Muslim Charities Will Undergo Review Process to Win Back Donors

August 14, 2008

Author: Tamara Audi

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Muslim charities in the U.S., hit by a drop in donations since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, are turning to the Better Business Bureau in an effort to give donors the confidence to open their wallets again.

Under an initiative unveiled Wednesday, seven Muslim charities have so far volunteered for a review process designed by the bureau to validate their transparency and financial soundness.

The effort is led by Muslim Advocates, a San Francisco-based advocacy group that plans a nationwide push to encourage more U.S.-based Muslim charities to participate. The aim is to address the fears of anxious donors looking for legitimate charities by offering a seal of approval from an independent agency.

The Treasury Department, beginning in 2001, froze the assets of seven U.S.-based charities, six of them Muslim, alleging that donations wound up in the hands of organizations such as Hezbollah and al Qaeda. One of those charities, Texas-based Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, was among the largest Muslim charities in the U.S.

The charity's leaders were later tried in federal court in Dallas, accused of funneling money to Hamas, which has carried out suicide bombings in Israel and is designated a terrorist group by the U.S. The judge declared a mistrial last year after the jury couldn't agree on most of the charges. The case is being retried.

Muslim charities have been prosecuted, though none has been convicted on terrorism charges. Nonetheless, Muslim fund-raisers say the stigma from such cases affected numerous Muslim charities.

"It's created a chilling effect that has affected donors and volunteers" at legitimate charities, said Farhana Khera, president of Muslim Advocates.

The initiative comes as Muslim charities swing into major fund-raising drives around Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, which begins this year on Sept. 2.