Saturday, October 16, 2004

Diaspora: Muslims fear guilt by association.

[ Although he doesn’t know whether allegations that the IARA supports terrorist activities are true, he worries that the agency’s problems will discourage people from helping Islamic-based charities.Rafqul Khan, owner of Mari’s Quick Stop at 1210 Prathersville Road, says the raids on the Islamic American Relief Agency will not stop him from starting a charity to send funds to the poor in Bangladesh. For a decade, Khan has returned annually to his native Bangladesh to donate to the hungry and suffering. He gives about $10,000 annually, he said, and he makes sure it all goes to food, scholarships and helping people start small businesses. "You’d be amazed at how little it takes," he said. "If I take $1,000, I can help 20 people start a business." ]

Raids complicate donating
Some Muslims fear guilt by association.

MIKE WELLS

When the crescent moon appears tonight, it will begin the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a period when the faithful must donate to charity.

But some are now torn between meeting the requirements of their faith and a fear of being called a supporter of terrorism.

On Wednesday, federal authorities searched the Columbia office of the Islamic American Relief Agency, or IARA, a Sudan-based charity, and the home of its director.

The government froze the agency’s assets and accused five of its international officials of helping finance Osama bin Laden and other terrorists.

Over the past three years, federal authorities have raided and shut down three other Islamic charities, two in Chicago and one in Paterson, N.J. One American Muslim said this week’s crackdown has him worried that writing a donation check could bring FBI agents to his doors.

"If I provide a scholarship to a student and he joins al-Qaida, how will I know?" asked Rafiqul Khan, a Columbia businessman. "Am I going to be held responsible?"

Khan owns a convenience store and several rental properties. Although he doesn’t know whether allegations that the IARA supports terrorist activities are true, he worries that the agency’s problems will discourage people from helping Islamic-based charities.

"It’s given a bad name to charitable organizations," he said. "A donor, when they donate something, they expect it to go to the poor, not to something else."

For a decade, Khan has returned annually to his native Bangladesh to donate to the hungry and suffering. He gives about $10,000 annually, he said, and he makes sure it all goes to food, scholarships and helping people start small businesses. "You’d be amazed at how little it takes," he said. "If I take $1,000, I can help 20 people start a business."

U.S. Rep Kenny Hulshof, R-Columbia, in a news release today aimed to reassure anyone who might have donated to IARA: "Treasury officials point out that people who have given donations to IARA in good faith, prior to Wednesday, need not worry about the legality of their donation."

FBI spokesman Jeff Lanza wouldn’t confirm whether Ramadan was a factor in the timing of the raids.

"The execution of the search warrant came out of the needs of the ongoing investigation, ultimately," he said. "However, we are also sensitive to those considerations."

Ramadan begins when the crescent moon is visible. Islam has a two-prong requirement regarding donations to charity.

The first, the "zakat," requires believers to give 2.5 percent of their savings each year to the poor. The second, "sadaqah," is voluntary and depends on a person’s ability to give.

When asked what law enforcement might advise Muslims on how to avoid donating to illegitimate organizations, Lanza said his agency isn’t offering recommendations.

Islamic scholars say there are differing schools of thought on whether giving to an unaffiliated charity, such as the Red Cross or the United Way, will fulfill the religious obligation.

Some Muslim scholars say recipients of "zakat" must be Muslims, while "sadaqah" recipients can be of any faith.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Colombia Triubune 16/10/2004