A new Middle East Forum report uncovers the extremism and terror connections of the largest Islamic charity in the western world: Islamic Relief.
Despite receiving over $80 million from western taxpayers over the last ten years -- including over $700,000 from the U.S. government -- Islamic Relief is a prominent Islamist institution, closely tied to Muslim Brotherhood networks, with branches in over 20 countries.
Our report examines Islamic Relief's extremist links. We look at its key branches, its links to dangerous Islamist movements, its connections to the terrorist group Hamas, its officials' extremism and its promotion of extremist preachers who incite hatred against both moderate Muslims and non-Muslims.
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What is Islamic Relief?
Islamic Relief is one of the largest Islamic charities in the world. Founded in 1984, Islamic Relief today maintains branches and offices in over 20 countries and it has reported franchise-wide income of hundreds of millions of dollars. Western governments provide a significant proportion of this income.
Extremists at the Helm
Islamic Relief was founded - and continues to be managed - by prominent Islamist operatives. A few examples of prominent current and former IR trustees and officials include:
- Hany El-Banna OBE – founder of Islamic Relief and a former trustee of several charities accused of links to Islamist extremism and terror. El-Banna established Islamic Relief while a student involved in Muslim Brotherhood circles. In 2016, El-Banna gave an interview to Al-Aqsa Voice, the official radio station of the terrorist group Hamas, during which he urged "a strong coalition" between civil society organizations and the Hamas government to "repel any foreign ideas and malignant intrusions."
- Essam El Haddad – co-founder of Islamic Relief and the foreign policy advisor to Egypt's (now-deposed) Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi. Egyptian law enforcement alleges that Haddad used Islamic Relief to finance the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. The Egyptian prosecution also claimed that Haddad was "financing terrorism by using global charities such as Islamic Relief."
- Khaled Lamada – chairman of Islamic Relief's USA branch and the founder of Egyptian Americans for Democracy and Human Rights, one of the Brotherhood's key lobbying arms in the United States. Writing and sharing Facebook posts mostly in Arabic, Lamada has circulated text praising the "jihad" of the "Mujahidin of Egypt" for "causing the Jews many defeats." He has republished claims on Facebook that praise Hamas for inflicting a "huge defeat" against the "Zionist entity."
- Issam Al-Bashir – a prominent member of the European Council for Fatwa and Research, a body of Muslim Brotherhood clerics led by Muslim Brotherhood spiritual leader Yusuf Qaradawi, who has advocated killing Jews and homosexuals. Bashir previously served as the Minister of Guidance and Religious Endowments in the genocidal Sudanese regime.
- Ahmed Al-Rawi – a former director of Islamic Relief Worldwide, who also served as a director of the Muslim Association of Britain, which the Daily Telegraph has named as the Muslim Brotherhood's "main declared British affiliate." In 2004, Al-Rawi signed a declaration in support of jihad against British and American forces in Iraq.
Islamic Relief has long been accused of funding terror. Both Israel and the United Arab Emirates have designated Islamic Relief as a terror-financing organization. In 2005, Russian authorities accused Islamic Relief of supporting terrorism in Chechnya. And in 2012, the Swiss banking giant UBS closed down Islamic Relief's accounts and "blocked donations coming from its customers to the charity," reportedly over terror financing fears. Four years later, HSBC did the same.
In the Gaza Strip, Islamic Relief funds organizations closely linked to the terrorist organization, Hamas. In February 2015, for example, Islamic Relief UK, using Swedish monies, funded a project run by the Al-Falah Benevolent Society to provide aid to "displaced families." Al-Falah is run by senior Hamas figure, Ramadan Tamboura, and Jamal Hamdi Al-Haddad, who manages a Hamas-run Hebrew language program for Palestinians in Gaza titled "Know Your Enemy."
Another key partner for Islamic Relief branches in Gaza is the Gaza Zakat Committee, also known as the Islamic Zakat Society (IZS). IZS works closely with the Hamas government. It is managed by a prominent Hamas preacher named Hazem Al-Sirraj, a former student of Hamas founder Sheikh Yassin. In 2018, Islamic Relief Worldwide submitted an appeal for $420,000 for IZS through a United Nations fundraising scheme.
Islamic Relief also maintains financial links with several terrorism-linked groups in the Middle East, including the Charitable Society for Social Welfare, which was founded by Al-Qaeda terrorist and "Bin Laden loyalist" Abdul Majeed Al-Zindani.
The Middle East Forum has identified dozens of prominent extremist clerics and Islamist activists who continue to speak regularly at Islamic Relief events. Examples include Abdullah Hakim Quick, who claims that the Islamic position on homosexuality is "death"; Haitham Al-Haddad, who describes Jews as "pigs and apes"; and Abdul Nasir Jangda, who defends sex slavery and advocates killing apostates.
In April 2017, The Times of London reported that Britain's Charity Commission was investigating the charity's decision to organize a tour with Yasir Qadhi, an extremist preacher who had previously told audiences that killing homosexuals was part of his religion.
Islamic Relief has enjoyed a great deal of access to prominent government officials. In the U.S., Islamic Relief officials have dined at the White House, accepted appointments as advisors to the State Department, and enjoyed speeches by administration officials at Islamic Relief events. In the U.K., Islamic Relief events have featured speeches by Prince Charles, the deputy Prime Minister and various cabinet ministers.
In fact, Islamic Relief enjoys the support of taxpayers and politicians across the globe. The Middle East Forum has identified over $80 million in grants and donor matching schemes from Western governments, the European Union and the United Nations since 2007.
Between 2000 and 2016, American community and corporate foundations have given Islamic Relief over $4.3 million. The largest single donation was provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which handed Islamic Relief almost $1.4 million.
Islamic Relief also benefits from the credibility of its non-Muslims partners and admirers. Even prominent Jewish charities have worked closely with Islamic Relief, despite its long history of promoting anti-Semitism. Leading newspapers and cable news networks encourage readers to donate to Islamic Relief and produce regular puff-pieces about Islamic Relief's officials and their work.
Waking Up to the Threat
Islamic Relief's claims to be a moderate organization are gradually losing credibility. Since Islamic Relief was designated as a terrorist organization by the United Arab Emirates, a number of Western countries have starting examining the international charity's activities.
In the United States, a government source revealed to Ryan Mauro, a fellow of the Clarion Project, that agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Internal Revenue Service and Office of Personnel Management had put together a criminal case relating to Islamic Relief in 2016. The Middle East Forum submitted requests for documents concerning Islamic Relief under the Freedom of Information Act to the agencies involved. In January 2018, the OPM confirmed the existence of a criminal investigation, stating: "We are withholding the records ... as they were compiled for law enforcement purposes and their disclosure could reasonably be expected to interfere with ongoing enforcement proceedings, by—for example—suggesting the scope of an investigation and alerting potential subjects as to the nature of the Government's evidence and strategy."
In Germany, in November 2016, Christian Gaebler, a Secretary of State in the Berlin Senate, responded to a written question about Islamic Relief's Islamist connections by declaring: "Islamic Relief Germany has connections to organizations surrounding the Muslim Brotherhood." In January 2017, however, Germany's Federal Court of Auditors announced it was investigating Islamic Relief Deutschland for a "potential misuse of the aid money." Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg, a German radio station, reported in 2017 that the investigation is suspected to relate to the movement of funds from Islamic Relief Deutschland to the Islamic Relief Worldwide headquarters in Britain.
In Sweden, according to a recent government report into the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic Relief is a "key organization" in providing "credibility" to the Muslim Brotherhood. The report reveals that Muslim Brotherhood official Haytham Rahmeh is part of Islamic Relief Sweden, and notes that "[Rahmeh] has been involved in supporting militias linked to the Muslim Brotherhood in the Syrian conflict, through lobbying and weapons purchases."
For decades, Western governments have bestowed funds and legitimacy on Islamic Relief. This patronage has ensured that a small group of Islamist students and activists from a city in England would come to manage a vast global franchise that has the ear of Princes and Presidents, while serving as the vanguard for Islamism in the West and a fig-leaf for the extremism that grips Muslim communities.
Western governments must stop funding Islamic Relief. All government partnerships with Islamic Relief must end. Further, legislators in both the U.S. and Europe should encourage law enforcement agencies and charity regulators to look into Islamic Relief's activities in the Gaza Strip and Syria, and examine allegations made by Egyptian prosecutors that Islamic Relief branches were funding Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood government. Politicians should also appeal to international bodies to exclude Islamic Relief and halt all funding.
Ultimately, if Western governments are serious about fighting the intolerant, divisive and violent effects of global Islamism, then Islamic Relief must be shut down. It is the flagship institution of lawful Islamism in the West. There are certainly Muslim charities that do not promote extremism and subsidize terrorism. Why should taxpayers all over the world fund a charity that does?