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It's far easier to act as if critics of Islam have a problem with Muslims as people than it is to accept the uncomfortable truth that Islam is different.

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Charbonnier
"I’d rather die standing up
than live on my knees."
Stephane Charbonnier
(1967-2015)


The Religion of Peace

Islamic Relief and
the Myth of the Non-Discriminating
Muslim Charity

Is there such a thing as a Muslim charity that provides aid to anyone in need regardless of creed?"

Mention that Islamic charities do not contribute to the needs of non-Muslims and critics will protest.  After all, organizations like Islamic Relief say right there on their website that they "pay no heed to color, race or creed."  It must be true if they say so, right?

Not really.

In fact, let’s use Islamic Relief as an example, since this mainstream Muslim charity is so often cited by those skeptical of the claim that such organizations generally exist to help Muslims.  Although the group certainly appears to be assisting with worthy projects around the world, the question is whether Islamic Relief is like the Red Cross and other Western charities which focus only on need.  How non-discriminatory of “creed” is this organization in choosing the people and projects that will receive its assistance?

As a public charity, Islamic Relief is bound by law to publish a good bit of financial information each year about its operations.  From the group's Annual Report from 2007, we can glean rudimentary insight into who gives to the organization and who generally receives.

The closest that this document comes to reporting which countries received assistance is in the Restricted Funds section, where the total resources expended comes to about £37 million.  Interestingly, just over 10% of this is allocated to Qurbani and Ramadhan, two decidedly Islamic religious practices that certainly don’t involve non-Muslims.  An additional £7 million goes to the rather cryptic category of “Orphans”.  The remaining expenditures (about £26 million) can be tracked by the country or region in which the resources were spent.

Most of the 27 countries/regions listed on Islamic Relief’s list are majority Muslim. But the six that are not in this category are even more telling of where the organization focuses its resources.  Three of these countries have very substantial Muslim minorities - Ethiopia, India and Sri Lanka – and only the Muslim regions of these countries are mentioned in the details (Kashmir in India, the Ogaden region of Ethiopia, and the Kalmunai district in Sri Lanka – the country’s only majority Muslim municipality).

Only three of the countries listed as recipients of Islamic Relief aid have a small enough Muslim population in which the identity of the aid recipients might otherwise be assumed to be non-Muslim by the casual observer.  These are Kenya, China and Malawi.

However, in the case of Kenya, Islamic Relief touts its work among the Mandera ethnic group, which is Muslim.  The two minor projects in Malawi are focused in the Chikwawa and Nsanje regions, where the Yao Muslims are concentrated.  And in China, a nation that is only 1% Muslim, Islamic Relief does work in the remote Gansu region, one of the most heavily Muslim provinces in the country (see photo below).

Obviously it is not a great leap to assume that if Islamic Relief goes to such lengths to assist only the obscure Muslim populations of non-Muslim countries, they are probably not terribly interested in the tiny non-Muslim minorities of, say, Pakistan and Bangladesh.  This is not to say that the organization necessarily checks the ID cards of those lining up for food to see which god they believe in.  But, against the list of project locales, only the most naïve person could possibly belief that the charity targets need rather than needy Muslims.

In fact, of all the 37 million pounds expended in 2007, only a miniscule £247,891 appeared to be devoted toward a non-sectarian relief project.  This one exception was for the victims of flooding in the United Kingdom (noted as an "Other Country").  This amount not only represents less than one percent of total expenditures, but it is almost exactly 10 times less than the amount of aid that Islamic Relief devoted to providing slaughtered animals for Qurbani.

A cynic might also suggest that this “aid” to the UK was more of a calculated PR stunt, particularly since the British provided Islamic Relief with over £13 million that year, or about 45% of total revenue.  50-1 is quite a return on investment.

According to the 2007 report, the only real pluralism is found in the list of donors rather than recipients. 

Of the £8.7 million in individual grants received in 2007, the vast majority was from non-Islamic organizations in the West.  Only 20% came from Islamic groups, almost all of which was specifically designated for projects assisting Muslims.  Amazingly, Christian charities (including Christian Aid and the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development) actually accounted for just over 10% of the individual grants received by Islamic Relief – or nearly half of that donated by Muslim groups!

These non-Muslim donations are important because the majority of funds received by Islamic Relief can be assumed to have come from Muslim individuals satisfying the obligation of zakat (similar to the Christian tithe but generally much less - about 2.5% of wealth increase or income).  According to Islamic law, this money is not supposed to go toward anyone outside the Islamic faith.  So how does Islamic Relief justify the tiny proportion of its relief funds that do assist non-Muslims?

Simple.  As with all legitimate Muslim charities, the donations that Islamic Relief receives from non-Muslims exceeds by far the amount of aid spent on non-Muslims.  The organization is simply passing along non-Muslim aid to non-Muslims (and probably benefiting from the window-dressing as well, since such a large amount of their funding comes from non-Muslim donors).

We have no problem with Muslim charities helping Muslims - at least those that aren't funneling donations to terrorists, such as the Holy Land Foundation and CAIR.  However, it is disingenuous for these organizations to pretend that they don't discriminate by creed when over 99% of their assistance is clearly targeted toward members of their own faith.



Picture from Islamic Relief's gallery.
What kufi?  This is just a random Chinese man benefiting from random Islamic charity.


Further Reading

Islam, Charity and Disaster Relief

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