Charity Awards 2024

Islamic Relief founder honoured for exceptional contribution at the Charity Awards 2023

Dr Hany El-Banna OBE, who co-founded and built Islamic Relief Worldwide into the world’s biggest Western Muslim aid and development agency, has been awarded the Daniel Phelan Award for Outstanding Achievement at this year’s Charity Awards.

Dr Hany El-Banna and Cathy PhelanDr El-Banna was presented with his prize at the Charity Awards ceremony last night by Cathy Phelan-Watkins, director of Civil Society Media and wife of the late Daniel Phelan, creator of the Charity Awards.

He was honoured for nearly 40 years of leadership in the humanitarian sector, the early years of which were spent in a part-time role alongside his work as an NHS doctor in Birmingham. But his natural talent for fundraising and advocacy finally convinced him to leave the medical profession and concentrate on building Islamic Relief full-time. Today, the organisation operates in 40 countries with 450 staff, and is one of the 30 biggest UK charities by income. Millions of people each year are touched by its work.

He remained at the charity until 2008 when he left to focus on new capacity-building and cross-border coordination activities, which led to the creation of the World Humanitarian Action Forum (WHAF) and the Muslim Charities Forum, among numerous smaller initiatives.

Nowadays, Dr El-Banna continues to chair WHAF and still travels constantly. He was in Jordan when the earthquake struck Turkey and Syria in February, and joined teams in the field to coordinate relief efforts.

Cathy Phelan-Watkins said Dr El-Banna had been a great inspiration to many young British Muslims who were inspired to pursue a humanitarian pathway themselves, and had come to be regarded as the “godfather” of the Muslim charity sector.

She added: “As the then heir to the throne, Prince Charles, said when he attended Islamic Relief’s 25th anniversary, none of the charity’s achievements would have been possible without the vision, passion and sheer dedication of this truly extraordinary man.”

Dr El-Banna responds

Dr El-Banna collected his award alongside 10 category winners and the winner of the Overall Award for Excellence, Freedom from Torture, at a black-tie ceremony at the Royal Lancaster London, hosted by writer and broadcaster Ayesha Hazarika.

At the event, Dr El-Banna asked the audience its permission to say that he deserved the award before accepting it.

He said: “The journey is not the flashlight, is not the award, it is not the prestige, it is the length of the challenges we face wherever we go.”

Dr El-Banna warned that the UK was losing sight of its values in its recent responses to refugee crises in Syria, Ukraine, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Yemen.

“We should not forget our homemade British values, which we are losing badly,” he said.

The Daniel Phelan Award for Outstanding Achievement is the only individual award given out, and the recipient is selected by Civil Society Media and approved by the judging panel. Dr El-Banna joins an illustrious list of winners, including Sir Roger Singleton, Baroness Jill Pitkeathley, Dame Julia Unwin, Sir Nicholas Young, and Sir Harpal Kumar.

Daniel Phelan founded the Charity Awards in 2000. After he died in 2015, the organisers at Civil Society Media changed the name of the Outstanding Achievement Award to honour his memory.

Read Tania Mason’s profile of Dr El-Banna here.

Click here to read the full list of Charity Awards 2023 winners.