Islamic Relief: Charitable Support For Political Violence

Gregg Roman Director, Middle East Forum
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With the entire nation seemingly engaged in a heated dialogue about neo-Nazis and white supremacists, now seems like a good time to begin discussing how best to combat extremism. I have previously written about the need to engage with minority communities, work with moderates of all stripes and begin the process or marginalizing extremists. This work is critical to building a constructive future for our nation.

But what if I told you there was a charity that receives federal funding and uses it to support extremist ideology and to indirectly bankroll terrorism? Seems pretty far-fetched, right? Well buckle up.

Established in England in 1984, an organization called Islamic Relief is the largest Islamic charity in the Western world, comprising dozens of branches around the globe. Its officials have dined at the White House, received awards from the British monarchy, and enjoyed millions of dollars of funding from Western governments, including from the United States.

The organization does a great deal of laudable work. They help provide access to clean water for people who need it badly. They provide food to the hungry, respond to natural disasters and teach people to read. They also happen to promote an ideology that encourages hatred and violence.

In 2015, the United Arab Emirates, a key ally of the United States, designated Islamic Relief as a terrorist organization because of its links to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. This ban followed similar accusations leveled against the charity in Israel and Egypt. In 2016, it emerged that the international bank HSBC had closed down Islamic Relief’s accounts over terror financing fears.

Then in January 2017, following a statement by a German minister in the Berlin Senate that Islamic Relief was closely connected with the German branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, Germany’s Federal Court of Auditors announced an investigation into Islamic Relief for a “potential misuse of the aid money.” And in April, The Times reported that Britain’s Charity Commission – the government’s regulator of non-profits – was investigating the charity’s decision to organize a tour with Yasir Qadhi, an extremist American preacher previously recorded telling his audience that killing homosexuals was part of his religion.

Through all this, the US branch of Islamic Relief (IR-USA) remained relatively unscathed. But recently uncovered evidence of extreme, violent anti-Semitism expressed by senior officials of IR-USA threaten to make the growing scandal a pan-Atlantic affair. IR-USA’s current chairman is Khaled Lamada, a prominent Egyptian-American and a public supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Lamada’s Facebook page includes a number of alarmingly anti-Jewish posts. He has re-published text praising the “jihad” of the “Mujahidin of Egypt” for “causing the Jews many defeats,” as well as claims that praise Hamas for inflicting a “huge defeat” against the “Zionist entity.” In addition, Lamada has circulated videos that claim the current leader of Egypt, President Sisi, is secretly Jewish, and that he opposes the Muslim Brotherhood on the orders of the Jews. Lamada simply comments “I hope that this is not true.”

In response to these revelations, IR-USA said it “strongly rejects these unfounded accusations.” It added that “the personal attacks on Mr. Lamada result from inaccurate translations of Arabic,” although Islamic Relief failed to provide its own translations, and Lamada has since deleted the posts and restricted public access to his Facebook account.

Lamada is far from IR-USA’s only problem. In January, the Middle East Forum revealed that IR-USA is a key partner of a Hamas-linked charity in Gaza named the Unlimited Friends Association, which, using money raised in America, gives money to the families of deceased Hamas terrorists. Then, in July, we found that another senior official of IR-USA, Yousef Abdallah, had published a story praising “martyrs” who provided guns to “kill more than 20 jews” and “fire rockets at Tel Aviv.” Elsewhere, Abdallah published text that referred  to Jews as “stinking.”

IR-USA is the largest Muslim charity in America. In 2015, it reported total revenue of over $108 million. Between 2015 and 2016, IR-USA received $370,000 of taxpayers’ money, and it has enjoyed hundreds of thousands of dollars from prominent corporate and community foundations across the country.

As the accusations about Islamic Relief’s links to Islamist extremism and terror continue to mount around the world, Western governments, charitable foundations and faith leaders are finding it increasingly hard to support the organization.

As we embark on a serious national conversation about how to push radicals, hatemongers and extremists back into the shadows on the margins of our society, we must not just focus on neo-Nazis and white supremacists. Hatred is hatred and terrorism is terrorism. While we need to understand the motivation behind intolerance, protests and attacks, we must not let one form of hatred blind us to the very real threats presented by other forms.

Islamism is not a religion. It’s a political belief that the entire world must be subjected to a particular interpretation of a particular religion. That’s just as radical a departure from the promise of America as the disgusting ideology espoused by Richard Spencer and Chris Cantwell. And we’d do well to combat them both.