By Jacqueline L. Salmon
Muslim leaders have been meeting with Treasury officials to see if they can do something about roadblocks to American Muslims’ charitable giving. They hope to have an agreement hammered out before the beginning of the month of Ramadan on Aug. 22.
During Ramadan, Muslims are encouraged to be charitable. Indeed, charitable giving, or zakat, is the third pillar of Islam. But that’s been a problem for American Muslims since Sept 11. A number of U.S.-based Muslim charities have had their assets seized and have been shut down, with federal officials alleging they had ties to terrorist organizations. (The U.S. government has had mixed success proving that in court.)
Muslim leaders said they had difficulty working through the issue with the Bush Administration, but are trying again with the Obama Administration.
In July, two major Muslim organizations–the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the Muslim Public Affairs Council–presented Valerie Jarrett, a close Obama adviser, with a letter for Obama at their annual convention (Jarrett spoke there) and discussed the matter with her. In the letter, they criticized the Department of Treasury’s handling of the charities and charitable funds and asked the administration to try to smooth things out.
That seemed to kick-start things. Treasury held a recent meeting with Muslim leaders, where the Muslim leaders suggested short-term and long-term solutions to the problem, said ISNA spokesman Mohamed Elsanousi.
They even offered to host a Ramadan iftar (dinner) with Treasury officials as a way to improve relations. And they offered to work together with Treasury to develop steps so that American Muslims feel “comfortable and secure” making donations to Muslim charities, said Elsanousi. They hope to have some solutions next week in time for Ramadan, he said.
A recent report by the American Civil Liberties Union found that six U.S.-based charities have been shut down, and at least six more have been raided. It charged that the actions raise serious constitutional and human rights concerns and illustrate a “pattern of conduct that violates the fundamental rights of American Muslim charities and has chilled American Muslim’ charitable giving.” It also found a pervasive fear among American Muslims that they might be arrested, denied citizenship or deported because of charitable donations.