Grand Ayatullah (marj’a) Sayyid Abul Qasim Musawi Al-Khoei, one of the most influential Shi’a Islamic scholars, and the predecessor to Grand Ayatullah Sayyid Ali Al-Husayni Al-Sistani, established The Imam Al-Khoei Benevolent Foundation in 1989. The Foundation’s concern is to continue the charitable and educational functions historically associated with the office of the marj’aiyya, the institution of the highest-ranking Shi’i leadership. Today the Foundation, with its headquarters in London, has more than 15 branches in some of the most important cities of the world, including New York, and has grown to become the largest International Shi’a Muslim organization.
In 1997 the Foundation became the fourth Muslim organization – and the only Shi’a Muslim organization – to hold General Consultative Status in the United Nations, where it currently promotes work in human rights and minority rights. The Foundation’s officers have helped monitor elections in Iraq as well as voting booths in Europe.
Education is the Foundation’s mission. Al-Sadiq School for boys and Al-Zahra for girls, the only Shi’a schools in the UK, the co-educational Al-Iman School in New York, United States and Al-Houda School in Montreal, Canada were also established under the aegis of the Foundation. These schools are locally accredited and offer locally approved courses and integrate Islamic and Quranic sciences with the regular curriculum. Combined together these schools educate approximately a thousand youths every year.
Madeenat al-‘Ilm, the city of knowledge, in the holy city of Qum, Iran, is the largest theological institute in Shi’a world. Here more than three thousand students are studying theology. The facilities at Qum include dormitories for 500 married students, in addition to theological centers.
Al-Kauthar University in Islamabad offers Bachelors, Masters and Doctoral programs in a wide variety of courses. The University is housed in an impressive complex, providing administrative, academic and residential blocks for up to approximately 700 students.
The Foundation has also helped set up the International Colleges of Islamic Science, the only online Shi’a Islamic University, approved by the British Accreditation Council for Independent Further and Higher Education.
Ayatullah Al-Khoei also endeavored to bring honor and respect to disadvantaged Shi’a in the Muslim world by training them in the professions, providing nurseries for women, and founding industrial schools and universities, especially in India and Pakistan.
The Foundation also contributed to other types of development work like digging wells in villages lacking water supply such as in Afghanistan after the departure of the Soviet Union.
Countless families that suffered from the Iraq-Iran war, and later because of the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussain, were helped through generous grants by the Foundation.
The Foundation continues to help victims of wars and natural disasters through its various branches.
Every branch of the Foundation around the world is involved in dissemination of religious knowledge and services through its Islamic Centers. Most notably, the centers in London, New York, Montreal, Paris, Islamabad and Mumbai are one of the largest in their respective regions. Weekend Schools and Summer classes continue the year-long religious education to children and youths.
Through these Islamic centers the Foundation’s own clerics work to educate the local public on Islam, advice converts, and provide chaplain services to Muslims in the prison systems. Religious counseling is available for youth, women, couples wanting to marry or divorce, and other community members seeking advice on how to live Muslim lives in the West.
Local officers at the Islamic centers organize activities for youth, celebrations of religious holidays, sports events for women, etc. In addition, clerics and officers are active in both local and international interfaith activities.
The Foundation works together with other organizations, and welcomes the frequent visits of wukala’ – representatives of the maraja’. Its public relations officer teaches classes for imams to work on their communication skills, part of a collaborative effort with Sunni Muslim organizations on a Good Practice Guide for Mosques and Imams, aiming for the accreditation and standardized training of both Sunni and Shi’a imams.
Officers of The Foundation hold regular meetings with the metropolitan police and local precincts on police/youth interactions, and oversee halal food standards in Britain and in United States. In New York, the Foundation has representation on the Clergy-Police Liaison Council under the New York Police Commissioner.
A human rights advocate is on staff at the Foundation which has also helped initiate a Committee for Democracy in Iraq Now. The Committee holds regular meetings for Iraqi refugees living in London, and features visiting Iraqi politicians as speakers, as well as membership of Amnesty International panels and a host of other committees.
Most recently, the Foundation organized an informational meeting with Baroness Emma Nicholson on the humanitarian crisis in Lebanon over summer 2006, followed by an assessment visit to evaluate the best possible response for charity efforts. The Foundation gives interviews to news channels, attends as well as organizes conferences. The latest conference last September, where the Foundation partnered with The Right Path of Islam Association of Mumbai, India, was entitled “Tackling Extremism, Viewpoints from Britain and the Sub-Continent.”
The Foundation frequently engages with institutions such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Minority Rights Group International, and Save the Children and works to correct the public image of the Muslims in the West.
The Foundation works locally with immigration and refugee offices, writing letters of support for those who are religiously persecuted, and advise members of immigrant community on their rights and responsibilities.