Fear Used Against Muslim Charity

Against heavy odds, the American justice system has prevailed once again. After 19 days of deliberation, a jury in Dallas did not return even one guilty verdict on almost 200 charges brought against officials of the Holy Land Foundation Muslim charity. This marked the third time that government prosecutors failed to win a conviction in a high- profile case related to charges of support for terrorism by members of the American Muslim community. The prosecution laid out a bizarre theory that HLF, by sending money to feed orphans in Palestine, was freeing up funds that were then used to pay for acts of terror.

U.S. Prosecution of Muslim Group Ends in Mistrial

DALLAS, Oct. 22 – A federal judge declared a mistrial on Monday in what was widely seen as the government’s flagship terrorism-financing case after prosecutors failed to persuade a jury to convict five leaders of a Muslim charity on any charges, or even to reach a verdict on many of the 197 counts. The case, involving the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development and five of its backers, is the government’s largest and most complex legal effort to shut down what it contends is American financing for terrorist organizations in the Middle East. President Bush announced he was freezing the charity’s assets in December 2001, saying that the radical Islamic group Hamas had obtained much of the money it pays for murder abroad right here in the United States.

Mistrial Declared in Islamic Charity Case; Jurors Find No Proof That Donations Indirectly Aided Militant Hamas

The trial against what was once the nation’s largest Islamic charity ended in a mistrial Monday as federal prosecutors in Dallas were unable to gain a conviction on charges that the group’s leaders had funneled millions of dollars to Mideast terrorists. The jurors in the high-profile case acquitted Mohammad el-Mezain, the former chairman of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, on virtually all the charges brought against him and deadlocked on the other charges that had been lodged against four other former leaders of the charity…

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.

American Muslims Gather In Dallas To Talk About Sharing Their Faith With Others

By Greg Flakus Dallas Hundreds of Muslims have gathered in Dallas, Texas for the Islamic Society of North America’s Third Annual South Central Regional Conference. The main goal of conference organizers is to build understanding with people of other faiths. Several hundred people came together in a hotel ballroom Friday to pray as the three-day conference got under way. Although men and women sat in separate sections of the hall, the Muslim cleric spoke to all believers, calling on them to be charitable toward their non-Muslim neighbors, not as a pretext for attracting them to Islam, but because that is what God calls on them to do. The message is similar to what might be heard in a Christian or Jewish service, because, as Muslim leaders are quick to point out, the three religions share common origins and beliefs. All three religions are based on belief in one God, yet many non-Muslims still regard Islam as an exotic religion. The theme of this conference is “Sharing Islam with our Neighbors,” and organizers note that this does not necessarily refer to proselytizing. The secretary general of the Islamic Society of North America, Sayyid Muhammad Syeed, says that the eight-to-ten million people of the Islamic faith who live in the United States today are in a unique position to help Americans understand this religion and its worldwide influence. “Muslims of America are an asset to America because they are bridge between America and the rest of the Muslim world and we take that role very seriously,” he said. Mr. Syeed says those Americans who embrace Islam also have a responsibility to bring about a better understanding of this country in the areas of the world where Islam is the dominant religion. “Muslims in the world have to understand that there is a Muslim population here who are practicing Islam in their day-to-day lives. Then, it is our duty to express, interpret and explain Islam to our fellow Americans, and it is our duty to explain America to our fellow Muslims,” he said. Muslims here feel a special bond with other Muslims in the Middle East and are concerned about the turmoil in that region. One of the main speakers at this conference is a State Department official who has come to explain U.S. policy in the Middle East. This conference also includes special sessions on the growth of Islam among American Latinos, including forums conducted in Spanish where people explain why they converted to Islam.