 3,700 mosques in addition to 500 masjids or prayer rooms.
He said that in areas of northwestern Syria, which the Turkish military cleared of terrorists, they have finished renovating and refurbishing 160 mosques.
"We also recently started 180 mosque renovation projects in the same area," Polat added.
He said they also paid the imams’ salaries in that part in Syria and also offered them religious education courses.
"Sometimes we’re also organizing vocational courses for imams in Somalia, Sudan, and areas where people lack access to accurate religious information," Polat added.
Polat said they have projects to build student hostels and Quran learning schools in Turkey and abroad as well.
"For example, we have a mosque and a small school in Haiti. This is almost the ends of the earth [from Turkey]," he said.
"We’re trying to reach people in very remote areas."
The Turkiye Diyanet Foundation also has four different educational projects, starting with an international imam-hatip [religious high school] education project.
Under the first project, “students are coming from Europe, our Turkish citizens [abroad], and are receiving religious study for the benefit of their communities in Europe," said Polat.
The second project is for international theological studies, and the third is a project for students from Somalia.
"That’s a separate and special project, it started when we started supplying aid to Somalia," the Horn of Africa, Polat added.
He said through the aid projects, they started providing scholarships to Somali students and bringing them to Turkey.
"We gave them hostel services and healthcare services as well. They study theology here," Polat said.
Finally, he said, they have an international students project.
"This is a general project for students studying in various disciplines, not only theology or imam-hatipschools," Polat said.
He added that the international students project intends to support foreign students studying in Turkey.