Islamic Relief founder Hany El Banna called Yazidis 'devil worshippers'
Founder of IRW made remarks as three directors quit in controversy
The founder of Islamic Relief Worldwide brought more controversy to the charity after he referred to the persecuted Yazidi people as “devil worshippers”.
Dr Hany El Banna, who is also chairman of the UK’s Muslim Charities Forum, posted a video on Twitter of a lecture he gave titled "Money doesn’t buy you class", in which he made the remark in September.
It was filmed only weeks after IRW’s entire board was forced to step down when it was revealed that senior figures posted anti-Semitic comments and support for Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Barely five days before the talk, IRW announced that the UK’s former attorney general Dominic Grieve was heading an independent commission to monitor the conduct of the charity’s trustees and senior executives.
Former chief executive Tayeb Abdoun, resigned after posting anti-Semitic remarks, publishing his support for the Muslim Brotherhood and quoting the founder of Al Qaeda. Islamic Relief also announced that its current chief, Naser Haghamed, would step down in January because of "health reasons”.
Members of the Yazidi community, which has faced genocide at the hands of ISIS, reacted angrily to Dr El Banna’s words.
Ahmed Khudida Burjus, deputy executive director of Yazidi aid charity Yazda, said the comments inflamed the sense of persecution.
“I’m shocked,” he told The National. “We have been subjected to these comments from religious groups and politicians but for it to come from a person linked to an aid group like IRW is a shock. It is very difficult to understand and this is why it is difficult to stop the genocide when the system is against the Yazidi people.
“IRW has given funds to the region to help the Yazidis and other minorities and people like Dr El Banna are damaging this organisation. Saying these things is discriminating, it’s not good. I’m just shocked that a humanitarian has said this.”
Executive director of the Counter Extremism Project think tank, David Ibsen, described it as reprehensible.
“It is outrageous for the founder of one of Britain’s largest charities to slander people in this manner,” he told The National.
“Unfortunately, Dr El Banna’s comments did not occur in a vacuum. He is only the latest in a series of high-ranking officials from IRW in the past six months to publicly make derisive comments about other religious and ethnic groups.
“IRW’s entire board resigned over the summer. Almoutaz Tayara shared an anti-Semitic cartoon and praised the terrorist group Hamas, calling its leaders “great men” who responded to the “divine and holy call of the Muslim Brotherhood”. Despite these incidents, hatred has continued to flow from the board.
“It is troubling that so many board members feel safe to publicly share these comments on social media.”
Dr Rakib Ehsan, research fellow at think tank the Henry Jackson Society, said Dr El Banna’s comments were akin to the views of ISIS.
“These scandals have exposed prominent figures of Islamic Relief Worldwide as being rotten to the core,” she told The National.
“IRW founder Hany El Banna’s labelling of Yazidis as ‘devil worshippers’ would find much agreement among genocidal ISIS militants who sought to wipe out the minority group in northern Iraq.
“This follows former IRW interim-chief executive and veteran employee Tayeb Abdoun’s resignation over his anti-Semitic incitement to violence on Facebook. The humanitarian relief agency appears to contain those who are anything but humane in their worldview.”
IRW defended Dr El Banna’s comments, made a few minutes into a 36-minute recording of part of a lecture, in which he spoke of non-Arabs’ contributions to humanity.
“Viewed in full and in context, this video is a history lecture on the positive contribution of a diverse range of Muslims and non-Muslims to the development of Middle Eastern civilisations,” IRW told The National.
“It makes passing reference to how a number of groups are commonly referred to in the region to identify and introduce them. It references the contribution these groups have made to society and to civilisation, encouraging mutual respect.”
Dr El Banna co-founded the organisation in the English city of Birmingham in 1984. It was designated a terrorist group by the UAE in 2014.
The Muslim Charites Forum said Dr El Banna has been at the forefront of galvanising aid for the Yazidi people.
"Dr El Banna is a respected humanitarian and teacher,” a representative for the trustees told The National.
“This video is a history lecture on the Middle East, appreciating the contributions and the diversity of people within Middle Eastern civilisations – nothing in it is said with malice or judgment because that is not what teachers do.
“While many ignored the suffering of the Yazidi community during the recent crisis in the Middle East, Dr El Banna encouraged charities to respond with urgency and humanity."
IRW took swift action when the material posted by Mr Abdoun emerged. A Swiss newspaper first reported he had published a picture on Facebook with a knife and a thumbs-up sign after three Israelis were murdered by Palestinians in Jerusalem.
“Regrettably one of our directors admitted to operating through an undisclosed social media account in which he posted anti-Semitic and other offensive and unacceptable comments in 2014,” IRW said.
“He has resigned with immediate effect, accepting that he has let IRW down and fallen below our expected standards. He also expressed his deep regret for any offence caused to the Jewish community and for causing harm to our organisation and its reputation.
“Any hate speech, and within that any expression of anti-Semitism, is in violation of our code of conduct and against everything that Islamic Relief stands for.”
In July, IRW trustee and director Heshmat Khalifa quit the board after being challenged about social media posts labelling Jews the “grandchildren of monkeys and pigs” and deriding Egypt’s president.
He also called the militant Palestinian organisation Hamas “the purest resistance movement in modern history”.
In another incident, Abdul Mannan Bhatti, an IRW fundraiser, deleted his Facebook account after posts with regular quotes from Sayyid Qutb, a founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, were highlighted.
According to its latest accounts, published in September, IRW received £565,000 ($749,000) last year and £1,082,000 in 2018 from Qatar Charity, an organisation closely linked to Muslim Brotherhood leader Yusuf Al Qaradawi, who lives in Doha.
Last month, IRW announced that its chief executive, Mr Haghamed, who has been at the helm for the past five years, will step down in January.
The IRW’s independent inquiry is also due to report back in January.
Presently, IRW is facing a global backlash over the incidents with parliamentarians around Europe demanding that governments suspend funding and review their relationships with it.
German aid alliance group Aktion Deutschland Hilft has suspended Islamic Relief Germany’s membership until December 2021, with the charity’s funding now frozen.
In Sweden, aid agency Sida said it would look at the allegations as it reviewed its contract with Islamic Relief.
The UK’s Disasters Emergency Committee, which raises millions of pounds for relief in countries such as Yemen, is due to re-examine the role of IRW, while the UK’s aid watchdog, the Charity Commission, has an ongoing compliance case against IRW.
Updated: November 18, 2020 12:09 PM