U.S. Muslims Taken Aback by a Charity’s Conviction

November 25, 2008

Author: Laurie Goodstein

Source: The New York Times


American Muslim groups responded with uncustomary silence on Tuesday to the news that leaders of a Muslim charity shut down by the federal government had been convicted in a retrial of money laundering, tax fraud and supporting terrorism.

The case against the charity, the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, had long revealed a divide among Muslim Americans, leaders say. Some saw the prosecution of the foundation primarily as evidence of anti-Muslim bias by the American government, while others suspected that the charity might indeed have operated as an overly politicized money funnel for Hamas in the 1990s.

The federal government declared Hamas to be a terrorist group in 1995. When the government shuttered Holy Land, which was based in a suburb of Dallas, and seized its assets in 2001, it was said to be the largest Muslim charity in the United States.

“I do believe the community was divided, and I believe the community will continue to be divided,” said Dr. Ziad J. Asali, a retired physician who is the founder and president of the American Task Force on Palestine, an advocacy group in Washington that supports a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians.

The jury’s conviction of five Holy Land leaders on all 108 criminal counts took many Muslim leaders by surprise because a previous trial last year ended in a hung jury.

“So far, the reaction has been one of shock more than anything else,” said Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, president of the Minaret of Freedom Institute, an advocacy group based in Bethesda, Md. “Even the people who are usually very quick to comment on events, positively or negatively, are so stunned by this that they seem to be at a loss for words.”

Mr. Ahmad said the verdict would further confuse donors to Islamic charities, many of whom have been wary of giving to Islamic groups since Sept. 11.