Muslim Charities Re-Emerge for Quake Victims


All across America, Muslim charities, many of which have shunned the spotlight since 9/11 lest they attract unwanted law enforcement attention, are now stepping up their efforts to raise money for the victims of the earthquake that crumbled the northernmost corner of Pakistan.

In many cases, they have been more successful than their mainstream charitable counterparts, many of which have said that donors are not responding to their appeals for contributions for Pakistan.

Islamic Relief, one of the largest Muslim charities in the United States, had raised almost $1 million online alone through Wednesday, or about 10 times the amount raised by Save the Children. Other organizations reported similar success.

"Donors are responding really well," said Arif Shaikh, a spokesman for Islamic Relief. "A lot of mosques have been collecting money on our behalf, and our phones have been ringing off the hooks with people wanting to make contributions."

Mohammed Alomari, deputy director of programs at Life for Relief and Development, a Michigan-based nonprofit organization founded by Iraqi Americans after the 1991 Persian Gulf war, said donations from individuals and other non-Islamic organizations have been "pretty good, considering all the other emergencies we've had this year."

After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the F.B.I. cracked down on several Muslim charities in the United States, contending that they served as financial conduits for terrorist operations. The Justice Department froze the assets of several Muslim organizations, and at least two prominent Muslim donors who contributed to those organizations were arrested.

Those actions caused great bitterness and wariness about giving among Muslims, whose leaders often note that the government has not publicly provided evidence for its suspicions.

Most of the donations Life for Relief and Development has received for Pakistan so far have come in the form of goods like tents, blankets and medical supplies, which is one way for donors to ensure their contributions do not end up underwriting bombs or buying guns.

"Donors may have those kinds of concern in other instances, but I don't think that's the case in this instance," Mr. Alomari said. "Given how many people have been asked to give for other disasters this year - the tsunami, the famine in Mali and Niger, Hurricane Katrina and Rita - it may just be easier right now to donate items."

Several factors beyond religious solidarity are helping to propel the donations from the Muslim community, officials of the charities say.

For one, the earthquake struck during the holy month of Ramadan, one of the two biggest giving periods on the Muslim calendar and a traditional time for thinking of the poor.

Beyond that, many of the Muslim nonprofit groups here have established operations in Pakistan and thus are logical candidates for charity. Islamic Relief, for instance, has more than 100 staff members in Pakistan, and Life operates programs there ranging from water purification to rebuilding schools. Both organizations worked in Southeast Asia after the tsunami and in the Gulf Coast area after Katrina.

The enormousness of the disaster in Pakistan, too, has overcome the fears of Muslim donors that their contributions might be considered financing for terrorist organizations by the American government.

"I think the sheer scale of the suffering we're seeing is prompting people to put aside whatever caution they might have had since 9/11 and dig deep to do whatever they can," said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

 


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