Since 2014, the U.S. government, under both Presidents Obama and Trump, has given two branches of Islamic Relief, a global Islamist charity tied closely to the Muslim Brotherhood, over $2 million of U.S. taxpayers’ money.
Most recently, in October, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) handed over $356,000 to Islamic Relief Worldwide, the radical franchise’s parent organization.
Is the extent of Islamic Relief’s extremist ties small enough that a well-meaning bureaucrat might simply be oblivious? Or is this an appalling dereliction of duty that means taxpayers’ money is now subsidizing terrorist acts?
In fact, it is difficult to be unaware of Islamic Relief, the largest Islamic charity in the Western world, which annually raises hundreds of millions of dollars in donations and grants. The charity and its officials are rarely out of the news. In 2012, Islamic Relief co-founder Essam El-Haddad became the senior foreign policy advisor to Egypt’s short-lived Muslim Brotherhood president, Mohamed Morsi. In the wake of the collapse of the Morsi regime, Haddad was jailed by an Egyptian court for “financing terrorism through the exploitation of global charities such as Islamic Relief.”
But it is not just the Egyptian government that has pointed to the involvement of Islamic Relief with extremism and terror. Although governments all over the world have previously worked with Islamic Relief, many have now begun to defund, designate, and otherwise disassociate themselves. The U.S., compared to the rest of the world, is far behind in recognizing the serious problems presented by this Islamist charity.
For example, the German government have openly stated that Islamic Relief has “significant ties” to the Muslim Brotherhood, with a Swedish government report reaching similar conclusions. In April, Italy’s Regional Council of Lombardy passed a resolution denouncing Islamic Relief for hosting radical preachers.
European discontent is downstream from a lot of other, more serious governmental allegations. Israel has designated Islamic Relief as a terror financing organization for funding Hamas. The United Arab Emirates, a majority-Muslim country, has done the same thing. A government-sponsored commission in Tunisia, another majority-Muslim country, accused Islamic Relief of financing jihadists across the Libyan border.
Additionally, in the United Kingdom, the location of Islamic Relief’s headquarters, the Charity Commission has raised the issue of hate speech from Islamic Relief preachers. Majority-Muslim Bangladesh has similar concerns, banning Islamic Relief from working with Rohingya Muslim refugees because of concerns that Islamic Relief was seeking to radicalize vulnerable Rohingya refugees.
Increasing recognition of Islamic Relief’s extremism is beginning to affect its income sources. According to data in its own annual reports, Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW) has experienced a steady decline in the amount of monies received from European governments — from over $7 million in 2011 to just under $1 million in 2018. In recent years, IRW has reported no grants at all from the British, Spanish, and Swedish governments, and noticeably less from the European Union and the United Nations.
Given European worries, it is all the more baffling, then, that Islamic Relief’s U.S. branch continues to receive increasingly generous funds from the U.S. government. According to their 2018 report, the U.S. branch is by far Islamic Relief’s most profitable branch, reporting over $145 million of revenue in 2017 and contributing 16.5% of IRW’s total income.
The charity enjoys significant political support. The Department of Agriculture and the Federal Emergency Management Agency both list Islamic Relief as a partner. In 2018, Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore agreed to be the guest of honor at an Islamic Relief reception on Capitol Hill. And so forth.
Meanwhile, numerous members of Congress attended Islamic Relief’s reception on Capitol Hill. Notoriously, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) headlined a fundraiser for Islamic Relief. When criticized for appearing next to an especially noxious anti-Semite who worked for the charity (but subsequently left in the wake of the Middle East Forum’s investigation into his extremism), Omar made up implausible excuses but continued with the event nonetheless.
It seems Americans and their government are far less aware of the danger posed by Islamic Relief than are many of their counterparts in the rest of the world. This is surprising, given that, as a report by the Middle East Forum revealed last year, Islamic Relief has been under federal investigation in recent years, although few details are known.
Some members of Congress are beginning to raise the alarm. Several have written a letter to the Trump administration about Islamic Relief. Curiously, it has gone unanswered. Islamic Relief’s activities also caught the attention of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee at a public hearing last year, where this record of terror finance and extremism was brought out into the open.
Yet despite these important steps, Islamic Relief continues to operate in the United States with little scrutiny. Americans bristle at the notion that they are supposed to follow the crowd, believing themselves to stand alone and make judgments independent of foreign pressure. Oftentimes, that’s an admirable trait. But not when it comes to ignoring evidence of terror finance and extremism that is so conspicuous and severe that even allied majority-Muslim countries are warning us of the danger.
The Trump administration must answer critics of the government’s continued partnership with Islamic Relief, end all public funding for the charity, and fully investigate its ties to terror finance and hostile foreign governments such as Turkey and Qatar. By doing so, the administration would importantly restart the crackdown on charity-cloaked terror finance abandoned by the Obama administration, reassert America’s leadership in the struggle against radical Islam, and give non-Islamist Muslims an opportunity to replace theocrats dressed as charity workers.
Cliff Smith is director of the Middle East Forum’s Washington Project; Sam Westrop is director of the Middle East Forum’s Islamist Watch project.