As regular readers of SFW know, we focus a great deal on the many Islamic charities which have been implicated in the funding of Jihadist terrorism. This activity does not occur by accident. On the contrary, it has a doctrinal basis in Islamic law, as we have detailed many times in the past:

http://www.shariahfinancewatch.org/blog/category/islamic-charities/

The bipartisan, independent 9/11 Commission documented the activities of Islamic charities in support of Al Qaeda in the report they issued after an exhaustive investigation into the September 11th attacks. The Bush Justice and Treasury Departments pursued terror funding aggressively and shut down some major Islamic charities here in the USA for funding Jihadist terrorism.

This enforcement activity has slowed to a trickle under Obama who, soon after coming into office, pledged to Muslims around the world that he would ease scrutiny of zakat by US regulators and law enforcement:

http://www.shariahfinancewatch.org/blog/2009/07/20/president-obama-on-zakat/

Perhaps encouraged by the Obama administration’s recalcitrance with regard to the funding of Jihadist terrorists through zakat payments via Islamic charities, a new cottage industry has sprung up pushing back on behalf of Islamic charities to end scrutiny of their activities.

Organizations such as the Charity and Security Network (a misnomer if there ever was one) and KARAMAH, Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights, are leading this charge:

http://www.charityandsecurity.org/about

http://www.karamah.org/

On April 11th, they combined to hold an online webinar on the subject:  “Muslim Civil Society in the US: Overcoming Islamophobia through Charity, Advocacy and Education”

This webinar continued the bogus narrative that Muslims are victims of serial Islamophobia and that their charities have been unfairly targeted. Here is the description from the site promoting the webinar:

From raids on innocent Muslim charities, to pervasive surveillance on Americans based only on their religion or ethnicity, it is impossible to ignore the impact of Islamophobia in the U.S. The Charity & Security Network, in partnership with the Institute for Social and Policy Understanding and KARAMAH, will host a panel of experts to discuss the challenges faced by American Muslims and how the Muslim civil society sector has employed charity, advocacy and education to encourage diversity, equality and understanding.

The experts will draw from their own experiences as well as the examples presented in The Charity & Security Network report, U.S Muslim Charities and the War on Terror: A Decade in Review. The report summarizes action taken by the U.S. government to shut down American Muslim charities since 2006, and gives updates on the status of litigation and other efforts by charities. It also details the unwarranted government investigation and surveillance of Muslim communities and charities and how the American Muslim civil society sector has addressed government scrutiny and Islamophobia.

Among the speakers on this webinar were:

  • Engy Abdelkader, legal fellow for ISPU and Vice President of KARAMAH: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights
  • Dr. Azizah Y. al-Hibri, Esq., Founder and Chair of KARAMAH: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights
  • Mohammed Alomari, Chief Operating Officer for Life for Relief and Development
  • Moderator: Shireen Zaman, Executive Director for ISPU

As a public service to the rest of society, SFW has obtained for publication a transcript of this lengthy webinar as a reference source to the arguments that our adversaries are making in an attempt to end scrutiny of Islamic charities and the system of zakat. This transcript is very lengthy, but it is a view inside the world of those working to end scrutiny of Islamic charities:

*************************************

CHARITY AND SECURITY NETWORK WEBINAR

 

[BEGIN FILE]

 

SHIREEN ZAMAN:

 

Okay, well, we’re at about 12:30 now, so we’ll go ahead and get started. As I said before, my name is Shireen Zaman. I’m the executive director of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. I wanted to welcome all of you and thank you for joining us today. We’re very excited to help host this discussion with our partners, the Charity and Security Network and KARAMAH. We’re going to go ahead and start with Nathaniel Turner from Charity and Security Network, who’s going to give us just a brief overview of a report that they published at the end of last year. If you – anyone who is not presenting can please mute your phone line, you’ll hit star six to do that and you’ll see that there is a chat box on the left hand side of your computer screen. If you have any questions as we go along through the presentation or the initial panel discussion, please just send your question to presenters and I’ll be sure to moderate the discussion as we open it up for Q and A and pose as many of those questions as we can. So with Nathaniel, who will be presenting some of the key findings of their report and then we’ll open it up to our panelists and I’ll introduce them after the initial presentation. So Nathaniel, why don’t you go ahead and start and, again, for everyone who is not presenting, please be sure to hit star six. And if you – if you have any questions, please type them into the chat box. Thank you. Go ahead, Nathaniel.

 

NATHANIEL TURNER:

 

Hi, thank you, Shireen. I hope everyone can hear me. And I would just like to say good morning, good afternoon, or good evening for our international callers. So before we begin with our fantastic panel experts, I’d like to just briefly summarize the findings of the report that was the impetus for this event. In 2006, OMB Watch released a report called Muslim Charities and the War on Terror. Which chronicled the charities that had been shut down by the Bush Administration for purportedly funding terrorist groups. In December of last year, our organization decided to update that report and we released US Muslim Charities and the War on Terror: A Decade in Review. This [BELL SOUND] surrounding many of those cases, and it also covered some of the other issues of surveillance and scrutiny that had become apparent since we released the first report. What we found was that while there were certainly numerous instances of unfair targeting of Muslim Americans, their charities and their organizations, there was also a strong response [BELL SOUND] education [OVERLAPPING VOICES] new civil society and advocacy groups [UNCLEAR] commitment, charitable causes, despite all of the [UNCLEAR] posed [UNCLEAR] government. The problem. Well, a total of nine charities were shut down under the Bush Administration. Seven of which had Muslim affiliations.

 

Under current law, the government is able to designate and freeze the assets of any individual or organization that it believes to be a supporter of terrorism. It is important to note that despite the number of groups on this list that have been shut down, only one was actually [BELL SOUND] material support of terrorism and that was the Holy Land Foundation. And they were never even actually represented in a court of law during their trial. Even when the government is not shutting down an organization, it can still harass them with unwarranted investigations. Just one example of this was in 2004 when the federal grand jury issued a subpoena for Kinder USA. A Texas based charity that provides food [BELL SOUND] Kinder had to suspend their fundraising for fear that their donors or beneficiaries would get caught up in the investigation and they repeatedly asked the government what the concerns were about the charity. But never received any response. Initially, they resumed their fundraising, but had obviously taken a significant hit to their donor base. And to this day, there has been no action – no further action taken against Kinder. Nor has the government stated why they subpoenaed the records in the first place. Obviously, charities have not been the only ones targeted. As I’m sure many of you are aware, there have been numerous cases of FBI infiltration of mosques and community groups, which is an act that has just severely harmed relationships between American Muslims and law enforcement. And obviously, also, in the headlines has been the recent developments in the NYPD surveillance of community groups and student groups which was also featured in the report, but I will leave that to the speakers to discuss in further detail.

 

So this brings us to what I suppose you could say is the silver lining to all of this, and that is that despite all of the negativity and in many cases outright Islamophobia, many groups continue to provide aid to educate and to advocate for a free and open civil society. Groups like [UNCLEAR] Mohammad will speak about in much greater detail, Islamic Relief USA is the top foundation of America and many, many others have continued to provide aid abroad and here at home, such as IR USA providing relief after the Alabama tornadoes in 2011. There have also been many initiatives, such as the Muslim Advocacy Accreditation Program. That really shows that the Muslim civil society sector has [OVERLAPPING VOICES] the highest standards for charitable giving. Many have also worked very closely with law enforcement and as I mentioned before, there have been serious setbacks, but also there’s been some significant strides made with certain law enforcement groups in the past years to eliminate Islamophobic training material and help them understand and respect the contributions that American Muslim communities have made to countering terror. And finally, on the public front, many initiatives have focused on education and dialogue to help dispel myths and stereotypes, which is [BELL SOUND] allow my colleagues to [UNCLEAR] greater detail. I will now let the real experts here speak, those who have faced these challenges and have worked to overcome them. So I turn the floor back over to you, Shireen. Thank you very much, everyone.

 

SHIREEN ZAMAN:

 

Thank you, Nathaniel. What we’re going to do now is I’m going to sort of take the moderator’s prerogative and ask a few initial questions. Again, I would ask anyone who is not a presenter to please mute your phone line. You can do that by hitting star six and if you have any questions as we go through – either from Nathaniel’s presentation or as we start our initial discussion with the panelists, please go ahead and type that box, I think that’s kind of the best way to handle questions, so that you can write them as they come up and we can handle them during the open Q and A session. So just by way of brief introduction, and Mohammad if you want to go ahead and turn on your camera, we’ll be able to see you as well, I wanted to just introduce the other members of our panel. Engy Abdelkader is a legal fellow with us here at ISPU and also vice president of KARAMAH. She is a human rights attorney based in New York. Dr. Azizah al-Hibri is the founder and chair of KARAMAH, which is the Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights. And she’s also a professor at the TC Williams school of law at the University of Richmond. And Mohammad Alomari is the chief operating officer for the Organization Relief – Life for Relief and Development. So thank you all for joining us here virtually. It’s nice to be able to sort of see everyone as well as interact with you via the webinar. So again, for those of you who have questions as we go along, please type them in the chat box, I’ll try and field them to our presenters. But I’d like to open up, actually, with just a general question. All of you are sort of active in civil society, related to Muslim communities and have been working on some of these issues that Charity and Security Network discussed in their report. I’m interested in just your initial feedback, very briefly, maybe you can reflect for a few minutes on some of the findings that Nathaniel presented and sort of how you feel the sector has been impacted in general over the last ten years. We’ll get into some of your specific organizations’ work as follow-up, but just, you know, what are your initial reactions to this report and – about the findings? So why don’t we go ahead and start maybe with Dr. al-Hibri?

 

AZIZAH al-HIBRI:

 

Yes. It’s an important question and your report mentions that Muslims have continued their charitable giving. One fact of the policies and raids that have taken place, Muslim charities and other educational institutions in the community has been to shift a great deal of the charitable donations from supplying funds for the poor overseas to those who need it in the United States. That is a good – that is a good result. Shifting and focusing on the domestic scene. That does not, of course, eliminate foreign giving. But the other important factor I’d like to mention is that even as you mentioned the level of charitable commitment and donation by the Muslim community, I’d like to argue that it is not at all fully what it could have been, that it’s still [OVERLAPPING VOICES] impact in the Muslim community and we could do a lot more domestically and globally to support Muslims and causes that are dear to all of us in the United States.

 

SHIREEN ZAMAN:

 

Thank you, Dr. al-Hibri. And just a reminder, I know a few people have joined, just please be sure to mute your line by hitting star six so that we don’t have challenges hearing the panelists. Turn it over to you, now, for just your initial response, I guess, to the report and some of the findings that you’ve seen in more – I mean, your work more in the international sector.

 

MOHAMMAD ALOMARI:

 

I didn’t know this whole thing is on phone.

 

SHIREEN ZAMAN:

 

Mohammad, can you hear me?

 

MOHAMMAD ALOMARI:

 

Oh, yes, I’m sorry. I thought you were asking somebody –

 

SHIREEN ZAMAN:

 

Go ahead.

 

MOHAMMAD ALOMARI:

 

Yeah, you know, I think the report goes at the heart of a lot of the challenges that the Muslim community faces and specifically the charities and non-profit organizations that work for the community, you know, for Life, you know, we’ve been working since 1992. We have to face challenges from the – whether the government actions are, whether they’re, you know, it’s the new regulations or the targeting, you know, the raids and all the other stuff, you know, that we have to face in addition to challenges that we face in the community to rest, you know, assure that we can still operate, that we are still operating, that they can go ahead and still give without fear. So the challenges are, you know, are from both sides. You know, when people in the community hear about, you know, the FBI raiding this organization or that organization or this office and that office, even though their organization wasn’t close or restricted or anything in that fashion, the national, you know, reaction for the community members are, you know, let’s go deal with somebody else. You know, so that fear within the community, it takes a long time to overcome, aside from all the other challenges that we have to face from the government itself.

 

SHIREEN ZAMAN:

 

Thank you. I’m going to come back to some of your comments, cause I think you made some important points there as well, but let me just ask Engy, also, for your initial feedback on the report as well.

 

ENGY ABDELKADER:

 

Well, thank you so much for having me here with you today. I thought that the report was an excellent survey of some of the events and challenges that the American Muslim community has been confronting since the September 11th terrorist attacks. And one of these phenomenons that it highlights is that of religious profiling, specifically by law enforcement officials. Prior to the September 11th terrorist attack, most discussions in academic, policy, and legal circles focused on racial and ethnic profiling. Following the attacks, there was a shift to the implementation of religious profiling as well. Which [BELL SOUND] as well as civil society as a whole. And that, in turn, also has implications not just for the American Muslim community in terms of having a chilling effect on charitable giving or going to the mosque to see the [BELL SOUND] being surveillanced, etceteras. But also in terms of the larger American community as well. Because it sends a message to the larger American community that perhaps these groups are suspect. And then therefore, we start seeing other initiatives, such as legislative initiatives against Islamic law, for instance, we start seeing private actors engaging in discrimination, in the workplace, in the school, we see increasing hate crimes. So all of these factors are interpolated and it is important for us to understand that government scrutiny based specifically and solely on religious affiliation for factors away from religious affiliation does have an adverse impact upon the greater society as a whole.

 

SHIREEN ZAMAN:

 

Thanks, Engy. Well, those are – I think we had some good kind of general feedback here. I want to dive in a little bit to the specifics and, again, just to remind people if you have questions, please go ahead and send them to me via the chat box on the left hand side of your screen and we’ll try and field those as they come up. And also, for those of you who are not presenting, just be sure to mute your phone line, which is star six. So, Dr. al-Hibri, I want to turn back to you, cause you and the work – and KARAMAH itself as an organization has been around for many, many years. And has been [BELL SOUND] civil liberties and issues related to the Muslim community for a long time. But certainly there was an impact, you know, you – I remember when we connected, you talked about the 2002 raids that happened with federal organizations. And I know that you – specifically at KARAMAH and I know many other organizations as well, have made, you know, some internal changes to try and respond to some of this additional scrutiny. Can you talk a bit about sort of your experience, specifically at KARAMAH, going through sort of those challenges and how you as an organization have actually now come out stronger from that?

 

AZIZAH al-HIBRI:

 

Yes. We modified our work at KARAMAH in a couple of ways. One of them is to reach out to the grass roots and explain to them and educate them on their civil rights and what has been happening with the new laws and with the new raids. I’ll talk about that at a different point. But as far as KARAMAH’s internal structure, we decided that we’re going – because we are a lawyer organization, the level of due diligence required of us is higher than what you would require from an organization where the leaders are not lawyers. Therefore, we have to be extremely careful in every step we take and when we receive some checks from individuals who have been with – whose name has been bandied around either in the papers or belong to institutions that have been raided and so on, we have to return these checks. We have to put in place a number of precautions to make sure that KARAMAH will never be tainted with any cloud similar to that of other organizations and therefore be crippled in doing its important work. One of the things we did is to buy a [BELL SOUND] pretty expensive for a very small organization. Where we would [BELL SOUND] the names of anybody who are going to work there. And make sure that they are, as far as the due diligence, clean. Not just individuals, but organizations. Many sources of funding, community funding, that were originally available to us are no longer funding [BELL SOUNDS] domestic funding from the Muslim community, we couldn’t take foreign funding from people overseas or Muslim or non-Muslim ones to support the Muslims. So we were stuck with trying to get money from the US government.

 

And for a long time, we ended up designing our projects in such a way as to be able to get grants from the US government, which also affected our work abroad. Because people saw us being funded by the government. We were fortunate at KARAMAH that we had a serious funding which is private and we are comfortable with and has allowed us to go over the hump for many years. But I would tell you that the effects of the steps that has been taken by the government in its various departments have severely affected KARAMAH. And I will give you one example. It’s not only about fundraising. For example, we want to give online classes where people could come from all over the world and listen to us educate them, you can call it an enlightened view of Islam or whatever adjective you’d like to place, we teach them about leadership, we teach them about conflict resolution. Well, it turns out, we have to take that idea to our pro bono law firm and ask them, what do we have to do to protect ourselves against, you know, any problems that could arise because somebody who signed on online to listen to us might be connected as a relative or to somebody that the US has problems with. So that created a whole set of steps we have to take even for our online [BELL SOUND] not just funding. So you can see that our work is a lot more difficult than the work of some other organizations which is non-Muslim, which could do online classes and does not have to worry as much. Would you like me to go on?

 

SHIREEN ZAMAN:

 

Oh, sorry. Sorry, I was on mute. [LAUGHS] I was going to say, Dr. al-Hibri, that your comments are tied to the funding challenge and then the impact that that has on your projects and I want to actually turn to Mohammad, because I think that some of those challenges are quite probably similar for you and probably in particular, like KARAMAH’s work, the international work has an even added dimension of complications. So maybe you can talk a bit about your experience there in terms of some of the impact that this has had on your work in the international space.

 

MOHAMMAD ALOMARI:

 

Yeah. I mean, Dr. al-Hibri mentioned funding and, you know, for us as 501 C3 nonprofit charity, the majority, overwhelming majority of our funds are cash donations, are from the Muslim community. And, you know, we don’t get any government grants or anything of that sort. We get the in kind donations, which is, you know, medicines and food from other American nonprofit organizations, but our primary cash donations for our humanitarian relief work, whether it’s zakat, collecting zakat, distributing zakat, or if it’s sponsorship, or many other programs that we have, we don’t have the liberty to, you know, depend on any grants, whether from state or local agencies or the federal government. And fortunately – well, fortunately for us, I mean, it’s given us obviously a lot of independence, but it also – our success is dependent upon our reputation. And so when we go to the Muslim community and we say we have this orphan program, we have this zakat distribution program, we have the seasonal programs during Ramadan, we have the food baskets that we distribute during the hajj season, the meat distribution, these programs that we go to the Muslim community and say we can implement them for you – and obviously, we give them the choice, we can implement some of the programs here and it really depends on the donor. If the donor says, well, I want my zakat to go to Palestine or I want it to go to Jordan or Iraq or Afghanistan or whatever country that he wants, we’re obligated to implement there. We have some donors who say, you know, implement here locally in the US. So to face the challenges of the stigma that’s out there, you know, the government raids, the government targeting of many of the charities, whether they were closed out or not, it’s a challenge we’re always facing. People in the community, you know, always come up and ask, you know, how are you guys doing? Are you still operating? Are you still implementing your programs? This and that. It’s a big challenge. It’s a major challenge for us, so overcoming that stigma in the media as well as, you know, whatever is out there in the news, is always something that we have to keep in the back of our mind when we go out and communicate and campaign and market our programs to the community. It’s a major challenge that – something that’s been added to our task of collecting donations. Where it didn’t really exist maybe ten years ago. Or wasn’t a big part of our campaign ten years ago.

 

SHIREEN ZAMAN:

 

Thank you. I want to spend one more – maybe a few more minutes on the challenges and then also talk a bit about sort of the strength and resilience of the community and the organizations as well cause I think that’s an important thing to talk about. But before we get to that, Engy, I know you have been quite active more recently on some of the issues related to the New York Police Department, the surveillance that’s been happening among, particularly, student organizations on the East Coast. Tell us a little bit about that and how, you know, that is connected to some of these other pieces that we’ve talked about earlier in the presentation.

 

ENGY ABDELKADER:

 

Yeah, so, I think that the report by the Charity and Security Network highlights responses by Muslim NGO nonprofit organizations throughout the United States to some of the problematic approaches or policies that are being implemented on the government level. And we are seeing increased advocacy with this and we’re seeing more engagement and dialogue by those advocacy nonprofit organizations, such as KARAMAH which Dr. al-Hibri founded and chairs, such as the Muslim Public Affairs Council, such as ISNA, [UNCLEAR, MICROPHONE RUSTLING]

 

SHIREEN ZAMAN:

 

Sorry, Engy, we’re having a little – you’re kind of going in and out. Maybe you can hold the phone a bit closer to you [OVERLAPPING VOICES]

 

NATHANIEL TURNER:

 

I think someone out there needs to mute their phone also.

 

SHIREEN ZAMAN:

 

Yeah. There’s some feedback. So if everyone who’s not a presenter, please go ahead and mute your line. It’s star six. Thank you.

 

ENGY ABDELKADER:

 

So as I was saying that the reaction has been one of education, advocacy, and engagement. And this is a [UNCLEAR] the continuing reports by the Associated Press regarding the surveillance of Muslim populations, northeast, by the NYPD. So in response, for instance, there are regular federal inter-agency meetings that occur at the Department of Justice headquarters in Washington, DC. Which are attended by a [UNCLEAR] group of representatives from about half a dozen Muslim American, Arab American and south Asian organizations with national clout in terms [AUDIO DROPS OUT BRIEFLY] and since those reports came out in August of 2011, representatives from these organizations have been continually dialoging with the Department [BELL SOUND] as well as other representatives from federal agencies regarding the appropriate nature of their surveillance, the fact that the surveillance appears to be based solely on religious affiliation and not on any indication of criminal activity. That sends a message to the Muslim [AUDIO DROPS OUT] people feeling betrayed and compromises the trust that has been established with these federal and local state law enforcement officials.

 

So it’s an ineffective use of resources and makes for ineffective [UNCLEAR] and so that dialogue has been ongoing since the [UNCLEAR] reports came out in August of 2011. In addition, you see representatives from different organizations in the community, mosque representatives, some elected officials, activists, people from the – that represent the Muslim student associations at the colleges meeting with federal policymakers. So, for instance, one such [UNCLEAR] has been very vocal on the NYPD issue is Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey. And he conducted a closed door meeting with leaders from the American Muslim community in his district office in New Jersey on this issue. But not only about this issue, but also addressed concerns to those community members who were in attendance and who obviously were representing other segments of the population what those concerns are. And so I think that that’s advocacy and I think that continuing to engage with the federal government, with policymakers, continuing to educate larger communities is very important because, unfortunately, what the message – the message is sent out by the courts that NYPD or federal law enforcement officials are targeting, are surveillancing Muslim Americans for no other reason than because of their religion. The message that’s sent out to a large group of the population is that Islam and Muslims are inherently fucked up for no other reason than because of their religious identity. And that’s dangerous. And it has a ripple effect that can be felt throughout society. Because if the government is suspicious or is understood to be suspicious of the Muslim community, then the individual will soon [UNCLEAR] be suspicious and therefore, they may feel – maybe even feel that it’s patriotic to discriminate in the employment context [UNCLEAR] hard time in the school context. To perhaps, you know, attack the cab driver who’s perceived to be a Muslim [UNCLEAR, SOMEONE SNEEZES] And again, it is worth highlighting that the Muslim reaction has been one of engagement, advocacy, and education.

 

SHIREEN ZAMAN:

 

Thanks, Engy. For the person who just sneezed, you need to mute your phone line, please. [LAUGHTER] Please hit star six to mute your line, cause there’s some background noise there. And God bless you, so [LAUGHTER] Thank you. Well, I want to continue on, I think Engy, you made a good segue into some of the ways that Muslim organizations, or organizations working with effective communities as in the Arab communities or South Asian communities have been actively engaging on the government level and with each other. And actually, one of the questions that was posed to the panel is whether or not you had seen more coalition activity in the past ten years, groups coming together, trying to address some of the challenges, but also in light of maybe more scarce resources working together because of, you know, the need to kind of pool funds and pool talent to address some of these challenges. So Engy started to talk about that. I don’t know if Dr. al-Hibri or Mohammad, if you all have anything that you would want to say on that question.

 

AZIZAH al-HIBRI:

 

Certainly. I would say that within the early years, the governmental behavior resulted in fragmenting the community. Because of the fear that it instilled and chilling effect and various kind of ways of fragmenting it such as naming some people as unindicted co-conspirators, something that your report mentioned and so on. So all of that really weakened the community initially in my judgment. However, the community has adjusted to that and the community is now emerging, seeking more cooperation with each other and with also other non-Muslim organizations. It’s actually coming out from what some of the organizations or the community, sort of a ghetto mentality, and it’s becoming very much involved in the American scene and the Muslim scene generally and I think this kind of trend has been great and KARAMAH is part of that trend.

 

SHIREEN ZAMAN:

 

Great. Thank you. Mohammad, did you have anything you wanted to add to that?

 

MOHAMMAD ALOMARI:

 

Yeah. I mean, we had situations, you know, the FBI was going around, harassing some of our donors, our large donors, during – just before and after the raid. And, you know,  maybe some folks might not consider a simple question of, you know, why are you giving to this charity, but, you know, a lot of the people in the Muslim community are either immigrants or, you know, children of immigrants and they come from these other countries that are frankly repressive dictatorships. And you have police or FBI asking a simple question like that, they relate it back to the home country of, you know, they’re going to haul you away and put you in jail because you gave to a certain charity. And so that intimidation by itself is enough to scare a lot of people away. And I think it’s that part – that intimidation and that – I mean, we even had the government try to scare away other charities that we partnered with outside the United States. They tried to use – I won’t go into detail of which one it was, but – and we complained about it. We complained, we sent letters to the government saying that this is not right, it’s harassment, and, you know, we will take further action, whatever legal action that we can do to stop it because, you know, in the end, it comes to – it’s, you know, whether you want to classify it as defamation or just simple harassment, it’s a way to curtail the activities of a legal organization that has a legal right to operate and what you’re doing is through harassment and intimidation trying to stop the activity. And so a lot of it, I think, is, you know, goes back to the organization of, will they just fold? And there was an organization that actually, they – through the raid, through the initial freezing of assets, although they came back and unfroze the assets, the charity just ended up closing. And I think that was a scenario that I think was part of the strategy. On one hand, go ahead and close some of these organizations that actually got accused of doing, you know, wrongdoing, and then you have some of these other organizations, they just didn’t like them, through the process of harassment and intimidation, they were just hoping that they would close up and, you know, just close up shop and go away. And so, you know, it was through our determination, number one, to – that we are doing good work within the legal framework and we’re going to stand up for our rights. I think that’s what a lot of the Muslim organizations need to stand up and say, as long as we’re working within the legal framework, whatever rules and regulations are out there, we’ll abide by them. We should not be subjected to harassment and intimidation.

 

SHIREEN ZAMAN:

 

Thank you. A question came in about, you know, the current efforts of Muslim relief organizations, for example, in cleaning up tornado debris in Texas. Or I think Nathaniel mentioned some of the work of organizations like Islamic Relief in the US and I think also I would just add to that the many interfaith efforts that have come and the cooperation between Muslim communities and other communities in the US. How does that – how does that impact the credibility of charities in the eyes of the American public? Are there, in fact, because of this kind of push for Muslim communities or Muslim charities to be out there more in the public, are there actually positive opportunities for engagement, education, outreach? Engy, do you have some thoughts on that?

ENGY ABDELKADER:

 

I think it’s important for the American Muslim community, including the charitable sector, to be engaged with the larger American public, including contributing to relief efforts, whether it was in response to Katrina or other, you know, other catastrophes, natural disasters that have occurred within our territory. I think it sends a positive message about the American Muslim community. It underscores the fact that we are Americans, it underscores the American identity of that community. And therefore, I think that it is important. And I think that even and separate apart from these relief organizations, you are seeing, even on a very local level, more American Muslims being engaged with charitable initiatives and so, for instance, you see organizations locally that are sponsoring regular soup kitchens. And encouraging both the student population as well as the post-grad population to help out and not just help out other Muslims, per se, but help out other Americans. And I think that’s an important aspect of the American Muslim identity that needs to be highlighted.

 

SHIREEN ZAMAN:

 

Great. Anyone else have something to add there?

 

MOHAMMAD ALOMARI:

 

Yes. I mean, to add further, I mean, we responded locally when there was, you know, Hurricane Ike, Hurricane Katrina, you know, we responded with emergency help, food, water, emergency shelter, to the victims, regardless of who they were or what, you know, religion they were. Similarly in Haiti when the earthquake struck there a couple of years ago. We responded with emergency help. You know, a lot of it, it’s guided obviously where the need is, number one, and number two, what the donors are willing to do, because ultimately we’re guided by what the donors ask us to do. If the donor says, help the people of Haiti, we’ll help them. If they say, you know, they want their funds going for a program overseas, we, you know, we have to abide by what the donor’s wishes are. But we certainly do have a lot of programs that are here local meant to address the emergency needs of victims here.

 

AZIZAH al-HIBRI:

 

I’d like to just mention a footnote about the efforts of helping others. KARAMAH on a couple of occasions tried to help one country which has had a flood and another which has had an earthquake. In the country where there was a flood, we were approached about donating a significant number of backpacks for children so that they could go to school at the right moment. They had lost everything. We contacted the Justice Department and asked them if that would be okay, because as you might – as you know, there is no safe harbor in the guidelines of the donations. And they said, sure, I mean, no American would think that a backpack is problematic. And we asked them to put this in writing and they ultimately did not do so. Another country we suggested to the Justice Department that we send our volunteers to basically sit with the women who have experienced the catastrophe and counsel them, hold their hand, etceteras, and again, we understood that that falls within the kinds of material support that the various laws have talked about. And when I mentioned this to the AG during the Bush Administration, the Attorney General, he was very surprised about my assertion and said, well, maybe we should meet about it. That meeting never took place. So the law is there. If there is an interest by the enforcement agencies to down a Muslim organization for such work, they can. There is, you know, there is the material support language, which is very over-broad and could therefore result in the bringing down of an organization. And that’s something that we at KARAMAH are very cognizant of.

 

SHIREEN ZAMAN:

 

Thank you. I mean, I think that that’s a good footnote. It’s sort of important to be out there and to be engaging in partnerships and providing these types of services, but at the same time, I think organizations are more aware than ever of this need to, you know, I guess, insure that there is potentially no problematic repercussions for their organizations in that. Just one comment that I wanted to share from one of the participants, I guess it’s not really a question, but along the lines of charity efforts, it’s critical to get out the story that Muslim doctors and dentists around the country offer a network of volunteer medical screenings and services to people regardless of background. The participant is saying that no other religious community does that in such a systematic manner. I’m not sure if that’s – I’m not sure about that exactly. I think there’s many religious communities that do offer these services, but I agree. I mean, I think there’s many efforts, including Mohammad’s and others, to provide charitable medical services around the country and internationally and I think that that’s a very key story. I guess, you know, one of the things that I’d like to sort of reflect on, I mean, here we are, sort of ten years – more than ten years now, after 9-11 and getting on sort of ten years after many of these regulations and challenges have been put in place. And maybe we’ll do this – if there are other questions that people have, please feel free to send them in via the chat box, but as a way to sort of wrap up here, since we’re getting close to the hour mark, maybe each of you can comment a bit about the future. So if there is, you know, one or two things that you think in terms of regulations or just educating the broader community that you think would be critical say for the next ten years. You – just share that with us. What – how would you like to see this sector change or these challenges change in the next ten years? What are your – what are your sort of rays of hope, I guess, for the future? What leaves you kind of feeling positive about this work? Clearly, all of you have been engaged in this and working hard on this for the last several years. So what keeps you motivated in this, looking forward? Dr. al-Hibri, why don’t we start with you?

AZIZAH al-HIBRI:

 

Yeah. I feel that nothing much will change unless the more the regulations change, otherwise we are subject to political expediency or climate at a certain point in the history of America. We have to start a civil rights movement for Muslims so that they will share the same rights as all other Americans. We have to protect the Constitution. That is what is happening now. And this is a very important issue that we should not overlook. Otherwise, we will continually be at risk. That’s not a good feeling for a religious group who is supposed to be protected by the American Constitution. It’s specifically and particularly a bad feeling for me because I’m a commissioner of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. And when we study other countries and I look at the standards by which we judge other countries about their religious freedom index and how they are performing, I see that we are applying to them many standards that we do not observe in this United States. That is very painful. To see that our, you know, by the standards of the commission, that our rights in the United States as Muslims are being violated in a serious way.

 

SHIREEN ZAMAN:

 

And what about one thing that keeps you optimistic or going in this work, Dr. al-Hibri?

 

AZIZAH al-HIBRI:

 

The Muslim community has learned how to adjust to this situation, not by accepting it, but by working to improve its lot despite what is happening. By pulling together at the end of ten years instead of resenting it, by not being bitter about it. As you say, they continue doing charitable giving and they continuing involving with Americans who are Muslim or non-Muslim. So the Muslims decided that they’re going to go ahead with life and do their best in these United States and justice will [BELL SOUND]

 

SHIREEN ZAMAN:

 

Great. Thank you. Engy, what are your thoughts or sort of – what would you like to see change in the next ten years? What keeps you hopeful in this work, optimistic about the future?

 

ENGY ABDELKADER:

 

So, yeah, I think it’s worth noting that immediately after the September 11th attacks, there was obviously a severe backlash against the American Muslim, Arab American, South Asian communities and that was commonly understood as being a traumatic response to these terrorist attacks and yet here we are, more than ten years later, and the fact is that hate crimes have – against American Muslims, Muslim employment discrimination claims are at an all-time high. Islamophobic bullying is an epidemic problem. And there continues to be a reported – reports of surveillance, unlawful surveillance by law enforcement agencies. And there is, in fact, even anti-Muslim and anti-Islam sentiment towards our community is also harshening. And so, for instance, six months after the September 11th attacks a Pew Research Center poll showed that only a third of respondents actually believed that Muslims or Islam – that Muslims were likely to commit criminal or violent actions and that Islam promoted such action. And yet ten years after the September 11th attacks, Pew conducted that same poll, asked that same question, and now almost half of the American population believes that and I find that problematic. In part, that’s the Islamophobic – the Islamophobic industry, which is, in fact, a multimillion dollar industry [BELL SOUND]

 

So it also speaks to the importance of what we alluded to earlier, which is coalition efforts by the American Muslim communities – not just American Muslim, but really all communities and organizations that are interested in achieving social justice. And making sure that we highlight the commonality between our groups, so it’s not really just a South Asian problem or an Arab American problem or a Muslim problem. It’s, you know, racial and ethnic profiling has been an issue that Latinos and the African-American community has been complaining about since before even the 1990s. And so therefore, it’s important for us to work in tandem with all these different groups. And realize that we have so much in common and that we’re all fighting for the same goals, justice and fairness, and just having, you know, the American life that many people here dreamed of. In terms of looking to the future, I’m encouraged by the fact that there is more engagement by these communities, by the Arab American and Muslim American and the South Asian communities. You’re seeing a lot more people interacting with the media, you’re seeing a lot more people engaging and willing to contribute to educational forums and writing op-eds and what not and I think that that’s important. There are even more American Muslims who are actually entering the legal profession and journalism because they feel that there’s a dearth of American Muslims writing on the issues of concern to the community. And I think that’s important. And I’m also – I tend to be optimistic when I interact with the youth. I’m encouraged by what I see. I think that they’re willing to be engaged and so, for instance, after [BELL SOUND] the NYPD was surveillancing students who were engaged with the Muslim students associations at their universities in the northeast, many parents came out and told their children [BELL SOUND] college students not to engage and not to attend meetings at the MSA any longer. And whether it’s at law schools or on the university level, I keep hearing from these students who say that that’s wrong. And that they’re going to continue to engage, because they’re not doing anything wrong and that is – it’s wrong for any law enforcement agency to monitor them for no other reason but for their religion. And I think for me, that’s inspiring to hear.

 

SHIREEN ZAMAN:

 

Great. Thank you, Engy. Mohammad, what about you? Thoughts about things that you’d like to see change and then also kind of what keeps you positive and optimistic and engaging in this work?

 

MOHAMMAD ALOMARI: 

 

Well, what keeps me positive and optimistic is the nature of our work. The fact that we’re delivering assistance to the most needy, the orphaned, the widowed, the poor, you know, around the world. That’s, you know, that in itself is motivation enough to continue our work. In addition to providing an opportunity for being a vehicle for the  Muslim community to practice their religion by doing zakat. You know, zakat is one of the five pillars of the religion and it’s a duty that every Muslim has to do like he has to do, pray, fast during Ramadan, make the hajj once in a lifetime, he has to pay zakat. And so for the Muslim community to have organizations where they can pay zakat through is I think a major role that our organizations play in providing this service for the Muslim community and, you know, it falls in with the right to practice your religion and, you know, let the American Muslim as an American practice the way he sees fit. And if he wants to give his zakat, you know, to an organization that’s legally registered, legally operating, without fear of intimidation, I mean, that’s a basic right that every American citizen has the right for. So those two things are what provides motivation for us and keeps us positive. Now what we hope to see in the future, you know, obviously, we hope that the climate of fear and intimidation goes away. You know, we realize we have to do due diligence. We have to keep up with whatever the rules and regulations are and that, you know, that goes for everyone, every organization, whether you’re a Muslim or not a Muslim organization. But we just hope that we can operate as organizations, American organizations, just as freely as any other organization regardless of what, you know, religion or background they happen to be of.

 

SHIREEN ZAMAN:

 

Thank you, Mohammad. Nathaniel, let me just turn to you and see if you had any closing comments or reflections on the panel as well.

 

NATHANIEL TURNER:

 

Well, first of all, I want to thank all the panelists. It’s really great to have a chance to hear the feedback from this report. And I’ll just keep it very brief. If – for those of you who would like to read the report in its entirety, you can find it on our website, which is www.charityandsecurity.org. And I would just like to mention some of the work that the Charity and Security Network is hoping to accomplish here in the future and hopefully does not take ten years on, but ten years from now, if some of this accomplished, I think that will be fantastic, and that is I think it’s very important that we fix the material support laws that are currently in place which prevent not just things like humanitarian aid, but prevent even peace-building groups from doing conflict mediation with terrorist groups. This has become especially apparent in Somalia, where there’s been numerous problems with groups being able to engage with al-Shabab even if it’s trying to get them to lay down arms. And I think we also still need to reform the procedure for shutting down these charitable organizations. Obviously, no charities have been shut down under the Obama administration, but the fact remains that the laws are still on the books. It could still happen anytime and in the next administration, it could still occur. So we need to have meaningful and common-sense reforms to prevent these kind of things from happening and to respect the due process of these charitable organizations and to respect the humanitarian imperative that these groups have.

 

SHIREEN ZAMAN:

 

Thank you. Well, Nathaniel, thank you for the work that you all are doing and for this report. And we’re here just at about one thirty, so I think we’ll take a chance to close out. We did share the link to the report that Nathaniel mentioned there in the chat box. I wanted to just thank all of you, Dr. al-Hibri, Engy, and Mohammad, for joining us today, providing your insights, and especially for the important work that you all are doing. And thank you to all of you who participated and also shared questions. We at ISPU plan to do many of these types of webinars on our research and on issues that are emerging in the community. So we look forward to connecting with everyone soon. Thank you all.

 

MULTIPLE VOICES:

 

Thank you.

 

[END OF FILE] 

 

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