Over the past twenty years, Muslim organizations have played an increasingly prominent role in the delivery of international humanitarian aid. Their growth has been underpinned by the striking generosity of growing Muslim communities in North America and Europe and by zakat – the religious obligation to give 2.5% of disposable income to charity.
My own organization, Islamic Relief, is one of the largest. We have offices in over 40 countries, and invested $250 million in humanitarian aid and development programs in 2014.
Around three-quarters of our aid and development expenditure goes on emergencies such as the Nepal earthquake and the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, providing life-saving food, shelter and medical aid. The rest funds education, health care, clean water, orphan sponsorship and projects to help families earn their way out of extreme poverty.
Our affiliates within the Islamic Relief family, such as Islamic Relief USA, are often involved in domestic programs as well as supporting projects in developing countries. IRUSA was part of the relief effort in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and has also assisted local communities affected by tornadoes in Texas and by the recent challenges with water supplies in Detroit and Flint, Michigan.
Islamic Relief prides itself on its commitment to humanitarian principles of impartiality and neutrality and on its multi-faith approach, working from Haiti to the Philippines with partners as diverse as the Lutheran World Federation and World Jewish Relief. We are trusted by hundreds of thousands of individual donors around the world to assist people in need, as well as by UN agencies, the US and UK governments and the European Union.
The truth is that none of these major donors would come near us if we were “directly linked to financing terrorism”, as Kyle Shideler alleges in his recent article in the Washington Times.
Islamic Relief is a purely humanitarian organization that abhors terrorism. Our work is subjected to dozens of independent audits mandated by donors each year, and not one has found a shred of evidence of terrorist links. This includes the audit Mr. Shideler tries to cast doubt upon, which was conducted independently by one of the world’s leading audit firms and shared in full with the UK Government and charity regulators.
Mr. Shideler says Israel designated Islamic Relief a terrorist entity because of ties with the Muslim Brotherhood. In fact, Israel claims that Islamic Relief is linked with Hamas, and it has yet to provide credible evidence to substantiate this. We are in the process of contesting terrorist designations by both Israel and the United Arab Emirates, which are wrong and unfounded.
Mr. Shideler refers to Islamic Relief’s Gaza project coordinator’s arrest by Israel’s security forces in 2006 “for links to Hamas”. He fails to mention that this individual was released by order of an Israeli military court judge, after the Israeli authorities failed to produce any evidence to bring about a charge.
Our former chair of trustees, Dr. Essam El-Haddad, was indeed approached to take up a political position in President Morsi’s government in Egypt. Mr. Shideler omits, however, that when Dr. El-Haddad accepted that position, he resigned from Islamic Relief with immediate effect.
The wrongful allegation that Islamic Relief was a member of the Union of Good stems from our logo being used on a Union of Good website, without our involvement or consent, to try to establish the initiative’s credibility.
The source that is meant to show that we were “working alongside” jihadist organisations in Pakistan is a single quote in a local newspaper article that mentions our name among a number of organisations visible in the earthquake response in Chitral, Pakistan. Does Mr. Shideler appreciate that Chitral is a large administrative district roughly the size of Connecticut? Islamic Relief was not working with any of the jihadist-linked organisations mentioned.
Mr. Shideler is correct that we have previously received funds from the Charitable Society for Social Welfare (CSSW). But is he aware that this organization also partnered with western governments, and that we severed all ties with the CSSW immediately in 2014 when our own due diligence checks gave us cause for concern?
Mr. Shideler failed to check his facts or consult Islamic Relief about his allegations but perhaps his one-sided and misleading article is the best we can expect. After all, he is employed by the Center for Security Policy, described by the Center for America Progress as one of the leading players in a network of institutions and individuals that are mounting a “disturbing campaign of misinformation and demonization” against Muslim organizations.
It is sad that an Islamophobic agenda appears to have blinded Mr. Shideler to the merits of Islamic Relief’s life-saving work. I sincerely hope that Washington Times readers will read this article alongside his, and make up their own minds.
• Tayeb Abdoun is the Deputy CEO of Islamic Relief Worldwide.