Chatting with visitors to her mosque during Ramadan, Bushra Burney mentioned to a married couple that her annual charitable donation - or zakat - went to the Islamic Relief Fund.
It's a respectable group, the Fremont woman hastened to add. "There's nothing fishy about it."
Such defensiveness reflects the quandary facing many Muslims, whose religion requires them to pay 2.5 percent of their assets to charity. Many make their payments during the month of Ramadan, which ends today.
The unease is the result of the government's increased scrutiny of charities since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The government alleged that some donations had supported terrorism.
In response, more Islamic charities are posting their financial statistics and changing their methods to assure donors that their money will support legitimate causes. Advocacy groups have issued guidelines to help Muslims make safe choices.
"The government scrutiny has created a real chill in the community, and people are fearful of giving and participating in the community," said Farhana Khera with Muslim Advocates, the charitable arm of the National Association of Muslim Lawyers.
Among the advice is that donors:
- Consider contributing to U.S.-registered charities.
- Make their intentions clear by writing the purpose on a check's memo line.
- Make sure money is received by a legitimate bank when it's transferred overseas.
- Keep records.
That last bit of advice goes against some people's instincts when faced with increased scrutiny, said Khera, whose group just created a new position focused on charities.
"Some people say they're giving less or giving in cash," Khera said. "They're under the belief that if they give in cash, it's harder to be tied to an organization." (MORE)