Muslim Charities, Mosques Get Lessons On Fundraising

June 12, 2009

Author: Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah

Source: The Chicago Tribune,0,3690922.story

In an auditorium at Elmhurst College, more than 100 leaders of area mosques and Muslim non-profits looked to an unusual mix of sources for help with one of their primary dilemmas since Sept. 11 -- how to fulfill the Islamic obligation to do charitable works, especially abroad, without drawing the attention of the FBI.

The Internal Revenue Service, the MacArthur Foundation and a group of lawyers called Muslim Advocates were on hand late last month to instruct the Chicago-area leaders in proper ways to report the collection of foreign funds, keep bookkeeping transparent and otherwise reassure U.S. officials that the money they raise never will end up in the hands of terrorists.

It was part of an effort among some Muslim groups to avoid the missteps of the past and do some housecleaning after a period in which a series of federal crackdowns led to a chill in charitable giving.

The initiative has been inspired by a new generation of leaders and by what many Muslims perceive as a new climate under President Barack Obama, who mentioned the issue of charity, or zakat, during his landmark speech to the Islamic world from Egypt last week.

The Better Business Bureau is also involved. A number of Muslim organizations are signing up for a tough vetting of their financial records by the BBB's charity watchdog arm.

So far, eight Muslim organizations have started the process. They include a mosque in Waukegan and the Inner-City Muslim Action Network, or IMAN, in Chicago's Marquette Park neighborhood.

"We figured if this helps government agencies feel secure that we're in keeping with best practices, then we're game," said Rami Nashashibi, executive director of IMAN, one of the first local groups to sign up for the program despite believing it was already doing things properly.

Over the last eight years, the U.S. Treasury Department has designated six U.S.-based Muslim charities -- including three operating near the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview -- as supporters of terrorists, freezing their funds. The Mosque Foundation itself neither received that designation nor were its assets frozen.