Giving Freely

by Jeannine Sherman
Thursday July 7, 2022

Islam is about generosity. One translation of line 5 of Surah Infitar goes like this: “A soul will know what it has given and what it has held back.” (Quran 82:5).

Giving charity is not only encouraged – as we know, it’s required as one of the 5 pillars of Islam. Withholding or a lack of charitableness is almost sinful.

Religious freedom is one of the pillars of the U.S. Constitution and part of what the United States stands for. When people are afraid to support Muslim non-profit organizations, religious freedom is under attack.

The problem with talking about fear is that it tends to spread fear. Knowledge is still power. Hiding or staying out of it is not a good option. The Muslims in this country are a small enough minority that a major force like the U.S. government can be very effective at surveillance, and they are. So, hiding out won’t work. We have to be aware. I’m hoping that being aware won’t make you afraid, but realistically, it may, especially if, like me, you’re learning about some of this stuff for the first time.

Here are a few things you should know:

1. Almost all of the Muslim charities targeted by terrorism enhancement laws or brought under suspicion were innocent of providing any kind of support to terrorism. Let’s be clear about the source of the fear. These laws make it illegal to provide virtually any kind of foreign aid without fear of reprisal. Providing drinking water to the wrong people or feeding the wrong orphans can leave you vulnerable to charges. “The material support provisions are so broad that, in theory, even the International Committee of the Red Cross could be prosecuted for the aid it provides” (10). So it’s very, very likely that the Islamic charity you’re donating to is not doing anything wrong.

2. Guilt by association is a big deal. Some of these prosecutions have destroyed people’s reputations without any substantial evidence. This violates the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution. It is a major violation of American values, and it needs to be addressed. One Muslim donor told the ACLU, “The government is making accusations right and left, and this has had a chilling effect on our ability to practice our religion… We have seen different natural disasters across the world, but when we wanted to give to a Muslim charity for religious purposes we couldn’t. We have been afraid; there is a fear in the community, that if we give, we will be found guilty by association, we’ll be caught in this big dragnet’” (14-15).

3. It was originally determined that U.S.-based Muslim non-profits were suspicious because they were distributing aid in conflict zones. This argument is absurd because international zones of conflict are where the aid is needed. The Red Cross and the UN World Food Programme are also very present in those areas, yet they aren’t under suspicion. A lot of harm has already been done here. My biggest concern is that if American Muslims are afraid to give any kind of foreign aid, many of the people who need our help the most are no longer able to receive it. However, this also affects the welfare of Muslims in the United States. The UCC list is a list of unindicted co-conspirators, or charities that may be under suspicion. One Muslim-American Texan told the ACLU, “The UCC list listed everybody and their mother. Look at the list: it has the top jihadis, most extreme people, but also non-political, nonviolent Muslims… By listing these groups, you are taking my association, my education, my trust. What it says is I don’t want you to have any advocacy, any education, or to own anything.” (54)

So we’ve talked about the problem. Let’s talk about solutions. Let’s talk about hope.

1. We trust Allah. “… do not fear anyone but Allah.” (Quran 33:39). Our faith should empower us to stand up against injustice and to hold together as a community.

2. The Muslim Legal Fund of America (MLFA) has successfully protected family members targeted because of guilt by association in multiple cases, including this one.

3. MLFA has been successful in many instances at standing up to unfair targeting of Muslim-American charities. When MLFA-funded attorneys advocated for IARA-USA (Islamic American Relief Agency), they were able to reclaim the funds originally seized by the Treasury Department and to ensure that the project of building wells in Mali was completed. MLFA has been protecting American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) by getting a $156 million lawsuit against Americans Muslims for Palestine (AMP) dismissed twice. This case and others like it established MLFA-funded CLCMA as leaders in the defense of Islamic charities.

4. Legal funds in particular are a very safe place to donate in the United States. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund is an important example, founded in 1940 under the authority of Thurgood Marshall, who went on to become the first African-American Supreme Court Justice. The 5th and 6th amendments of the Constitution protect the right to counsel, which means the right to legal representation. Legal funds have been a way to create a more balanced access to power in the United States. Donations to legal funds are protected in multiple ways. When you donate to MLFA, you’re helping us shape the narrative of being Muslim in the United States. You’re also supporting the U.S.-based Islamic charities that we protect, which supports the Muslim community in general in so many ways.

We need to stop letting fear run in the background. Let’s advocate for each other and contribute to the incredible potential of building community strength for generations of Muslims in this country.

Sources
The American Civil Liberties Union. “Blocking Faith, Freezing Charity: Chilling Muslim Charitable Giving in the “War on Terrorism Financing”. https://www.aclu.org/video/blocking-faith-freezing-charity. June 16, 2009.