On June 10, at a drab airport hotel outside the city of Albany in upstate New York, a crowd gathered to break their fast and listen to speakers from the international charitable franchise, Islamic Relief, explain its work in Yemen, Syria and Myanmar. This fundraiser was just one of a dozen events conducted by Islamic Relief across the US that week, and one of the many hundreds of events organised each year in mosques, community centres, schools and other drab hotels all across the West.
Despite the proclaimed charitable endeavours of Islamic Relief, however, many of these events feature speakers known to preach distinctly uncharitable ideas. In Albany, guests were treated to the musings of Suleiman Hani, who has previously promoted conspiracy theories about the 9/11 attacks.
Founded in 1984 in the English city of Birmingham by students involved with Muslim Brotherhood groups, Islamic Relief is today the largest Islamic charity in the West, with branches in more than 20 countries. It has received at least $80 million of funding from Western governments and international bodies, including the United Nations and the European Union. Its officials are members of government advisory panels, while Western cabinet ministers, European royalty and even Trump administration officials regularly speak at its events. That this international charity regularly promotes extremist preachers has evidently not worried public officials too much. And yet there are plenty of other facts about which politicians should be deeply concerned.
In 2014, the United Arab Emirates designated Islamic Relief Worldwide as a terrorist organisation, because of its links to the global Muslim Brotherhood. In 2016, the banking giant HSBC shut down Islamic Relief’s accounts, following a similar decision made by UBS four years earlier. In 2017, the Bangladeshi government banned Islamic Relief from working directly with Rohingya refugees over reported fears about radicalisation. That same year, the UK Charity Commission started investigating Islamic Relief’s promotion of extremist preachers.
Seemingly, however, the scale of Islamic Relief’s bona fide charitable work has been impressive enough for those in the West to turn a blind eye to its ties to global extremist networks, despite the pleas of moderate Muslim activists.
The Middle East Forum, a thinktank in Philadelphia, has now released a report looking extensively at Islamic Relief: its branches, its links to the Muslim Brotherhood, its connections to Hamas, its officials’ extremism and its promotion of preachers who incite hatred against both moderate Muslims and non-Muslims.
There is no doubt that Islamic Relief is a flagship Muslim Brotherhood institution. One of its founders, Essam El-Haddad, was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau while also serving as an Islamic Relief board member. In 2012, El-Haddad joined Mohamed Morsi’s campaign team. Following the elections in Egypt, El-Haddad became Morsi’s senior foreign policy adviser. Following the military intervention to remove Morsi, El-Haddad was charged by Egyptian prosecutors with collaborating with Hamas and Hezbollah.
As our report shows in great detail, across the world, other Islamic Relief officials are tied to Muslim Brotherhood networks. In Sweden, for example, a recent government report concluded that Islamic Relief serves to provide “credibility” to the Muslim Brotherhood, and notes that Islamic Relief official Haytham Rahmeh is involved with providing weapons to Muslim Brotherhood fighters in Syria. Meanwhile, Swedish Islamic Relief official Abdallah Salah, is frequently pictured with Muslim Brotherhood insignia.
Islamic Relief collaborates with and funds several Hamas fronts. Islamic Relief UK has given money, for example, to the Al-Falah Benevolent Society, a Hamas da’wah organisation run by Ramadan Tamboura, described by journalists as a “well-known Hamas figure.” Islamic Relief Worldwide, meanwhile, remains financially linked with other organisations connected to terror, including Qatari regime fronts such as the Qatar Charity.
In 2014, the UAE’s decision to ban Islamic Relief was met with confusion and scepticism in the West. At the time, journalists (some, incidentally, since employed by Muslim Brotherhood media) attacked the UAE and deemed the designation “completely ludicrous and defamatory.” But as the Middle East Forum has discovered, the UAE understood what Western politicians have been unable to grasp – that a charity that has served for three decades as a key conduit for international aid efforts could also be the financial arm for an international movement dedicated to promoting extremism and instability, and to radicalising historically moderate Muslim communities.
Islamic Relief is a vital cog in a dangerous machine. Its duplicity may have won over credulous media and politicians, but now governments in Europe and America must follow the UAE’s lead, and restrict the influence and reach of this international Islamist franchise and its hundreds of millions of dollars. As our report concludes: there are plenty of charities that do not promote extremism and subsidise terrorism; why should taxpayers all over the world fund one that does?
Sam Westrop is the Director of Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum