Why Islamophobia Drives the Need for Muslim Charities

The fearful and mistrusting take advantage of misconceptions about Islam and, by extension, Muslim charities. This is neither natural nor an accident.

The fearful and mistrusting take advantage of misconceptions about Islam and, by extension, Muslim charities. This is neither natural nor an accident.

Fear and hate for Muslims is not new; by extension distrust for Muslim charities isn’t either.

For more than 20 years, Muslim charities’ bank accounts have been closed without any clearly stated reason. One such charity even has a book all about Islamophobia and misconceptions. 

How can a Muslim charity like Zakat Foundation of America counter Islamophobia?

Zakat Foundation of America’s executive director, Halil Demir, wrote 9 Myths About Muslim Charities: Stories from the Zakat Foundation of America. Each chapter leads with a vignette detailing an example of each myth, then unraveling it with Islamic, legal, and logical evidence.

In one story from it, he details an attempted bank transfer to send money overseas for humanitarian aid. It was September 2006. It was a Friday, and he got a call. Someone from a bank Zakat Foundation of America used said the bank couldn’t execute a wire transfer directed to help Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

“Well, Mr. Demir, our bank cannot make the transfer because Pakistan is not a country.”

The key issue here was that a Muslim-majority country near another Muslim country that was militarized with United States troops required humanitarian aid. One wasn’t being recognized as a country for some unintelligible reason. The bank didn’t want to send the money, abiding by a tactic called “de-risking.” It means the bank terminated or restricted business relationships with clients or categories of clients to avoid, rather than manage, risk.

In this case, and in the case of other Muslim charities, it often meant not being able to send aid overseas because of (unfounded) claims that it would land in the wrong hands.

And in the case of the Friday morning in September 2006, the misunderstanding continued in such a way that it was laughable despite how upsetting it was. (Read the entire story on Zakat Foundation of America’s website.)

An avoidable resilience turned into action

As a Muslim charity founded more than 20 years ago, Zakat Foundation of America has received plenty of hate mail. Some of it made its way into the 9 Myths book. 

In a backwards way, that kind of Islamophobia has forced Muslim charities to outperform their non-Muslim counterparts. A Muslim charity must be fiscally transparent. And all the top Muslim charities have proven to be top charities period because Islamophobes around the world wait for any chance to pounce and call them illegitimate.

Although constructive criticism would much better suit Muslim charities than adaptation to normalized Islamophobic policies, Muslims charities adapted nonetheless. It’s a type of resilience that shouldn’t have been necessary but ended up being so.

All this to say Muslim charities stand up against prejudiced policies. And they do so because they’re founded on divine principles that include compassion at a humanitarian level. 

Islamophobia is more than a series of isolated incidents

The fearful and mistrusting take advantage of misconceptions about Islam and, by extension, Muslim charities. This is neither natural nor an accident.

They use those misconceptions to strengthen anti-Islam laws and tactics in the nonprofit sector. These are politicians and other people with platforms, sending Americans into a panic about people from Muslim-majority countries. These politicians frighten ordinary citizens into accepting repressive practices and regulations that compromise their native human compassion.

And, even more dangerously, they’re financially backed in doing so.

From Time magazine earlier this year:

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said in a Jan 11 report titled “Islamophobia in the Mainstream” that it studied the tax records of 50 organizations it had previously identified as the largest funders of anti-Muslim causes, and found that 35 of them were the source of a total of $105 million directed at such groups.

“It is very important to not only track people who commit hate crimes, but the people whose money contributes to the rise in hate crimes,” CAIR’s Deputy Director Edward Ahmed Mitchell said in the Time report. “If anti-Muslim hate groups are getting funding from mainstream foundations, that’s very concerning.”

Meanwhile, Muslims and Muslim charities reach some of the world’s most downtrodden people with aid, without asking for reciprocation or praise, because they believe it’s the right thing to do. They do it because it’s what their faith guides them to do. The ordinary person who has even the slightest clue what Islam is about knows that it teaches compassion and charity for the needy.

Fighting bigotry with charity

Although Muslims give generously to charity as a part of their faith, Muslims giving money to charity isn’t enough to stop laws made against them. Leaders at Muslim charities like Zakat Foundation of America meet with lawmakers to voice constructive criticism, concerns, and questions about how Muslims are represented in Western life — especially in the United States. 

Fighting bigotry starts with putting our money toward righteous, sustainable causes.

Some of the countries where Zakat Foundation of America works are among the “least developed” in the world. Places like Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, and the Gambia.

Often rich in resources, millions, if not billions, in these countries live in poverty. And poverty isn’t meant to be treated with just short-term aid. People need sustainable livelihoods to escape poverty’s dangerous cycle. 

Sustainable livelihoods through Zakat Foundation of America

Zakat Foundation of America and its partner organizations go to disaster areas — natural and man-made — to assist as fast and as effectively as they can. And while providing immediate aid, they also offer long-term assistance via sustainable livelihoods programs.

Those programs help people meet economic and work needs vital to their well-being. The organization’s livestock husbandry, agricultural cooperatives, vocational and entrepreneur courses (and more) have given thousands — particularly women — the means, know-how, and resources to uplift themselves, their families, and their communities to financial independence, better health and nutrition, and quality education.

The animal husbandry project is based on studies showing: 

  • the vital economic importance of livestock and poultry to the world’s poor
  • their increasing market demand
  • that at least 70 percent of their production (and so their income and benefit) remains in the hands of some of the world’s most marginalized people. 
Families in Rwanda each receive a pair of livestock that they can raise to improve their livelihoods. | Zakat Foundation of America photo

In Yemen, specifically, Zakat Foundation of America helps train Yemenis to farm sesame and coffee that they can then sell in major markets. In Ghana, it’s cassava processing. In Kenya, it’s teaching girls to design garments like scarves that they can (and do) sell internationally through partner organization RefuSHE. Zakat Foundation of America also offers vocational training in Bangladesh, Jordan, the Dominican Republic and more. 

Those trade skills help Zakat Foundation of America’s beneficiaries become financially independent. It helps them pay for their children’s education. It ensures their entire household has enough food to eat, and that the food is nutritious. That’s what it takes to improve their condition beyond the surface level.

Slowly but certainly, Muslim charities are helping pull people out of poverty for good. They’re strengthening their global community. And it takes more than just talking with politicians to create change. It takes a dedicated group with shared morals. It takes an ummah. 

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