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(UNDATED) Yousef Abdallah’s annual Ramadan duties promise to be tougher than usual this year.
The Islamic holy month starts Friday (Aug. 21) or Saturday (Aug. 22) night, depending on the sighting of the moon. Abdallah, a regional operations manager for Islamic Relief USA, one of the nation’s largest Islamic charities, and his staff are preparing to travel from his office in Totowa, N.J., to about 80 mosques across the Northeast, seeking donations.
But Abdallah knows the sour economy means people have less money to give this year. He also knows that many Muslims already donated to Islamic Relief in 2009 to help people in the Gaza Strip and Pakistan, and therefore might donate less this month than they did last year.
Still, charitable giving is an essential component of Ramadan, and, nationally, Islamic Relief typically receives about 25 percent of its annual donations during Ramadan, the ninth month on the Islamic calendar.
Abdallah doesn’t expect his office, one of three around the country for Islamic Relief, to match the $1.1 million it received from northeastern mosques during Ramadan 2007, or the $1 million during Ramadan 2008, but he hopes to raise about $930,000.
“People really trust this organization,” he said. “They see the work that we do. We work in their home countries. When they go back to their countries in summer, they see our signs all over the place.”
Nationally, the charity collected about $25 million in cash last year, up from about $7 million in 2001, plus about $50 million in in-kind donations. It has received the coveted four-star rating by the watchdog group Charity Navigator for six years in a row, winning praise for transparency. And it is part of the Combined Federal Campaign, in which federal employees can donate directly from their paychecks.
Among other reasons for the increased donations, officials say, is that several other charities that once served the American Muslim community have been shuttered due to federal investigations.
Muslim groups and the American Civil Liberties Union have criticized seizures of assets that have often accompanied these investigations, contending they have effectively shut the charities down without due process. On Tuesday (Aug. 18), a federal court in Ohio ruled the U.S.
Treasury Department should not have frozen assets of a charity in 2003, KindHearts for Charitable Humanitarian Development, without first obtaining a probable cause warrant.
Islamic Relief, which was founded in 1984, did see changes in donor habits after investigations of other charities were made public starting shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Abdallah said.
“People were afraid, period,” said Abdallah, who lives in Fairview, N.J. “They’re afraid because after 9/11, people who gave (to) charity were targeted, were called by the FBI. Once you hear that something happened to someone, you’re scared. People refused to give by check or credit card.”
That has largely changed, he said, as Muslims have become increasingly comfortable over the last few years donating to Islamic Relief through checks and credit cards.
As the organization’s reputation has widened, its partners have included the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which worked with Islamic Relief to donate nearly $40 million in aid to victims of the tsunami that hit Southeast Asia in 2004, said Mustafa Mahboob, communications manager for Islamic Relief USA, which is based in Buena Park, Calif.
Islamic Relief’s Web site also has a calculator that helps Muslim families decide how much to give year-round. Muslims are expected to donate 2.5 percent of most of their assets, though the rate can vary.
Besides increasing charitable giving, or zakat, during Ramadan, Muslims fast during daylight hours throughout the month. That fasting is one of Islam’s five “pillars.” Many also gather for recitations of the Quran, which they believe was revealed to Muhammad 14 centuries ago during the holy month.
This month, Abdallah and his staff will be raising money to feed people in Africa, to finance water projects in Africa and Pakistan, to sponsor families in the Gaza Strip, to help war-torn residents in northern Pakistan, and to help orphans in Chechnya.
Muslim leaders say the most effective fund-raising appeals go to help local residents, not necessarily needy causes overseas. But even groups like Islamic Relief can be shut out sometimes, Abdallah said.
“A masjid (mosque) in Jersey City called and said they’re in crisis and that we shouldn’t come this Ramadan,” Abdallah said. “They need to raise money for themselves.”
By JEFF DIAMANT
(Jeff Diamant writes for The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J.)
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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