Sharia-compliant Mastercard launch

The UK’s first sharia-compliant prepaid MasterCard has been launched. The Cordoba Gold MasterCard does not charge or receive interest as this is in direct conflict with sharia Law. The company also donates at least 10% of its profits to registered charities in the UK and abroad. A company spokesman said: “Because this is a prepaid card, the customer pays no interest on their balance. The difference with this card is that Cordoba Financial Group does not earn any interest on the balance either. “Normally when someone puts money on a prepaid card the company that issues the card will earn interest on the balance until the person spends it. “This is not the case with Cordoba, as you can neither earn nor pay interest under sharia law.” The Cordoba Gold card is available to UK residents aged 18 and over, and is being launched in London. The UK’s Muslim population totals about two million and fully sharia-compliant banks have more than 30,000 customers across the UK.

Montenegro: Montenegro Gets Islamic School

After an almost century-long wait, Muslims in the Republic of Montenegro will finally receive their first secondary school to accommodate students and parents wishing the youngsters to receive an Islamic education. Construction of the facility has been completed, with help from the Saudi bases Islamic Development Bank and a number of charities in Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. The school is now scheduled to open for the 2008-2009 school year, with facilities including dorm rooms, a library, computer lab, gymnasium, and theater. However, enrollment in the first year will be comprised entirely of boys; girls are expected to be added to the student body in the following school year.

Us Muslims Not Involved In Aiding Terrorism: Senate Probe Report

WASHINGTON, Nov 20: The US Senate has wrapped up a high-profile investigation into US Muslim organizations and terrorism financing, saying it found no evidence to suggest a link between the two. The finance committee of the Senate, which went to a two-week break this weekend, concluded that none of nearly two dozen Muslim groups investigated raised funds for terrorist activities. This highly unusual inquiry took two years to complete the investigation during which the Senate committee was allowed to go through private financial information held by the government. The US Internal Revenue Service had provided the panel with financial records and donor lists of Muslim charities, think tanks and other organizations. Nine were based in the Washington area. We did not find anything alarming enough that required additional follow-up beyond what law-enforcement agencies are already doing, said Sen Charles E. Grassley, a Republican from Iowa who headed the inquiry. Since the Sept 11, 2001, attacks, the US government has frozen millions of dollars in assets allegedly linked to Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups and shut down some of the biggest US-based Islamic charities. Even mainstream Muslim organizations, like the Islamic Society of North America and the Islamic Circle of North America, were investigated but have now been absolved of any involvement with terrorist activities. In September, when ISNA was still under investigation, Karen Hughes, the US undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, attended its annual convention. Some charities, such as the Illinois-based Global Relief Foundation, had their assets frozen. In 2002, the GRF was also designated a terrorist-financing entity by the US Treasury Department. In launching their inquiry in December 2003, Senators Grassley and Max Baucus, the committee’s ranking Democrat, had expressed concerns that charities and foundations play a crucial role in terror financing. Some Muslims, however, protested that the Senate investigation unfairly cast a cloud over many groups. It was really just a fishing expedition, said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman at the Council on American-Islamic Relations. They didn’t catch any fish. ISNA’s executive director, Louay Safi, said the group always knew there was nothing wrong with its finances. But it is good to see that they have come to that conclusion as well. Mr Safi regretted that many innocent Muslim groups have been smeared in the investigation. In August 2003, US President George Bush froze the assets of five pro-Palestinian charities abroad, depriving Palestinian orphans of their much-needed aid. Thousands of Palestinian orphans and destitute families took to the streets the same month to protest President Bush’s decision. We’re very pleased but not surprised, as there’s never been any funding of anything remotely related to terrorist activities, said Nancy Luque, an attorney for Muslim charities and institutes in Herndon, near Washington. Wendell Belew, an attorney for a Muslim charity association, said: We’re very pleased that their examination uncovered no problems on the part of our members. His group includes two Falls Church nonprofits: the World Assembly of Muslim Youth and the Muslim World League. Several of the organizations targeted in the inquiry remain under investigation by the FBI or the Department of Homeland Security.

Taking The Taint Out Of GivingIslamic Charities Are Trying To Win Back Donors Spooked By Fears Of Fed Scrutiny

Last January the board of Dallas charity KinderUSA made an unusual request to its 6,800 donors: Please don’t send gifts. The Islamic charity, which delivers food and aid to children in war zones, had just received a federal grand jury subpoena asking its officials to turn over all meeting minutes, tax returns, and other documents. It feared that the government could freeze its assets or seize its list of donors at any moment. After four months with no word from the FBI about whether KinderUSA was being investigated, the board resumed fund-raising. But board chair Dr. Laila Al-Marayati worries for her donors, who want to support charity but fear being caught up in a terrorism investigation. “Charities are in the position of being guilty until proven innocent,” she says. “Our donors are afraid. They don’t know what to do.” (The FBI would not confirm or deny an ongoing KinderUSA investigation when contacted by BusinessWeek.) Donors and charities alike have reason to be on guard. Since September 11 federal authorities have frozen the assets of five Islamic charities in the U.S., including three of the largest, for alleged links to terrorist groups — in effect, shutting the groups down. The U.S. Treasury Dept., which is charged with cutting off monetary support for terrorists, has frozen the assets of 41 aid organizations globally for alleged connections to terrorism. This spotlight on the Muslim charitable sector may well be warranted in the name of national security. September 11 forced an awakening to the reality that “Al Qaeda, Hamas, and like-minded terrorist groups have abused charities to support hate-filled agendas,” according to a speech by Juan Carlos Zarate, who was recently appointed deputy national security advisor for combating terrorism after a stint monitoring terrorism financing at the Treasury. Nevertheless, as the U.S. marks the fourth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, none of the investigations has been resolved. The charities’ assets remain frozen. Meanwhile, these inquiries resonate powerfully across the Islamic charity sector, shifting the direction of millions of dollars as donors fret that giving to organized Islamic charities could lead them into a legal morass. Muslim Americans are now looking for methods beyond traditional charitable giving to fulfill Zakat, a pillar of Islam, which requires Muslims to give 2.5% of their income to the poor. More Muslim Americans are deciding to bypass charities entirely in favor of giving directly to those in need. Consider Mark Mohammadi, who started a Middle Eastern restaurant in Dallas. Out of fear that he’ll unwittingly contribute to a group that is linked to terrorist activity, he’s decided to stop giving money to charities. To fulfill his charitable obligation, he serves about 30 meals monthly to homeless people. Says Mohammadi: “After 9/11, I don’t trust anyone.” Ahmed Syed, a Pakistani immigrant and a retired quality control manager for the Defense Dept.. (HON ), takes a different approach. “My family abroad donates on my behalf to causes in Pakistan, like hospitals and general education,” says the Walnut Creek (Calif.), resident. To bring donors back, charities are employing new measures to prove that their work is legitimate. KinderUSA has gained a reputation among Islamic charities for good governance and transparency and posts audited financials on its Web site. But such measures did little to prevent a formal inquiry, and Al-Marayati remains frustrated by how little she knows about the inquiry’s status. Such situations have led Muslim-American leaders from more than 20 Islamic charities to unite to find a solution. Last March they launched an umbrella organization called The National Council of American Muslim Nonprofits that will offer a seal of approval to charities that meet their criteria, which are still being developed. The council is working closely with the Treasury Dept. to ensure rigorous standards that will offer some protection to donors and charities. UNDUE BURDEN But some say the council, with its rigorous application process, could put an undue burden on charities without offering them much in return — such as the assurance that if they meet all the standards they won’t be pulled into a probe. Treasury Dept. spokesperson Molly Millerwise says the seal won’t shield charities from the possibility of investigation. “Donors want a vetted list of charities. We can’t provide that,” she says. “Who is to say if charities engage in terrorism-related activities after they’re put on the list?” Tiny nonprofits also may find it costly to comply with the reporting required by the council, which will likely address issues such as transparency, audit triggers, and board makeup. Karen Keyworth directs the Islamic Schools’ League, which represents the U.S.’s 215 Islamic schools. She worries that the financial strain of meeting tough transparency measures might force schools, many of which have minuscule budgets, to cut operations. Still, Keyworth says that efforts such as the council’s are needed to persuade donors to keep giving. Unfortunately for Muslim Americans anxious to see the legitimate groups that serve their communities thrive, greatly increased scrutiny — and the bureaucratic hoops that come with it — may be the new order in a post-September 11 world.