Like many Muslims, Southern California businessman Safi Qureshey plans to
contribute to charity during Islam’s current holy season of Ramadan, when
it is said that the blessings of all donations are multiplied 70 times in
the book of God.

But since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S. heightened suspicions
that some Islamic relief organizations were covertly funneling donations to
terrorists, Qureshey is far more cautious about which charities he
supports. Now, he says, he no longer contributes directly to individual
charities but funnels his giving through the California Community
Foundation and Citibank, which check the recipients for him to make sure
they have a clean bill of health.

“We have all become much more cautious,” said Qureshey, one of Southern
California’s leading Muslim philanthropists, whose largess includes a
$1-million gift to UC Irvine for brain research and seed money for a new
foundation to produce documentaries promoting understanding of Islam and
harmony with other religions. “Now you feel much more of a burden as a
donor that you have never felt. If you see an appeal that looks OK on the
surface, how do you know the details? You just don’t know where your money
may end up.”

For many American Muslims, the war on terror is forcing modern adjustments
to Islam’s age-old tradition of charitable giving. Their faith requires
them to contribute a religious tax known as zakat, amounting to 2.5% of
their assets, to the poor and other needy people listed in the Koran. In
addition, Muslims are required to pay zakat fitr, or a fee to feed a family
during Ramadan; without that contribution, many Muslims believe, their
spiritual benefits gained from fasting and praying will be forfeited.

But the U.S. crackdown on Islamic charities has complicated this religious
obligation and, some Muslims say, impeded the free practice of their faith.
Since 9/11, the U.S. government has designated 27 Islamic charitable groups
worldwide as supporters of terrorism, including five it shut down in the
United States.

According to Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Anaheim office of
the Council on American-Islamic Relations, many American Muslims are
sending less money to international relief organizations and keeping more
at home for U.S. organizations or such local projects as mosque
renovations. His own organization, which promotes Muslims’ civil rights and
education about Islam, has benefited from the shift. He said the council’s
California budget has increased from $300,000 in 2000 to $1.1 million in
2003, and its staff has grown from two to eight.

“In all honesty, I’m not happy about this,” Ayloush said. “Yes, I’m glad
and very grateful that the community is putting more resources into [the
council], but I don’t want it to be at the expense of feeding widows and
orphans and helping with the education of young children overseas…


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