Zakat and Terrorism

by Jerry Gordon (July 2009)

Zakat (Alms in Arabic) is one of the five pillars of Islam and an obligation on all Muslims under Shariah Law. In President Obama’s June 4th “New Beginnings” speech in Cairo, he spoke of the obligation of American Muslims to perform Zakat in the context of Religious Freedom:

Freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together. We must always examine the ways in which we protect it. For instance, in the United States, rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation. That’s why I’m committed to working with American Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill zakat. 

Immediately following the President’s Cairo speech, US Attorney General Eric Holder issued this statement in furtherance of President Obama’s Cairo remarks:

The President’s pledge for a new beginning between the United States and the Muslim community takes root here in the Justice Department where we are committed to using criminal and civil rights laws to protect Muslim Americans. A top priority of this Justice Department is a return to robust civil rights enforcement and outreach in defending religious freedoms and other fundamental rights of all of our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the housing market, in our schools and in the voting booth.

There are those who will continue to want to divide by fear – to pit our national security against our civil liberties – but that is a false choice. We have a solemn responsibility to protect our people while we also protect our principles.

On May 20th, a Dallas Federal District Court Judge Jorge Solis
sentenced five defendants, officials of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) to more than 145 years for funneling more than $12 millions to Hamas, designated a foreign terrorist organization by our State Department. The FBI in a press release when the five defendants were convicted on November 11, 2008 noted:

“For many years, the Holy Land Foundation used the guise of charity to raise and funnel millions of dollars to the infrastructure of the Hamas terror organization,” said Patrick Rowan, Assistant Attorney General for National Security.

“This prosecution demonstrates our resolve to ensure that humanitarian relief efforts are not used as a mechanism to disguise and enable support for terrorist groups.”

Two of those convicted defendants,
Haithem Maghawri and Akram Mishal, both naturalized citizens, fled the country with their families for Syria in 2004, when the original federal indictment was handed down. They are now international fugitives from justice. When the assets of HLF were seized under Executive counter terrorism orders in 2001 following 9/11, HLF was the largest Muslim charity in the US. Six other Muslim charities had their assets seized. In all three were investigated and one, HLF, was convicted as a result of federal prosecution. 

On June 16th, the ACLU released a
report, “Blocking Faith, Freezing Charity”. An AP news report noted:

The American Civil Liberties Union says federal laws targeting terrorism financing are vague and have given the government unchecked power over American Muslim charities.

An ACLU report issued Tuesday said many people who want to comply with their faith’s tenet of charitable giving have stopped doing that out of worry they could be swept up in a terrorism financing investigation.

The report is based on more than 120 interviews with American Muslim leaders and donors and with former Treasury Department officials.

Perhaps President Obama and Attorney General Holder had the preliminary ACLU report in mind when the Cairo speech surfaced the comment about loosening the bonds of federal counter terrorism laws that have allegedly intimidated American Muslims from performing the obligation of Zakat.

Jonathan Schanzer, former Treasury counter terrorism expert commented to the author that “US government seizures of Muslim charities assets were based on intelligence and investigations.”

This article will address the nexus between the Islamic obligation to perform Zakat and preservation of national and homeland security laws to prevent funding terrorism.

What are the Obligations of Zakat under Sharia?

Zakat, according to Sharia, is usually performed during the month long period of Ramadan in the lunar calendar. According to the entry concerning Zakat from the website
, Mission Islam:

Zakat (alms) is the name of what a believer returns out of his or her wealth to the neediest of Muslims for the sake of the Almighty Allah. It is called Zakat because the word Zakat is from Zakaa which means, to increase, purify and bless.

The obligation of Zakat is mandatory on every Muslim who possesses the minimum Nisaab, whether the person is man, woman, young, old, sane or insane. Because the proof of Zakat in Al-Qur’an and Sunnah is general and does not exclude young or insane. Allah (SWT) stated that: “Of their goods take alms so that thou mightiest purify and sanctify them…” (Al-Qur’an, 9: 103)

In a famous Hadith reported by `Umar Bin Khattab (raa), the Messenger of Allah (saws) responded to Jibreel (as) and said: “… Islam is to testify that there is no deity but Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, to perform the prayer, to pay Zakat, to observe fasting in Ramadan, and to make pilgrimage to the house of Allah if you are able to do so….” (Bukhari, Muslim)

According to Shariah, payment of Zakat is to be drawn from the surplus assets left over after meeting normal expenses and provisions for economic activities such as farming, cattle raising, business merchandizing and salaries.

The minimum subject to Zakat is called Nisaab. There are rules for calculating the Zakat contribution:

The Nisaab should be based on the market value of the currency. If the money is hard currency, there will be no problem, but if the money is a non-marketable currency, like most currencies in the third world countries, the Nisaab should be based on the black market, which realistically reflects the value of the currency on the money market. In any case, the silver rate should be used to assess the Zakat.

If the Nisaab is determined, the Zakatable amount is 2.5%, or .025 multiplied by the amount. For instance, if the Zakatable amount is $56,000.00 it will be 56,000. x .025 = $1,400.00.

Zakat recipients would include the poor and needy, administrators of Zakat, debtors, converts to Islam, bondsmen, wayfarers and those fulfilling the “way of Allah”, Jihad. Note this comment:

By this is meant to finance a Jihad effort in the path of Allah, not for Jihad for other reasons. The fighter (Mujahid) will be given as salary what will be enough for him. If he needs to buy arms or some other supplies related to the war effort, Zakat money should be used provided the effort is to raise the banner of Islam.

It is the application of Zakat proceeds to Jihad, especially in the US, that is most problematic and made application of counter-terrorism laws troublesome in the eyes of critics like the ACLU.

What the ACLU report said.

report, “Blocking Faith, Freezing Charity” was based largely on surveys of 120 American Muslim leaders and others who expressed intimidation by federal counter terrorism laws that in their view prevented the performance of the obligation of Zakat. The ACLU report noted the US government shutdown following Islamic charities:


·         Al Haramain Islamic Foundation-USA (Oregon),

·         Benevolence International Foundation (Illinois),

·         Global Relief Foundation (Illinois),

·         Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (Texas),

·         Islamic American Relief Agency–USA (Missouri) and Goodwill Charitable Organization (Michigan).


A seventh U.S.-based Muslim charity was closed by a Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) blocking order: Kind Hearts for Charitable Humanitarian Development (Ohio).

The ACLU report laid out their case for removal of these federal counterterrorism restrictions with these arguments.

The ACLU’s research shows that U.S. terrorism financing policies and practices are seriously undermining American Muslims’ protected constitutional liberties and violating their fundamental human rights to freedom of religion, freedom of association, and freedom from discrimination.

The ACLU found that these policies and practices are neither fair nor effective, and are undermining American values of due process and fairness. This report outlines clear measures the Obama administration and Congress should take to ensure American Muslims can exercise their religion while protecting charities from mistaken targeting and abuse, and simultaneously promoting national security and humanitarian aid.

The government’s actions have created a climate of fear that chills American Muslims’ free and full exercise of their religion through charitable giving, or Zakat, one of the “five pillars” of Islam and a religious obligation for all observant Muslims.

In furtherance of these arguments, the ACLU notes what it calls evidence:


Independent government studies of counterterrorism policies and court cases have exposed flaws in the evidence the Treasury Department relies on in exercising its designation power. In an independent review of terrorism financing laws, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that there is a lack of accountability for Treasury’s designation and asset blocking. According to the 9/11 Commission staff, Treasury officials acknowledged that in the post-9/11 period, “some of the evidentiary foundations for the early designations were quite weak” and the haste to designate charities after 9/11 “might [have] result[ed] in a high level of false designations.”


Among the ACLU report recommendations were the following:


·         Repeal Executive Order 13224, which creates mechanisms for designating individuals and groups as “specially designated global terrorists.”

·         Issue an executive order requiring watch lists to be completely reviewed within three months, with names limited to only those for whom there is credible evidence of terrorist ties or activities.

·         Set time limits on frozen funds. Create a process for release of frozen charitable funds to beneficiaries.

·         Adequately equip the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board and task the Board with conducting oversight of OFAC.

·         Issue an executive order prohibiting racial profiling by federal officers and banning law enforcement practices that disproportionately target people for investigation and enforcement based on race, ethnicity, national origin, sex or religion.

·         Order the FBI, Department of Justice Joint Terrorism Task Force, and other federal agencies to cease public raids of charities under investigation, to cease intimidating interview of Muslim donors without suspicion, and to cease

surveillance of charities and mosques without evidence of wrongdoing.

·         Direct the Attorney General to revise the Department of Justice ban on racial profiling in federal law enforcement to close the existing exemption for national security and border integrity activities.


·         Swiftly create and implement a process for releasing frozen funds to beneficiaries via another charity for distribution in accordance with the original donors’ intent and based on the nonprofit sector’s proposed procedures.

·         Ensure the right to counsel for designated charities, by allowing designated charities to use their own funds to pay for their defense.

·         Withdraw the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) Anti-Terrorist Financing Guidelines/ Voluntary Best Practices for U.S.-based Charities. Conduct public education and outreach with charities, so that charities can know how to carry out their missions while adhering to antiterrorism laws, and avoid being blindsided by government.


These ACLU recommendations would effectively gut the existing federal counterterrorism laws with regard to surveillance of Islamic terrorist financing here in America through the conduit of Zakat. It is these proposals that doubtless President Obama and Attorney General Holder had in mind when the “New Beginnings” Cairo speech was being drafted.


Criticism of the ACLU report


Since the publication of the ACLU report, criticism has been withering. Steve Emerson, noted counter terrorism private investigator took the report to task in a Jewish World Review opinion piece, “ACLU pushing for more money for Hamas”.


In his June 4 Cairo speech, President Obama asserted that there are too many impediments to Muslim efforts to fulfill their obligation to give charity, or zakat. As we have previously noted, this is patently untrue. ‘Loosened’ restrictions would effectively cripple current U.S. law barring material support for terrorism.

The ACLU recommendations mean “more money for Hamas,” said Dennis Lormel, who created the FBI’s terror financing section. Terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah use the charities to build hospitals and provide food to the poor to win the trust of local Muslims. They then use “this credibility to enlist children as suicide bombers,” Lormel said.

But if the ACLU had its way, the U.S. government would lose critical tools for preventing U.S. charities from sending money to terrorist organizations. Using the “least intrusive means” would make it much more difficult (if not impossible) to shut down terrorist- financing charities like HLF, Lormel told IPT News, because they could deny the government the ability to use methods like wiretaps which were critical to building a case against the group for providing funds to Hamas.

Ending the SDGT designations would take away a valuable deterrent to abuse. “We know from experience that people stop donating to these charities once they are designated as supporters of terrorism,” added Lormel, a 28-year FBI veteran who oversaw its stepped-up efforts to shut off the flow of funds to terrorist organizations after September 11.

The ACLU complaints about the “disproportionate” impact of these investigations on Muslims overlook the reality that most of “the terrorist violence we’ve seen the past eight years comes from the Muslim world,” says Jonathan Schanzer, who worked as a Treasury Department counterterrorism analyst in the George W. Bush Administration.

The ACLU suggests in its report that that the HLF, Global Relief Foundation (GRF), Al-Haramain and Benevolence International Foundation cases were little more than witch hunts targeting Muslims who were not involved in terrorism. But in each of these cases, the government has presented substantial information linking the groups to terror.

But in attempting to manufacture a case that the U.S. government is persecuting Muslims, the ACLU chose to overlook considerable evidence showing that these charities are involved in terrorism.

Investors Business Daily, in an editorial, The Jihad Cash Spigot” echoed Emerson’s concerns:


First, there are no “rules” barring Muslims from giving to charity, as he suggests. There are laws against giving material support to terrorists, and those laws were first enacted under the Clinton administration. They’ve also made it harder for jihadists to fulfill their own perverted religious obligation to murder Westerners. If it weren’t for Treasury’s crackdown on charitable fronts, they’d still be siphoning off donations for terrorist attacks.

Material-support laws have become a sore subject for Muslim groups and their allies like the ACLU because the vast majority of terror is carried out by Muslim groups — with Muslim money.

Second, the president and the ACLU imply that the right to give donations in the name of zakat is absolute. It’s not. And nothing is stopping Muslims from giving donations to legitimate charities — Muslim or non-Muslim — or through their mosques to fulfill their religious obligation.

The ACLU whines that its choices are limited now that nine major U.S. Muslim charities have been shut down. In each case, however, evidence that the charities funneled money to al-Qaida, Hamas and other terrorist groups was overwhelming.

The ACLU argues that “only one” was actually convicted. True, but it was the largest Muslim charity in America, and it funneled more than $12 million to terrorists. The Holy Land Foundation and its leaders were convicted on all 108 counts. Top leaders recently got life sentences.

Never mind that. The ACLU demands Treasury unfreeze all the Muslim charity assets it’s frozen, including Holy Land’s assets. It also wants the Justice Department to expunge the names of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and other Muslim front groups from its unindicted co-conspirator list. ACLU says CAIR was “smeared,” ignoring the dozens of court exhibits linking CAIR to the radical Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas.

The ACLU’s real agenda is revealed in the section of the 165-page report where it recommends “reforms.” Turns out it also wants to deny the government key anti-terror tools, such as blacklisting individuals and groups as “specially designated global terrorists.”

An email to the author, David Yerushalmi, a litigator and General Counsel to the Center for Security Policy, had this telling comment regarding the ACLU report:

The work of the ACLU on undermining the material support of terrorism statute (18 USC 2339) and the federal private right of action for violations of that statute (18 USC 2333) is a serious problem. The ACLU is extremely adept at undermining such statutes both through concerted political action and strategic lawsuits. This is a very dangerous development especially in light of the President’s adoption of the Ihkwan’s (Muslim Brotherhood) lexicon.

President Obama’s new Muslim Outreach Partner’s connections to Terror Financing.

The Obama DOJ has reached out to one of the HLF unindicted co-conspirators, the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) to become its main connection to the American Muslim community. In effect, the DOJ was replacing one unindicted co-conspirator, CAIR, with another, the ISNA. An FBI representative met with a Vice President of the ISNA recently. This has raised internal dissension with regard to recruitment of representatives for the DOJ’s booth at the annual convention of the ISNA to be held in Washington, DC this summer. Patrick Poole in a Pajamas media article, “A Closer Look at Obama’s Islamic Partners,”  has identified several actions by ISNA leaders engaged in funneling Zakat funds for Jihad.

Thomas Jocelyn of the Weekly Standard observed that ISNA’s name has come up in a current German terror finance investigation. It is believed that the Islamic group had donated $100,000 to the Third World Relief Agency at the very same time that TWRA was funding the terror network behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

The Bush administration came under fire after ISNA official Muzzamil Siddiqi and other known supporters of Islamic terrorism appeared with Bush at a prayer service just three days after the 9/11 attacks. One of those leaders, Abdurahman Alamoudi, was later convicted on terrorism support charges and is serving a 23-year federal prison sentence. Alamoudi was identified in 2005 by the Treasury Department as the top al-Qaeda financier in the U.S.

According to Steve Emerson in his New York Times bestselling book, Jihad Incorporated, ISNA was also responsible for providing $170,000 in start-up cash for the Islamic African Relief Agency (IARA). The U.S. Treasury Department designated  IARA as a global terror finance entity in 2004 for providing direct support to Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda, and Hamas.

The connections between Zakat and support for Jihad are ancient and run deep in the Muslim World. Complaints from the ACLU and American Muslim community attempt to view the various surveillance and asset seizures as an invasion of religious freedom. In reality, these complaints are a thinly disguised attempt to overturn the counterterrorism finance laws that have been a bulwark since 9/11. The Obama Administration’s outreach to Muslim Brotherhood fronts like the ISNA raises serious questions about what the intent is of these “New Beginnings.” The alternative of a government issued ‘white list’ of eligible Muslim charities is not in the best interests of legitimate religious and NGO charities. Some have suggested, what is needed is a so-called ‘gray list’ that would allow Muslims and others to forward anonymous complaints for posting on a website to track instances that might violate US counterterrorism finance laws and executive orders. For, after all, it is for the Muslims to rein in extremism across the ummah as President Obama said in his Cairo speech. What better way than to exclude Jihadi purposes from the obligation to perform Zakat.



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