(RNS) A Muslim legal advocacy group urged Muslims to flood the White House with phone calls on Friday (June 4) to complain about federal laws they say make it impossible for Muslims to contribute to charities without fear of being questioned or arrested.
The campaign comes one year after President Obama acknowledged concerns about charitable giving in a historic speech in Cairo, and barely a week after a top Treasury Department official told Congress that federal laws had “chilled” Muslim charitable giving.
Islam requires Muslims to pay “zakat,” a tax of usually 2.5 percent on income and capital, to help the poor. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Bush administration gave the Treasury Department and the FBI broad emergency powers to monitor and investigate charities as possible fronts for terrorist organizations.
At least six Islamic charities have either been shut down or prosecuted by the Treasury Department, while many Muslim donors have been questioned or arrested by law enforcement over their charitable contributions.
Farhana Khera, executive director of the San Francisco-based group Muslim Advocates, said the vague orders allow federal agents to profile Muslims. “You don’t see that kind of scrutiny with other faith communities,” Khera said.
The group also complained that Muslims considering donations face a complicated process to verify the legitimacy of intended charities, including checking five different watch lists that identify charities with alleged terrorist connections.
Daniel Glaser, the Treasury Department’s assistant secretary for terrorist financing and financial crimes, told a House subcommittee on May 26 that federal authorities recognize the tactics “have had the unfortunate and unintended consequence” of a “chilling effect” of Muslim charitable giving.
Glaser defended those tactics, however, as necessary to preventing terrorism financing.
The lack of change is especially disappointing to Muslims who were buoyed by Obama’s Cairo speech on June 4, 2009. “In the United States, rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation. That’s why I’m committed to working with American Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill zakat,” Obama said at the time.
— Omar Sacirbey
Copyright 2010 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.