Islamic Relief: We are transparent and accountable

Islamic Relief is the biggest Muslim charity in the UK and one of the biggest in the world.

Britain’s biggest Muslim charity, Islamic Relief has responded to an article published on 5Pillarz by Zafer Iqbal, which questioned the organisation’s financial transparency and commitment to Shariah principles when carrying out their work. 

You can view Mr Iqbal’s article here:

Are Muslim charities really Islamic?

Here is Islamic Relief’s statement:

Islamic Relief welcomes feedback and scrutiny from donors, and indeed all legitimate stakeholders concerned with the effective delivery of international aid to the millions who benefit worldwide.

That was the spirit in which we invited Mr Zafer Iqbal to visit us, to answer his questions and provide more of an insight into our work than is possible in a simple email. His dismissal of this invitation to hear Islamic Relief’s side of his accusations is extremely disappointing.

Putting aside the negative innuendo, heresay and sweeping generalisations that pervade Mr Iqbal’s blog post; these are the facts pertaining to his specific points about Islamic Relief:

1. Our accounts are presented in line with the Statement of Recommended Practice (SORP) of the Charity Commission. Islamic Relief was recently designated runner-up for “Transparency and accountability” in awards from the Institute of Chartered Accountants for England and Wales (ICAW).

2. The money we spend on marketing and fundraising in the UK and internationally (which includes the £4.9m noted in the 2011 accounts) amounts to 3% of our total budget. Far from being wasted money, these funds are being successfully invested in generating more resources to lift more people out of poverty. Our marketing and fundraising expenditure helped us raise a further £82m for direct charitable activities in the year in question – including £23.7m from institutional donors such as the EU and the British government’s Department for International Development.

3. While Mr Iqbal complains that “additional project-related expenditure outside of the UK is not disclosed in the accounts”, one can see clearly on page 50 that the column “Total Charitable Activities” indicates an expenditure of just over £67m , with many examples of these overseas projects given in the narrative section of the report.

4. All our bank loans are totally interest-free and Shariah-compliant, and taken for the purposes of buying office properties – a more cost-effective approach than renting such premises.

5. Our reserves are mostly campaign funds that are yet to be spent in the following year – because one of the basic principles of aid work is to spread implementation as and when needed, rather than all in one go just to meet accounting deadlines.

6. Mr Iqbal expresses his outrage and disappointment to hear that not all charity workers are “volunteers”. Islamic Relief is hugely indebted to thousands of volunteers around the globe without whom our impact would be greatly diminished. But we also have a much smaller number of professional staff. This is in keeping with the Quran, which establishes the principle that there should be explicit provision for those who distribute charity.

7. Our staff do not travel internationally and leave their families just for the sake of it, as Mr Iqbal appears to believe. We travel to assist with the effective delivery of aid, and to monitor the effective use of funds donated to us. To achieve this, Islamic Relief staff sometimes risk their lives by going into the heart of conflict zones to deliver vital aid to those in need. Some of our staff have been kidnapped, shot at, imprisoned and even killed while delivering humanitarian assistance on the front lines of conflicts. It is sad that Mr Iqbal fails to realise that delivering aid in conflict is not a holiday but extremely difficult and can result in our staff enduring hardship, isolation and trauma.

8. The four organisations mentioned as recipients of Islamic Relief funds received those funds for specific events and activities that helped promote Islamic Relief to a wider audience and ultimately to raise more to deliver aid to those in need. In singling these organisations out to insinuate some kind of political agenda on the part of Islamic Relief, Mr Iqbal fails to mention is that a further 60 organisations are named as having received support from Islamic Relief (pages 87-88).

9. When Mr Iqbal claims that Islamic Relief only delivers aid to Syria and does not address the political realities, he must have missed our numerous public attempts to push for a ceasefire and peace talks, including directly lobbying the United Nations and urging donor governments to negotiate humanitarian corridors to help end the suffering of those inside Syria.

Islam teaches us that each person is judged according to their intention, and if someone is sincere in trying to make things better then, Insha’Allah, they will be rewarded by Allah (swt). On the other hand, if an individual intends to seek some personal gain or increase in profile – and if this results in loss to charitable activities in any way – then they should know that they will surely be held accountable for any sadaqah that would have reached a beneficiary but for their intervention; which is a heavy burden to carry.

We cannot know Mr Iqbal’s true motivations but the invitation to visit us remains open – if he is serious about understanding the reality behind his preconceptions.

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