Review of Islamic Relief Worldwide delayed after UK watchdog fails to give guidance

Disasters Emergency Committee is monitoring IRW following claims of anti-Semitism

Islamic Relief Worldwide in Digbeth, Birmingham, England, United Kingdom. Digbeth is an area of Central Birmingham, England. Islamic Relief Worldwide is an international humanitarian organisation that provides development programs and humanitarian relief around the globe, regardless of race, political affiliation, gender or belief. Following the destruction of the Inner Ring Road, Digbeth is now considered a district within Birmingham City Centre. As part of the Big City Plan, Digbeth is undergoing a large redevelopment scheme that will regenerate the old industrial buildings into apartments, retail premises, offices and arts facilities. There is still however much industrial activity in the south of the area. (photo by Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images Images)
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The UK’s Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) has delayed discussions on the future of Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW) after the aid watchdog, the UK Charity Commission, failed to give guidance.

IRW has come under scrutiny after it was revealed senior figures posted anti-Semitic comments and support for Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.

The DEC, which raises millions of pounds for relief in countries including Yemen, was due to re-examine the role of IRW at its next meeting following the revelations.

However, at the crunch meeting this week it was forced to adjourn the review after the Charity Commission failed to respond to its concerns.

The Commission had launched a preliminary investigation into IRW in July and the DEC had expected to receive an “urgent” response from it in October.

"Any guidance issued by the UK charity sector regulator, the Charity Commission, as a result of the incidents would be considered by the committee; we had been expecting that guidance in late October but it hasn't yet been provided," the DEC told The National.

“We continue to closely monitor the situation and the committee will await the Charity Commission's findings and recommendations before concluding what action is required.”

IRW receives millions of pounds of aid as a member of DEC and is one of 14 major UK agencies in the unique alliance, which includes the British Red Cross and Oxfam GB.

The Charity Commission, which has an ongoing compliance case against IRW, told The National it has met with the incoming board of trustees.

“Anti-Semitic and racist comments are abhorrent and have no place in charity," it said.

"Charities exist to make the world a better place, and all trustees, as representatives of their charity, should conduct themselves in a way that is consistent with their charity’s purpose and values.

"Our compliance case into Islamic Relief Worldwide is ongoing and we continue to examine the serious allegations and the charity’s response to them as part of that case. We have held meetings with the charity and cannot comment further at this time.”

In July, IRW trustee and director Heshmat Khalifa stepped down after being challenged about social media posts labelling Jews the “grandchildren of monkeys and pigs” and calling Egypt’s president a “Zionist pimp”.

He also called the militant Palestinian organisation Hamas “the purest resistance movement in modern history”.

The charity said he had acknowledged that his posts were unacceptable and had apologised for falling short of the strict standards expected by its code of conduct.

It said he would play no further part in any other Islamic Relief boards, with immediate effect.

In another incident, Abdul Mannan Bhatti, a fundraising co-ordinator with IRW, deleted his Facebook account after posts with regular quotes from Sayyid Qutb, a founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, were discovered.

In its latest accounts, published in September, it shows IRW received £565,000 ($749,000) in 2019 and £1,082,000 in 2018 from Qatar Charity, an organisation closely tied to Muslim Brotherhood leader Yusuf Al Qaradawi, who lives in Doha.

Since the incidents came to light, IRW’s newly elected board of trustees launched an independent commission to review senior executive and trustee screening, vetting policies and practices of all IRW entities and associated organisations.

It will be chaired by former Attorney General Dominic Grieve, and the former chair of the Disasters Emergency Committee, Sir Clive Jones, will be working alongside him.

“I have been encouraged by the openness and honesty of Islamic Relief about recent events, as well as its determination to learn lessons and take responsibility as an organisation,” Mr Grieve said.

Ihab Saad, chair of IRW’s board of trustees, said the commission was needed to ensure an “independent and credible” review of the charity’s practices.

“In securing Dominic Grieve and Sir Clive Jones, we are confident that we are on course to generate a robust and relevant set of recommendations for Islamic Relief to put in place,” he said.

The commission is expected to report back in January.

Parliamentarians around Europe have demanded that governments suspend funding and review their relationships with IRW.

German aid alliance group Aktion Deutschland Hilft has suspended Islamic Relief Germany's membership until December 2021, with the charity's funding frozen.

In Sweden, aid agency Sida said it would look at the allegations as it reviewed its contract with Islamic Relief.