Yazidi Nobel laureate calls for global action against IRW founder Hany El Banna

Peace prize winner Nadia Murad condemns ‘devil worshippers’ comment

Iraqi Nobel laureate Nadia Murad gestures during a meeting with Iraq's president on December 12, 2018 in Baghdad. - Murad survived the worst of the cruelties and brutality inflicted on her people, the Yazidis of Iraq, by the Islamic State group before becoming a global champion of their cause and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. (Photo by SABAH ARAR / AFP)
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A former ISIS prisoner and Nobel prize winner has called on world leaders to condemn the language used by the founder of Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW) who referred to “devil worshippers” when talking about the Yazidi faith.

Dr Hany El Banna, who is also chairman of the UK’s Muslim Charities Forum, made the remark in a lecture he posted on Twitter discussing the role of non-Arabs in the Middle East.

It was the latest controversy involving a senior figure from IRW, which has forced three directors to step down over comments relating to anti-Semitism and the Muslim Brotherhood in the past few months.

Islamic Relief Worldwide, founded by Hany El Banna, continues to wield influence in the UK.

Yazidi ambassador Nadia Murad, an Iraqi Yazidi human rights activist who in 2018 won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work tackling sexual violence in war zones, said Dr El Banna’s words were "disturbing".

"It is disturbing to hear that the founder of IRW is using hateful and persecutory rhetoric against the Yazidi people," Ms Murad told The National.

"We have suffered the discriminatory words of so many over the years, but to hear this hate coming from the leader of an international humanitarian organisation is just unacceptable.

"This type of rhetoric is what fuelled the targeted violence that led to the genocide of my people," she said. "It is imperative that politicians and global leaders condemn this behaviour immediately."

Hundreds of thousands of Yazidi Iraqis were displaced and persecuted in the reign of terror imposed by ISIS after 2014 – some ISIS members even describing the Yazidis as followers of Satan.

The terrorist group wiped out entire communities, men were separated from their families and killed, and women enslaved in what the UN described as genocide.

Ms Murad was kidnapped from her hometown Kocho in 2014 and held by ISIS captors for three months.

Yazidi survivor and United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human trafficking Nadia Murad reacts as she visits her village for the first time after being captured and sold as a slave by ISIL three years ago, in Kojo, Iraq. Alkis Konstantinidis / Reuters

Video of Dr El Banna's remarks was posted in September, only five days after IRW announced an independent review into the conduct of the charity's trustees and senior executives.

IRW has defended Dr El Banna's comments. "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.”

The Muslim Charities Forum also came to his defence, stating that 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 forum 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 has been at the centre of controversy in recent months. Its former chief executive, Tayeb Abdoun, resigned earlier this week after posting anti-Semitic remarks online, publishing his support for the Muslim Brotherhood and quoting the founder of Al Qaeda.

In July, trustee and director Heshmat Khalifa quit the IRW board after being challenged about social media posts labelling Jews the “grandchildren of monkeys and pigs” and deriding Egypt’s president.

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.

The UK’s Disasters Emergency Committee, meanwhile, 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 the body.

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

And in Sweden, aid agency Sida said it would be reviewing its contract with Islamic Relief.

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.

Its current chief, Naser Haghamed, has announced he will step down in January because of "health reasons”.