Muslim charities targeted

24th Dec 2014


Western Counter terrorism policies has limited humanitarian NGOs access to affected areas in Somalia, subsequently contributing to the famine

Abdurahman Sharif

Over the past year, Muslim charities have come under increased negative publicity, scrutiny and suspicion. The Charity Commission for England and Wales has changed its policy towards statutory investigations by making them public, many of which are perceived to be unfairly targeting Muslim charities. Banks are being more risk-averse and have closed the bank accounts of a number of organisations and individuals, including Ummah Welfare Trust which has raised over £18 million a year for needy causes, without giving them the opportunity to appeal such a decision. Other charities continue to face an incredible number of crippling restrictions when transferring funds to desperate areas in need.

Banks have also closed the accounts of individual holders who they have deemed to be “politically exposed” and a risk to the bank. In some cases this has extended to their family members which have included children.

The Charity Commission and the banking industry have been quick to deny any allegations of bias; yet, it is difficult to justify to the wider community why there would not be any form of prejudice when a particular sector led by representatives of a minority religious group is the only one facing an extraordinary amount of scrutiny and suspicion. This has been accentuated by the fact that very few policy makers have spoken out against this.

Many in the sector, regardless of affiliation, have raised concerns around restrictions on civil society space. It comes at a crucial time when Parliament has just appointed a joint committee to consider the draft Protection of Charities Bill, published in late October, and is set to amend the Charities Act 2011 by extending the powers of the Charity Commission. It also follows a public consultation held last year which was part of the recent provisions implemented by the Government to tackle extremism.

Nonetheless, if not considered with care, the impact of such powers could be far more damaging to Muslim charities, a sector that raises in excess of £500 million per a year and represents around 2,000 organisations, and to international NGOs delivering humanitarian aid to some of the poorest parts of the world.

In the past five years, many NGOs have already spoken out publically on the impact of counter-terrorism legislation on humanitarian aid. According to UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Philippe Lazzarini, a quarter of a million people died in the famine in Somalia because the world was too slow to react to the crisis between 2010 and 2012. The southern and central parts of the country, an area run by the proscribed group Al Shabab at the time, were the hardest hit. A recent research carried out by Tufts University and funded by the US Government suggested that ‘the over-riding policy priority of Counter-Terrorism, limited humanitarian access to affected areas and generally limited enthusiasm for risk-taking’ contributed to the famine.

Similarities can be made with the current crisis in Syria where there seems to be concerns around the risk of aid being diverted to proscribed groups. As a result, many charities and NGOs have preferred to work in neighbouring countries rather than to work directly inside Syria where aid is probably needed the most.
Following the wave of closure of bank accounts for money remittance companies last year, banks seem to have become even more powerful than national regulators. They now have more authority than Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), which regulates money service businesses or the Charity Commission which regulates the charity sector. How can an entity that has committed no wrongdoing in the eyes of the Charity Commission or even HMRC have its bank account closed?

It is time for policy makers to take notice and deal with this issue properly. Although, this is not a front line election issue, it is an issue that concerns a basic need for all citizens in the United Kingdom, the right to hold a bank account, set-up a charity and run it in the most efficient way possible, and a fundamental principle of the right to freedom of association. Without bank accounts, charities cannot operate.

One Response to “Muslim charities targeted”

GenieDecember 24, 2014

Who puts money in the banks and make them flourish? Us the people. So why do we not show the sense of withdrawing our clientale from the banks who do not want our clientale?

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