Muslim Charities: Unfairly Eyed with Suspicion

On the surface, things are looking up for some of the Muslim charities accused of indirectly supporting terrorism. In October, a U.S. District Court judge declared a mistrial on most of the counts against the Texas-based Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development and several men connected to it; together, they were accused of channeling over $12 million to Hamas. More recently, in December a U.S. Federal Appeals Court overturned a $156 million settlement awarded in 2004 to the family of an American yeshiva student killed in 1996 on the West Bank. In that case, Stanley and Joyce Boim alleged that a fundraiser from the Chicago area, the American Muslim Society and the Holy Land Foundation all played a role in their son’s death by supporting Hamas.


Despite the failure of both the U.S. government and the Boims to link the charities to terrorism, the damage of trying to do so will outlive the historical legal precedents of freezing charities’ assets, of naming Muslim organizations as un-indicted co-conspirators, and of assuming that individuals are guilty by association.


American Muslims now face the ongoing dilemma of where to give their charitable dollars. Although Muslim advocacy groups like CAIR are calling on Washington to develop regulations that clearly define what constitutes an illegal donation, so far there are no guarantees that a donation made to a “legitimate” cause one day will be deemed illegal the next day.


According to charitable giving reports, Americans are among the most generous worldwide in donating both time and money to charitable causes. The Giving USA Foundation’s 2007 report shows that Americans gave $295.02 billion to charity in 2006. Of that, 75 percent was contributed by individuals. The report also shows that religious groups received the largest percentage of 2006 charitable dollars.


It’s not surprising, then, that American Muslims might wish to direct their charitable dollars to Muslim recipients. Charity in Islam is not an option; it’s a requirement. An annual zakat (obligatory charity) is paid on assets; meat is to be given to the needy at Eid Al Adha. There is further encouragement to give voluntarily of whatever one has to the less fortunate.


For Muslims living in – or with ties to – poorer countries, opportunities to help the needy are almost endless. In Morocco, for example, most families know someone who has a genuine need for hand-me-down clothes. They’re likely to have hungry people knock at their door for a meal, and to be solicited by beggars on every major street corner. Almost everyone knows a family who can’t afford to send their children to school, and they probably know of someone else who can’t afford to buy medication or to put meat on the table.

In contrast, most Americans are unlikely to encounter those in need on such a regular basis. They tend to give to charities to support both international and domestic humanitarian causes.


But while people of other faiths can confidently give to organizations of their choice, American Muslims worry that a check written to a Muslim charity might lead to suspicion of supporting terrorism. As more people shy away from that risk, less money reaches some of the people who need it most.


The Holy Land Foundation claimed a small victory with the mistrial, but the crippling effect on Muslim charities doesn’t appear to be ending any time soon.

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About Christine Benlafquih

Christine (Amina) Benlafquih is a freelance writer whose work includes articles, opinion pieces, personal essays and occasional fiction and poetry. A former publications and public relations director, she earned a B.A. in Journalism from Duquesne University in 1987. Originally from Rochester, NY, she has also lived in Pittsburgh, PA, the Washington, DC area, and now resides in Casablanca, Morocco. Her experiences as an American convert to Islam, both in the United States and in Morocco, serve as inspiration to much of her work. She is particularly concerned about the biased portrayal of Arabs and Muslims in the media, and about the division and labeling that occurs among Muslims themselves. Christine is a member of the Islamic Writers Alliance (IWA) and the Muslim American Journalists Association (MAJA). She is married and the mother of six children.

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