UK Muslim Charities Under Siege

The Muslim Charities in the UK are under a threat of being cornered and having their accounts closed by British banks. It started with a formal notice that was received by Interpal, the Palestinian Relief and Development Fund, from their clearing bank that processes their accounts.

Interpal is a London-based charity entity set up in 1994 to provide humanitarian aid to Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza , Lebanon and Jordan . It was investigated by UK 's Charity Commission in 1996 and in 2003 following allegations that it was supporting Hamas, but was cleared on both occasions as there was no proof to back these allegations.

Two years ago, Interpal was forced to change their account from NatWest bank when the latter came under huge pressure from US authorities to close it down. Interpal opened a new account with the Islamic Bank of Britain (IBB) and transferred all its funds thereto which meant that regular donors and supporters who made fixed monthly contributions via standing orders had to fill in new forms authorizing the new bank (IBB) to deduct from their account the agreed monthly donations; a huge administrative task.

On November 12, 2008, Interpal received notification from their bank, IBB, that Lloyds TSB, their clearing bank, had given them notice to cease all dealings with Interpal. Clearing banks are responsible for the processing of all financial transactions and Lloyds TSB is one of the four clearing banks in the UK which all high street banks must work through. The notice came into effect on December 8, 2008, which was subsequently revised, verbally, to January 30, 2009, and has the potential to force Interpal to cease all its operations.

After this time and according to Lloyds TSB letter to IBB: “All transactions into or out of Interpal accounts will be blocked and IBB will be at the further risk of all its customer payments being suspended."

At present, despite pressures from Lloyds, IBB has offered Interpal its full support but it remains threatened by Lloyds’ demands and thus faces closure itself.

A statement released by Interpal described this movement as "an attack on all Muslim charities, all charities working in politically-sensitive regions, all customers of IBB and the Palestinian people — 80 percent of whom are completely dependent on international aid for survival. This comes as a result of pressures from foreign groups, which do not have the legality to interfere with either the British banking or charity sector, yet have managed to place IBB in a compromising situation."

Different Name, Same Warning

Five weeks later on December 18, 2008, another Muslim Charity, Ummah Welfare Trust (UWT), received a similar notice from their bank that they will close down their accounts within 30 days. UWT has been banking with Barclays since its inception in 2001 in order to carry out relief operations in over twenty countries across Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East —providing support to over a million people.

Barclays Bank has given no apparent explanation to why the notice has been issued. Mohammed Ahmed, UWT Director of Operations, said in a statement: “We are deeply concerned with Barclays Bank’s decision to close our accounts without any justification. This decision will not only affect the great work carried out by UWT but will affect millions of people who rely on UWT. This decision sets a dangerous precedent of disrupting British charities without any substantiation. UWT confirms that this is a decision of the bank management and does not reflect the view of the Charity Commission that regulates and monitors the work of charities functioning in the UK ".

Both charities are registered with the Charity Commission, are members of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) and work in cooperation with large international relief organizations. Recently, Karen Abuzayd, the commissioner general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), was the principal guest at a reception held by Interpal in her honor. She spoke of how happy she was to be working with Interpal and thanked the charity for "bailing UNRWA out" at a time of funding crisis for the organization.

The two charities confirm that their work falls into four categories; humanitarian, medical, educational and community development. Interpal concentrates its work on Palestinians in need in the West bank, Gaza, Lebanon, and Jordan while UWT is active in many countries around the world such as Iraq, Kashmir, Kenya, Pakistan, Palestine, Somalia, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Burma, and many other countries. They have also offered donations to causes in the UK — having donated £25,000 to the University Hospital in Leicester . Moreover, they are involved in some projects in conjunction with UNICEF, according to its Spokesman Mr. Patel.

Humanity vs. Politics

Interpal and UWT charities have called on all supporters and friends to urge Lloyds and Barclays Bank to review their decision so they can continue their humanitarian projects across the world without any disruption. As a result, thousands of people have contacted their bank managers to express their exasperation and dissatisfaction. A motion in parliament led and supported by many MPs was passed. It was presented by Mr. Jeremy Corbyn, MP, and signed so far by 24 MPs. The motion states the following:

"That this House notes the excellent work of the British charity Interpal in helping the Palestinians with £40 million worth of humanitarian aid development since 1994; acknowledges that Lloyds TSB Group Plc has served notice to the Islamic Bank of Britain to discontinue its services to Interpal or subsequently to face closure itself without offering any reason; further notes the wide distress that this has the potential to cause, in both the local Muslim community and the wider Arab world, since both hold the charity in particularly high regard; further notes that Interpal has withstood three previous investigations by the Charity Commission; and calls upon the Government to note the precedent this will lay down regarding any other charities Lloyds may choose to target and to ensure that this bank which is in receipt of enormous state benefit be pressurized to behave in a socially responsible manner."

The matter was also brought to the attention of the Prime Minister and the governor of the Bank of England.

As a mark of support to Interpal, the Chairman of Kettering Town Football Club, Imraan Ladak, is returning his "Asian Jewel 2007" award to the sponsor Lloyds TSB in protest at what the bank has done to Interpal’s bank account. Kettering Chairman said that he feels that he was left with no choice as "Lloyds TSB’s plans can only result in escalating the horrific suffering of innocent children, supported by those with racially motivated agendas. I no longer trust that Lloyds TSB follows the equal opportunities and anti-racist principles the Asian Jewel Awards are based upon." His action was received with appreciation and praise by the Chairman of Interpal; Ibrahim Hewitt.

A State Within a State

The Muslim Community in the UK is extremely concerned about this obvious targeting of Muslim Charities at a time when they ought to be protected, monitored and regulated by the Charity Commission and the law of the land rather than by any other establishment. Such institutions should follow the British law, and not act like a "state within a state."

During the last few weeks and before the catastrophic events in Gaza , both charities have been engaging heavily with the politicians and the public to mobilize them against this unjustified closure of their account.

Today the story is completely different. Time is running out and nobody is sure what the future might be for these two charities. Nowadays, they are extremely busy with the emergency campaign raising funds for Gaza , despite the sword of closure being on their neck. Some people are afraid that the helpers are approaching a day where they will need to help themselves.

Do you think the British Muslim charity organizations, which help Muslims all over the world in a way or another, are targeted? As a British Muslim, how can you play a role in stopping the siege of these two charities?

Jamal Turk is a freelance writer in UK

United Kingdom | Business | 2009-01-12 |