December 23, 2014; Third Sector UK

After the slaughter of 2,000 Nigerians in Boko Haram and the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack last week, both perpetrated by Islamic extremists, nations are on high alert. To identify and purge such elements, the UK has been trying for the past several months to determine whether certain Muslim charities have been mingling with extremist organizations abroad.

Secretary of State for the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) Eric Pickles announced that the government had withdrawn state funding from the nonprofit Muslim Charities Forum, an umbrella organization for Islamic charities operating in the UK, after years of allegations that its member groups were funding Islamic extremist organizations, including Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.

The DCLG’s statement says:

“Following a formal review of the project, which included examination of allegations made in the press and of the organization’s continued poor performance in delivering against agreed objectives, I have taken the decision to terminate its funding. The Muslim Charities Forum has failed to reassure us that they have robust measures in place to investigate and challenge their members. Concerns have also been raised about events held by member organizations, at which individuals with extremist views have been invited to speak.”

Specifically, the charity has lost £140,000 in funding for the Faith Minorities in Action Project, citing concerns over the organization’s poor performance and potential ties to extremist groups. The initiative, a joint effort by the DCLG and MCF, established in conjunction with the Extremism Task Force, was “designed to encourage integration by promoting interfaith work, the role of women in faith, tackling youth crime and to provide child protection training.”

A spokesperson for the MCF, responding to the decision, called the organization “extremely disappointed”:

“The MCF is committed to creating an integrated Muslim charitable network in the UK and to building partnerships which have been a key part of its work since its inception. We reject the basis on which this funding decision has been made.”

At the time the grant was awarded, some called the project “madness” and “completely counterintuitive,” given that the grant was announced just months after the prime minister announced an investigation into the Muslim Brotherhood’s role in extremism and the MCF’s alleged ties to them. “If the government is really committed to fighting extremism and ultimately preventing radicalization to the point of terrorism,” said Sam Westrop, the director of counter-terrorism and interfaith organization Stand For Peace, “it actually needs to stop enabling and funding it.”

The Muslim Charities Forum was established in 2007. Currently listed on its website are ten member organizations operating in 71 countries, including Islamic Help, an international NGO that works with victims of human and natural disasters. Islamic Help itself will lose about £6,000 in funding after the charity’s recent invitation to an individual “with extremist views to speak at one of their events,” according to the DCLG.

Islamic Help isn’t the only MCF member generating press critique for its potential ties to extremist groups. In previous reporting on Muslim Aid, a charity under the MCF umbrella that tackles socioeconomic issues of inequality around the world, the Daily Telegraph has placed it among the groups accused of having connections to the Muslim Brotherhood and the extremist Islamic Forum of Europe, which advocates a sharia state in Europe. Also back in 2013, the charity was being monitored by the Charity Commission, UK’s governmental department regulating charities, for “irregularities” in two oversea offices. Like the MCF, Muslim Aid has received grants and aid from the government despite these connections and potential issues of mismanaged aid. Other MCF members, such Orphans in Need, Human Relief Foundation, and Human Appeal International, all have had similar allegations levied against them.

In November 2014, Islamic Relief, a humanitarian relief charity, was blacklisted by the United Arab Emirates after being accused of financing Hamas while working in Palestinian territories. Last December, the charity released an independent investigation indicating it was not financing Hamas while working in Palestinian territories, although it refused to reveal what agency conducted the investigation.

However, some Muslim charities being targeted by the UK government may not warrant the attention. The disproportionately heavy focus on regulating Muslim charities, which comprise only 2,000 of the 180,000 charities in the UK, has itself become a topic of criticism. A report from last November by independent think tank Claystone indicated “Muslim charities have been disproportionately affected by [Charity Commission] investigations.” Thirty-eight percent of the disclosed investigations in 2013 were of Muslim charities. More than 20 of these investigated charities reported providing aid efforts in Syria, a particular criterion that seemed to pique government’s interest. Newswire writer John Godfrey delineated many of the issues in the UK government’s counter-terrorism strategy in investigating Muslim charities, including using extremism and terrorism interchangeably.

Regardless, DCLG believes cutting funding to the MCF is a step in the right direction toward eliminating extremism: “I hope this action illustrates our resolve to cease funding any organization that supports or is linked to individuals who fuel hatred, division and violence. We will fund only those programs and organizations that actively encourage integration and uphold fundamental British values.”—Shafaq Hasan