THE BLOG

Why Are Muslim Charities Guilty Until Proven Innocent?

04/11/2014 16:50 GMT | Updated 03/01/2015 10:59 GMT

This year has been an extremely challenging year for Muslim charities. Stories of bank account closures, investigations and volunteers allegedly joining IS were prominent in the media. Third Sector reported that 'charities associated with Islam have suffered a poor image' and David Anderson QC, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, highlighted in his July 2014 report that 'there is an unfortunate and damaging tendency in parts of the media to be less than even-handed (and where suspicion falls upon Muslims, frankly alarmist) in their approach'.

One could argue that this is part of a larger 'Islamophobic' agenda in which the media perceives anything related to 'Islam' or 'Muslims' as negative and likely to attract public interest.

In October 2012, a review submitted to the All Parliamentary Group on Islamophobia, reported that research carried out in previous years showed that 91% of coverage of Muslims in the media was deemed negative, and that this was likely 'to provoke and increase feelings of insecurity, suspicion and anxiety amongst non-Muslims'.

And yet, the establishment seems to be silent on this. One would find it difficult not to make references to "J'accuse...", an open letter published in 1898 by influential French writer Emile Zola addressed to the President of France Felix Faure in which Zola points out the false accusations made against Alfred Dreyfus, a military officer from a prosperous Jewish family who was found guilty of treason in a secret military court-martial. Zola stressed that Dreyfus was the victim of 'lurid imagination' and government anti-Semitism, and accused the generals behind this conviction of religious prejudice. The case came to be known as the 'Dreyfus affair'.

There is an increasingly growing online community whose sole purpose is to propagate 'Anti-Muslim Hatred' and portray Muslims and anyone associated with them as 'extremists' and 'supporters of extremism' regardless of their beliefs or political opinions. Pure 'lurid imagination' in the words of Zola, prejudiced and entirely set to judge people by their religious belief rather than by the content of their character.

What is even more alarming is that this type of 'prejudiced' open source information is then stored by software used by banks and other interested parties to monitor charities and assess risks involved with running accounts for them. It is also taken into consideration by governments, foundations and private donors when carrying out due diligence on entities they intend to fund. The media is also starting to increasingly use this material to make defamatory allegations against Muslims and charities affiliated with Islam.

We shouldn't use this to deny the fact that the threat of 'terrorism' and 'extremism' is a serious and real threat that cannot be ignored. However, cases of charities being abused for terrorist financing are very rare, especially when compared to the size of the charity sector as highlighted in the Charity Commission's compliance toolkit.

The presumption of innocence is a key principle enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of the Council of Europe which states that one is innocent until proven guilty. And yet, Muslim charities are the victims of increased suspicion and scrutiny.

The level of hostility fuelled by prejudiced media allegations and online fabrication is a very sensitive issue that is threatening the very existence of Muslim charities. We must not remain silent on this.