by J.M Phelps and Sam Westrop
An investigation by the Middle East Forum has found “one of the world’s leading” halal certification bodies has handed out huge amounts of money to prominent Islamist organizations, amassed an astonishing $70 million of assets, and bestowed millions of dollars to the private charitable foundation of its own highly-paid head official.
Established in 1982, the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America (IFANCA) is among the wealthiest Islamic nonprofit organizations in America, based on the total assets and recent revenue reported in its recent 990s.
Although IFANCA is a U.S.-based halal certifier, it also boasts recognition from “three key Islamic economies” — Indonesia, Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates. It claims to have certificated over 11,000 food, beverage, pharmaceutical, and personal care products, and also works to promote “awareness” of an Islamic lifestyle.
Such services are apparently lucrative. In 2019, according to its most recent publicly-available IRS Form 990, IFANCA reported over $25 million of income, and almost $70 million of assets – a curious level of wealth for a purported “non-profit” organization. Where does this money come from? And on what is it spent?
The second question is the easiest to answer. Tax returns filed by IFANCA from 2012 to 2019 show a steady payment of monies to radical organizations and charities across the country.
The Furqaan Academy, for instance, is a division of the Al Furqaan Foundation. IFANCA provided $360,000 to the Furqaan Academy between 2015 and 2018, according to its Form 990s from those years. One radical cleric closely connected with Furqaan is Sheikh Omar Baloch, who overtly spews anti-Semitic rhetoric and conspiracy theories on YouTube. For example, Baloch claims Zionists were responsible for the 9/11 attacks, the Christchurch mosque shootings in New Zealand, and the Sri Lanka Easter bombings. Today, Al Furqaan denies any connection with Baloch, although, interestingly, Baloch continues to fundraise for the Furqaan Project, and, on his own website published in 2020, he referred to himself as the current “Scholar in Residence for Al-Furqaan Foundation.”
GainPeace is the proselytization arm of the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), the self-admitted U.S. arm of the violent South Asian movement Jamaat-e-Islami. ICNA is also a close partner of Pakistan’s Al Khidmat Foundation, the welfare arm of Jamaat-e-Islami and – according to Jamaat-e-Islami’s own website, the foundation itself is a financier of terror groups such as Hamas. Between 2016 and 2019, IFANCA gave $112,000 to GainPeace and $31,250 to ICNA Relief, ICNA’s charitable arm, according to Form 990s from those years.
IFANCA gave $10,000 in 2019 to the Khalil Center, a project of the Zakat Foundation of America (ZFA), which DeSales University academic Ahmet S. Yayla reports is proxy of the Turkish regime in America. In addition, ZFA founder Halil Demir was a former official of the Benevolence International Foundation, which the U.S. Treasury designated in 2002 as “financiers of terrorism” because of its close links to Al Qaeda.
ZFA has also funded Palestinian groups with links to terrorist groups, such as the Unlimited Friends Association for Social Development (UFA), a Gaza-based organization with close ties to senior Hamas leaders, as well as the Islamic Charitable Society in Hebron, which German intelligence services once described as the “most important Hamas association in the West Bank.”
Between 2016 and 2018, prominent Islamist organization the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which was designated in 2014 by the United Arab Emirates as a terrorist organization, received $40,000 from IFANCA.
Also financially supported by IFANCA is the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago (CIOGC), an umbrella organization for a variety of radical members, including the Hamas-linked Americans Muslims for Palestine; Islamic Circle of North America and its terror-tied sister organization Helping Hand for Relief and Development (HHRD; along with radical charities such as Islamic Relief, Muslim American Society (MAS) and the Zakat Foundation of America. Between 2015 and 2018, CIOGC received $41,200 from IFANCA.
From 2015 to 2019, however, IFANCA’s grants to all these radical groups and others totaled under $22 million, less than its annual revenue in just 2019. What else does IFANCA spend money on?
According to all of its publicly-available tax returns, IFANCA’s other most significant yearly expenditures include several million annually on salaries for approximately 40 employees,, along with millions spent each year on unexplained “consultant and foreign office” expenses.
Certainly, this nonprofit has provided lucrative employment for IFANCA’s senior officials. IFANCA president-director Muhammad Munir Chaudry’s base salary has averaged nearly $358,000 from 2015 to 2019.
More interestingly, IFANCA has also funneled over $3 million to Chaudry’s personal charity, the MM Chaudry Family Foundation: $1.5 million in 2017 and 2018, and another $250,000 in 2019. Thus far, according to all the tax returns available at the time of writing, filed for tax years 2017 and 2018, the entirety of the MM Chaudry Foundation’s revenue comes from IFANCA, and not a single dime has yet been spent by the charity on charitable purpose; with the only expenditure recorded being just over $8000 of “investment” and “bank” fees.
Meanwhile, millions of seemingly-untaxed income is otherwise added to IFANCA’s already-substantial coffers. In 2019, IFANCA raised $14 million more than it spent. It is hardly surprising that IFANCA’s total assets in 2019 was over $70 million, of which – according to its 2019 990 – an astonishing $60 million was invested in securities, along with almost $10 million of owned land and buildings.
The precise origins of IFANCA’s actual revenue remain unclear. IFANCA’s 2019 tax returns shows that only $2.7 million of its $25 million income actually derives from “certification,” with the rest otherwise generated from unexplained “consulting fees,” “supervision fees,” “plan approval fees,” “conferences,” and investments.
Certainly, IFANCA’s finances do not compare with other major halal certification bodies around the world in countries with similarly-sized Muslim populations. Take, for example, the UK’s Halal Monitoring Committee (HMC), which reported a 2019 income of over £2.5 million ($3.5 million) — a tiny fraction of IFANCA’s annual revenue – and less than $800,000 in total assets. Moreover, HMC employs four times as many staff as IFANCA for approximately the same reported salary costs. The globally-known Halal Food Authority reports similar numbers.
In other words, the financial power of other halal organizations is dwarfed by IFANCA’s $70 million war chest and tens of millions of dollars of annual revenue. What could explain this enormous wealth?
The Middle East Forum asked IFANCA these very questions, emailing four IFANCA officials on April 9, and again on April 26. All four officials failed to respond, despite read-receipts showing that our emails were indeed opened. We also requested IFANCA provide copies of its three most recent annual returns and supporting documents, which, according to the IRS, 501(c) organizations are obliged to provide upon written request. Similarly, IFANCA failed to respond.
There could, of course, be reasonable explanations for the above questions. IFANCA could simply be unaware that it is funding some of the most prominent radical organizations in America. IFANCA could be moving millions of dollars into the private family foundation of its “president-director” and keeping it there for years for entirely benevolent reasons. And IFANCA’s unexplained revenue and enormous assets might all be explained through reasonable long-term plans that will ultimately benefit charitable purposes.
But as a public charity, IFANCA should simply explain these points and clear up any misunderstandings. Without transparency, it begs a question: should officials and lawmakers stand idly by while the 501(c)3 system risks exploitation by extremists working to advance an untaxed and unfettered radical cause?
J.M. Phelps and Sam Westrop write for Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum