The report found evidence of financial connections to groups tied to terror, extremism supported by staff, and the regular promotion of dozens of hardline preachers. 

In a letter dated July 19, 2018, Sharif Aly, Chief Executive Officer of Islamic Relief USA (IR-USA), wrote to members of Congress to deny allegations made by the Middle East Forum outlining the terror and extremism links of Islamic Relief branches all around the world.

Founded in 1984, the Islamic Relief franchise is managed by Islamic Relief Worldwide, its headquarters in the U.K. Today, Islamic Relief is one of the largest Islamic charities in the world.

The global Islamic Relief franchise is understandably rattled. Over the last few years: the United Arab Emirates designated its headquarters as a terrorist organization; UBS and HSBC shut down its bank accounts; the Bangladeshi government banned it from working directly with Rohingya refugees over reported fears about radicalization; Germany’s Federal Court of Auditors opened an investigation into Islamic Relief Germany’s use of taxpayer funds; a Swedish government report named it as a front for the Muslim Brotherhood; and the UK Charity Commission started investigating its involvement with an extremist preacher who advocated the death penalty for homosexuals.

The Middle East Forum’s report, published in June 2018, found further evidence of financial connections to groups tied to terror, extremism promoted by senior Islamic Relief staff, and the regular promotion of dozens of hardline Salafi preachers. MEF’s report was cited a number of times during a recent congressional hearing hosted by the House Oversight Committee’s National Security Subcommittee.

Islamic Relief has now decided to defend itself, albeit rather unsuccessfully. It calls the Forum’s report “highly erroneous,” and attempts to refute some of our claims. IR-USA’s responses, however, are not refutations at all, but sidesteps and distortions.

It is telling that most allegations are not included in Islamic Relief’s list at all. Most notably, IR-USA’s list [see Appendix] does not mention or dispute MEF’s discovery that agents from the FBI, OPM and IRS had reportedly put together a criminal case against Islamic Relief. Also missing from Islamic Relief’s letter are responses to our evidence of: Islamic Relief’s connections to other Hamas-run charities in the Gaza Strip, such as the Al Falah Benevolent Society; IR-USA officials’ involvement with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood; and Islamic Relief staff all over the world expressing pro-terror and violently anti-Semitic rhetoric.

“It is important to recognize that Islamic Relief USA and Islamic Relief Worldwide are legally distinct entities that are autonomously governed by independent and separate boards.”

It is even more important to recognize that this does not mean much. Most of IR-USA’s responses in its letter are made on behalf of IR-Worldwide. IR-USA was established with the help of IR-Worldwide officials. IR-USA’s current president, Anwar Khan, previously worked as a senior official for IR-Worldwide. And IR-USA’s current board member (and former chairman) Mohamed Amr Attawia also previously served as a trustee of IR-Worldwide. IR-USA and IR-Worldwide benefit enormously from having separate legal entities, but there is absolutely no doubt that they are both part of the same international network.

“Islamic Relief USA does not donate any sums to any entity named “Gaza Zakat Committee.” Islamic Relief Worldwide partners with the “Islamic Zakat Society - Gaza Zakat Committee”, which is a bona fide community-based organization that has been working in Gaza for nearly 30 years, to implement projects primarily in the areas of food security and health.”

IR-USA may not donate money directly to the Gaza Zakat Committee (IZS), but it sends approximately 20% of its annual income ($33 million in 2016) to IR Worldwide, which, IR’s letter notes, is a partner of IZS. In addition, IR-USA funds IR Palestine, another close partner of IZS.

“The Islamic Zakat Society – Gaza Zakat Committee is widely known for its apolitical stance, and its board members and senior staff have no known affiliation with Hamas.”

This is demonstrably untrue. First, IZS is not “apolitical.” Its own website describes itself as “soldiers for Jerusalem,” calls on Palestinians to “support the family of the martyr” and support the struggle for the “captive Jerusalem.” IZS is frequently appointed by Hamas to carry out the terrorist regime’s social welfare projects, which the terrorist group claim are necessary in the fight against the efforts of the “Zionist enemy.”

In 2009, IZS organized a graduation ceremony for students at Al Mahatta mosque in Gaza. The keynote speaker was Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum, who declared that students would “return our lands to us” … through “jihadist force.” Barhoum also conveyed a “greeting from the Islamic Resistance Movement Hamas” to those present and to the “martyrs” of the local area.

Second, IZS’s board members are closely affiliated with Hamas. Top IZS official Hazem Al-Sirraj, for example, is a prominent cleric in Gaza who is frequently praised in official Hamas media. According to a detailed interview in Hamas newspaper Al Resalah, Al-Sirraj studied under the Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. In 2010, Al-Sirraj was the keynote speaker at a Hamas conference in Gaza for the “sons of Hamas,” including Hamas “founders, scientists, politicians and academics.”

IZS Director Mohammed Jadallah, meanwhile, regularly promotes violence and expresses support for Hamas on his social media – referring to Al Qassam Brigades operatives killed during fighting as the “ascent of six martyrs,” and praising calls for “vengeance on the Jews.”

“In addition, neither Islamic Relief USA nor Islamic Relief Worldwide maintain any relationship with the ‘Charitable Society for Social Welfare’ in Yemen.”

Islamic Relief Worldwide own published accounts reveal that grants from the terrorist-connected Charitable Society for Social Welfare were received by Islamic Relief in 2004, 2007 and 2009. In addition, a 2014 article currently on Islamic Relief’s own website mentions that the Charitable Society for Social Welfare took part in an Islamic Relief campaign.

 “Both Islamic Relief USA and Islamic Relief Worldwide categorically condemn discrimination and violence manifested in any and all forms. As international humanitarian organizations, both they and their respective officers endeavor to uphold the highest standards of neutrality, impartiality and independence in the implementation of its programming and delivery of aid and development. Islamic Relief USA and Islamic Relief Worldwide maintain robust relationships with a wide scope of interfaith and secular organizations and implement humanitarian programs to diverse groups without regard to religious, political, ethnic or sexual identity.”

MEF’s investigation found evidence of extremist, bigoted rhetoric expressed by senior Islamic Relief officials and speakers all over the world. Islamic Relief’s involvement with interfaith dialogue activities is nothing more than an attempt to sanitize its reputation in the eyes of the media and politicians. This campaign of deception has largely worked well. For the same reason that the terrorist group Hamas relies on the work of Hamas-run welfare organizations like IZS, Islamic Relief’s interfaith and humanitarian efforts are a key instrument – as a Swedish government report recently concluded – to provide “credibility” to Islamist movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood.

The allegations against the specific individuals named by the Middle East Forum, Islamic Relief USA Chairman Khaled Lamada and employee Yousef Abdallah, are largely the result of inaccurate translations of the Arabic language.”

It is telling that IR-USA does not provide translations that it believes are not “inaccurate.” Both Lamada and Abdallah have clearly expressed support for violence against Jews.

“Personnel who do not adhere to the organization’s strict non-discrimination policies are subject to immediate termination of employment.”

Abdallah remains employed by IR-USA. Lamada remains chairman of its board.

“In his most recent role with Islamic Relief Worldwide, Essam El-Haddad served as the Chair of Islamic Relief Worldwide’s Board of Trustees from 2011 to 2012. In 2012, El-Haddad was invited by then-democratically elected President of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, to serve as an advisor for the government. In accordance with Islamic Relief Worldwide’s policies and political neutral policies, El-Haddad immediately resigned from his position as Chair and Trustee with the organization upon assuming his advisory position in the Egyptian government. El-Haddad has had no further involvement with Islamic Relief Worldwide or any of its partners subsequent to his resignation.”

In 2014, the Egyptian newspaper Al-Yawm Al-Sabi published documents belonging to Islamic Relief’s Cairo branch. The documents, stamped with the Islamic Relief logo, reveal that although Haddad resigned his trusteeship of Islamic Relief Worldwide, he subsequently opened a branch of Islamic Relief in Cairo while serving as a Muslim Brotherhood government official and with the support of Brotherhood leaders.

“Islamic Relief Worldwide funds have never been used to fund terrorism or any political purpose in Egypt or elsewhere.”

According to the newspaper Al-Ahram, the Cairo branch of Islamic Relief was reportedly given approximately 20 million Egyptian Pounds ($250,000) by its “parent organization” in Britain. Haddad used the Islamic Relief branch in Cairo, reports Al-Yawm Al-Sabi, to finance the Muslim Brotherhood “under the guise of being monies destined for charitable purposes.”

“Occasionally, Islamic Relief USA invites mainstream American Muslim public figures and religious leaders at fundraising events across the country to promote its humanitarian goals.”

The clerics promoted by IR-USA are not “mainstream” public figures, but clerics from hard-line minority sects, such as the Salafis and Deobandis. Many Islamic figures do not incite violence and hatred against Jews, women, homosexuals and others; but they are rarely invited to headline Islamic Relief’s events.

“The individuals mentioned in the recent report are neither Islamic Relief USA officials nor employees, and do not represent the organization. Statements made in their personal capacities (over which the organization has no control) do not reflect the views or beliefs of Islamic Relief USA or its partners, who unequivocally condemn all forms of discrimination and intolerance.”

While it pleasing that Islamic Relief condemns “all forms of discrimination and intolerance,” it is telling that Islamic Relief does not specifically condemn the particular examples of discrimination and intolerance that MEF has uncovered.

Nor does it explain why Islamic Relief continues to organize events with the same extremist clerics. In November 2018, IR-USA is due to hold a fundraising event with cleric Yasir Qadhi and anti-Semitic IR-USA official Yousef Abdallah. Yasir Qadhi has advocated killing homosexuals. It was in fact an outcry by British media over Islamic Relief’s long partnership with Yasir Qadhi that led the British government’s Charity Commission to start investigating Islamic Relief’s involvement with hate preachers in the U.K.

Dr. Hany El-Banna, an individual who has been awarded Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Queen Elizabeth II for his humanitarian service, regularly gives wide-ranging public interviews.”

It is true that Islamic Relief founder Hany El-Banna has enjoyed lavish praise in the past. But that has begun to change in recent years. In 2015, another organization established by El-Banna and Islamic Relief, the Muslim Charities Forum, was stripped of its government funding after the Daily Telegraph exposed the extremist links its member-bodies. The U.K.’s then-Communities Secretary Eric Pickles told Parliament that the cancellation of the grant “illustrates our resolve to cease funding any organisation that supports or is linked to individuals who fuel hatred, division and violence.”

“The main focus of this particular interview was on building a strong civil society in the context of the humanitarian situation in Gaza.”

In fact, Hany El-Banna stated that a strong civil society was necessary “in order to repel any foreign ideas and malignant intrusions.”

“At no point during this interview did Dr. El-Banna mention Hamas.”

El-Banna declared, on Hamas’s official radio station, that civil society organizations should work closely with Gaza’s “government” – which is Hamas.

Appendix

Islamic Relief USA’s Responses

ALLEGATION: “Islamic Relief branches work closely with violent Islamist organizations in the Middle East. In Gaza, Islamic Relief donates large sums to the Gaza Zakat Committee, an organization run by a senior Hamas cleric. In Yemen, Islamic Relief takes money from the Charitable Society for Social Welfare, founded by Al-Qaeda leader.”

o RESPONSE: Islamic Relief USA does not donate any sums to any entity named “Gaza Zakat Committee.” Islamic Relief Worldwide partners with the “Islamic Zakat Society - Gaza Zakat Committee”, which is a bona fide community-based organization that has been working in Gaza for nearly 30 years, to implement projects primarily in the areas of food security and health. It is one of many small civil society organizations that Islamic Relief Worldwide partners with globally to deliver humanitarian relief and development aid. Islamic Relief Worldwide implements extensive due diligence and screening checks in relation to all of its partners, including partners’ board members and senior staff, without exception, to ensure that its donations are spent only on those who legitimately require humanitarian assistance. The Islamic Zakat Society – Gaza Zakat Committee is widely known for its apolitical stance, and its board members and senior staff have no known affiliation with Hamas. In addition, neither Islamic Relief USA nor Islamic Relief Worldwide maintain any relationship with the “Charitable Society for Social Welfare” in Yemen.

●  ALLEGATION: “Islamic Relief branches are run by officials involved with prominent extremist networks. These officials promote violent hatreds [sic] against minorities, especially Jews and members of the LGBT community.”

o RESPONSE: Both Islamic Relief USA and Islamic Relief Worldwide categorically condemn discrimination and violence manifested in any and all forms. As international humanitarian organizations, both they and their respective officers endeavor to uphold the highest standards of neutrality, impartiality and independence in the implementation of its programming and delivery of aid and development. Islamic Relief USA and Islamic Relief Worldwide maintain robust relationships with a wide scope of interfaith and secular organizations and implement humanitarian programs to diverse groups without regard to religious, political, ethnic or sexual identity. For example, Islamic Relief USA has partnered with prominent Jewish organizations on various humanitarian initiatives, including providing legal services to vulnerable refugee populations overseas and alleviating poverty.6 In addition, Islamic Relief USA was on the ground to assist victims and their families in the aftermath of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, where members of the LGBT community were brutally targeted.7 Finally, Islamic Relief USA has invested $1 million towards alleviating social divides in the United States by specifically reaching out to Americans of all religious, racial and political backgrounds and provide funding for projects that promote community cohesion.8

●  ALLEGATION: “Egyptian prosecutors accused Islamic Relief co-founder Essam El-Haddad of “financing terrorism by using global charities such as Islamic Relief.”

o RESPONSE: In his most recent role with Islamic Relief Worldwide, Essam El-Haddad served as the Chair of Islamic Relief Worldwide’s Board of Trustees from 2011 to 2012. In 2012, El-Haddad was invited by then-democratically elected President of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, to serve as an advisor for the government. In accordance with Islamic Relief Worldwide’s policies and political neutral policies, El-Haddad immediately resigned from his position as Chair and Trustee with the organization upon assuming his advisory position in the Egyptian government. El-Haddad has had no further involvement with Islamic Relief Worldwide or any of its partners subsequent to his resignation. Islamic Relief Worldwide funds have never been used to fund terrorism or any political purpose in Egypt or elsewhere.

ALLEGATION: “Islamic Relief events have hosted such speakers as 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.”

o RESPONSE: Islamic Relief USA is an independent, purely humanitarian organization and therefore neither engages in religious proselytization nor furthers any political or religious standpoint. Occasionally, Islamic Relief USA invites mainstream American Muslim public figures and religious leaders at fundraising events across the country to promote its humanitarian goals. The individuals mentioned in the recent report are neither Islamic Relief USA officials nor employees, and do not represent the organization. Statements made in their personal capacities (over which the organization has no control) do not reflect the views or beliefs of Islamic Relief USA or its partners, who unequivocally condemn all forms of discrimination and intolerance.

●  ALLEGATION: “Islamic Relief USA Chairman Khaled Lamada praised “jihad” by the “Mujahidin of Egypt” for “causing the Jews many defeats; “Yousef Abdallah, a senior Islamic Relief official has promoted stories glorifying the murder of Jews.”

o RESPONSE: The allegations against the specific individuals named by the Middle East Forum, Islamic Relief USA Chairman Khaled Lamada and employee Yousef Abdallah, are largely the result of inaccurate translations of the Arabic language. Nevertheless, any alleged statements made by individuals that are anti-Semitic, political, discriminatory, or derogatory in nature do not reflect the sentiments of Islamic Relief USA. Islamic Relief USA will neither condone nor defend any statement made by any of its personnel that advocates discrimination or violence of any kind. Where, in very limited instances, individuals associated with Islamic Relief USA may have made or circulated regrettable posts on their personal social media platforms, these individuals have been counseled in accordance with Islamic Relief USA’s strict non-discrimination policies and standards of impartiality. Islamic Relief USA does not tolerate any discriminatory behavior whatsoever, and personnel who do not adhere to the organization’s strict non-discrimination policies are subject to immediate termination of employment.

●  ALLEGATION: Hany El Banna OBE, the Islamic Relief founder and one of the most high-profile, esteemed figures in Western charitable circles, openly urged charities in Gaza to work with Hamas, while giving an interview to Hamas's official radio station in 2016.”

o RESPONSE: Dr. Hany El-Banna, an individual who has been awarded Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Queen Elizabeth II for his humanitarian service, regularly gives wide-ranging public interviews. The main focus of this particular interview was on building a strong civil society in the context of the humanitarian situation in Gaza, during which he discussed the experiences of the Palestinian people in Gaza and the West Bank, the history of Islamic Relief, and encouraged youth to make the most of their educational opportunities. At no point during this interview did Dr. El-Banna mention Hamas.