Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 28 November 2020

There is no place for hate in charity

Even after the defeat of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, Yazidis still continue to be the victims of hateful rhetoric. Reuters
Even after the defeat of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, Yazidis still continue to be the victims of hateful rhetoric. Reuters

On the website of the British-based charity, Islamic Relief Worldwide, visitors are met with this Quranic verse: “And establish prayer and give Zakat, and whatever good you put forward for yourselves – you will find it with Allah.”

These lines underpin Islam’s deeply-rooted commitment to supporting the vulnerable. Recent comments made by IRW’s founder Dr Hany El Banna, however, call the charity’s own commitment to that mission into question.

As The National revealed this week, Dr El Banna casually labelled members of the oppressed Yazidi community of Iraq “devil worshippers” in a lecture he posted online.

Dr El Banna’s remarks are not an isolated incident. In August, The National published a three-part series documenting hate and hypocrisy in a number of UK-based Islamic charities.

Senior employees at IRW have been called-out repeatedly for apparent celebrations on social media of the Muslim Brotherhood, an extremist Islamist organisation with links to terrorist groups. An IRW employee allegedly also promoted a conspiracy theory claiming the American billionaire Rockefeller family planned the current pandemic 10 years ago.

In Manchester, another Islamic charity called Human Appeal has since 2017 been the subject of a UK Charity Commission statutory investigation, the most serious probe the commission can undertake. The investigation will look into alleged accounting inconsistencies.

The former chief executive of that same organisation, who was dismissed the same year the investigation began, has resurfaced. Othman Moqbel now heads the largest UK-based Syria aid group, Syria Relief. Images have emerged of him meeting senior politicians, including the Secretary of State for Employment, Alok Sharma, as well as former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Dr El Hanny’s comments referring to Yazidis as “devil worshippers” will now be added to this series of scandals.

Hany El Banna, the founder of Islamic Relief Worldwide, referred to members of the Yazidi religion, many of whom were murdered and captured by ISIS, as 'devil worshippers'.
Hany El Banna, the founder of Islamic Relief Worldwide, referred to members of the Yazidi religion, many of whom were murdered and captured by ISIS, as 'devil worshippers'.

To promote hatred of Yazidis is a particularly egregious offence. The minority group was among the most abused during ISIS’s reign of terror in Iraq and Syria. Many were executed. Others were sold into – often sexual – slavery. Thousands became refugees, fleeing to nearby Kurdish territories or Europe. Some took to the mountains of their homeland, Sinjar, sheltering in the rugged landscape that in crisis has protected them throughout the ages.

Their tradition was vandalised. Their delicate and ancient faith was endangered by fundamentalists of the most extreme kind.

And it now appears that the founder of a once-respected British Islamic charity is introducing ideology espoused by ISIS into the mainstream. The Swedish development agency, which previously supported the organisation, has subsequently cut ties.

The situation is urgent, because even in the West, thousands of miles from home, Yazidis remain vulnerable. There have been reports of Yazidis being ostracised and harassed in Europe. In one incident, a girl who had been sold into slavery in Iraq in 2014 later escaped to Germany, and encountered her ISIS “owner” four years later on a German street.

Charities like IRW who try to put up a façade of tolerance while using vituperative and dehumanising language against Yazidis put themselves on the side of the abuser. They risk slandering the very concept of zakat, thereby diminishing the pool of groups with which members of the Muslim community can trust their donations.

UK regulators ought to take note. With hatred proliferating in Britain’s aid sector, this is no time for them to be charitable.

Updated: November 18, 2020 07:09 PM

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