On October 12, the Bangladeshi government barred two international Islamic charities from providing aid to the 500,000 Rohingya refugees who have entered the country from Myanmar since August. According to Mahjabeen Khaled, an MP for the ruling Awami League, Muslim Aid and Islamic Relief Worldwide are suspected of using their work as a cover to radicalize vulnerable Muslim refugees residing in the Cox's Bazar camps.
Muslim Aid and Islamic Relief are headquartered in Britain, and both have offices in the United States. This is not the first time these charities have been accused of secretly harboring radical motives. Muslim Aid, established in 1984, has worked with a number of Islamist extremist preachers over the years, including Zahir Mahmood, who has praised Hamas as "freedom fighters" and has condemned Muslim integration into Western societies. In 2010, Muslim Aid even admitted to having funded front groups for Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Photo Credit: Mathias Eick, EU/ECHO, Rakhine State, Myanmar/Burma, September 2013
More concerning for Bangladeshi commentators, however, is Muslim Aid's history of collaboration with Jamaat-e Islami, a South Asian Islamist group which possesses strong ideological ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and is responsible for decades of sectarian violence throughout the country. In 2013, Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin, the former chairman of Muslim Aid, was one of several Jamaat-e Islami officials convicted by the International Crimes Tribunal for their role in the 1971 Liberation War, during which they worked alongside Pakistani forces to murder thousands of pro-independence activists.
In 1990, Mueen-Uddin co-founded the Islamic Forum of Europe, a Western branch of Jamaat-e Islami that advocates the global implementation of Islamic rule as mandated by the group's founder Abul A'la Maududi. Other representatives of Muslim Aid and its international branches include Farooq Murad, director general of the Islamic Foundation, a Jamaat-e Islami think tank in Britain, and Maulana Abdus Sobhan who has also been prosecuted for his role in the 1971 atrocities.
Muslim Aid is also a frequent collaborator with the other charity named by the Bangladeshi government: Islamic Relief (IR). Based in Birmingham, IR was founded in 1984 by Hany El Banna, a founding trustee at Muslim Aid as well as a board member from 1984 to 1999. Furthermore the current CEO of Muslim Aid, Jehangir Malik, previously served as the director of IR for six years.
Despite widespread acclaim for its humanitarian work, IR has a long history of giving platforms to hate preachers as well as financial links to charities accused of operating as fronts for Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Qaida. According to financial reports from 2007 and 2009, IR has received tens of thousands of pounds from the Charitable Society for Social Welfare, whose founder, Abdul Majeed al-Zindani, was a close associate of Bin Laden and, in 2004, was designated a terrorist by the US Treasury Department. In addition, according to reports from 2010 and 2011, IR has also received hundreds of thousands of pounds from the International Islamic Charitable Organisation, which is a key sponsor of Hamas.
More recently, in 2014, IR was officially designated a terrorist organization by the UAE. In the past, El Banna has offered outspoken admiration for Sayyid Qutb and Hassan al-Banna, the chief ideologues of the Muslim Brotherhood. Other former directors of IR include Ahmed al-Rawi, who, in 2004, called upon Muslims to wage jihad against Western troops in Iraq.
Bangladesh has suffered years of extremist attacks on secular activists and the genocide of its people during the 1971 War remains a key issue. In fact it was during Hany El Banna's tenure at Muslim Aid that Bangladeshi commentators repeatedly expressed concern over claims that the charity was funding Jamaat-e Islami. In 2012, Muslim Aid was subject to a similar injunction against assisting the latest influx of Rohingya refugees entering the country. Even successfully-vetted charities may only work for up to two months and must restrict their activities to providing healthcare, sanitation and shelter.
In spite of their express concerns, the Bangladeshi government has yet to make any specific allegations towards Muslim Aid or IR. Nevertheless, the extremist history of these two charities has been well documented over a number of years, and leaves no doubt as to the extent of their Islamist links. Even if both charities had no intention of radicalizing the Rohingya refugees, to treat these organizations as responsible aid groups would distract from their extremism and enhance their legitimacy in the eyes of the international community, to the detriment of those moderate Muslim charities that do not promote and fund hate.
Adam Lomax is an intern at Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum