5Pillars has learned that the National Zakat Foundation (NZF) has been funding individuals who are linked to the Israel lobby and counter extremism work through a Muslim leadership scheme.
A leaked document which 5Pillars have seen shows that in 2017, NZF funded Julie Siddiqi, who is linked to several pro Israel organisations and individuals, and Luqman Ali, who has carried out counter extremism work although he insists he does not support Prevent.
Siddiqi was given nearly £29,500 by NZF out of Zakat funds and Ali was given over £38,500.
NZF has rejected any assertion that it has ever used Zakat funds (or any other funds) to support Prevent, counter extremism or activities related to the Israel lobby.
NZF claims to be the UK’s only Zakat institution with an annual income of £4.8m. It says its mission is to distribute Zakat “transformatively” in the UK to support Muslims in poverty, providing basic essentials like food, clothing, shelter, job training, legal help and debt relief.
It says it also invests in “leading institutions and emerging leaders, such as future imams, scholars and community activists.”
Last year, endorsement of paying Zakat to NZF was withdrawn by Shaykh Abu Eesa Niamatullah over its commitment to dispense Zakat locally and its interpretation of “fisabeelilah” as a means to support future British Muslim leaders. However, he did encourage people to continue giving Sadaqah to the organisation.
On the other hand, NZF released its 72-page theological and legal justification for its work for the public last Ramadan.
According to the internal NZF document, a total of £29,442.41 was paid to Julie Siddiqi to help her with two projects – Ansar Volunteering Network (AVN) and Sadaqa Day – which appear to be modelled on Jewish community projects of a similar nature.
This may be down to Siddiqi’s close connection with the Zionist Laura Marks, the ex Senior Vice President of the pro-Israel Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD).
The Jewish-Muslim women’s organisation Nisa-Nashim (NN) was founded by Siddiqi and Marks with £30,000 of funding from the government and BoD backing. NN trustees include Hifsa Haroon-Iqbal, the regional Prevent lead for Further and Higher Education and Judith Flacks whose CV includes working with BICOM, the influential pro-Israel lobby in the UK.
Last year NN put out a statement against the former L’Oreal model Amena Khan for denouncing Israel during the 2014 Gaza attack in which 526 children were killed by the IDF.
Moreover, during the period 2007-8, Siddiqi helped deliver the Slough Against Violent Extremism Action Plan, devised to “build community resilience” to violent extremism in line with the government’s much-criticised Prevent Strategy.
Siddiqi also appears on platforms organised by the secular liberal “reformist” organisation New Horizons in British Islam, which sells itself as “a forward-looking organisation that works for reform in Muslim thought and practice,” and repeatedly hosts a plethora of controversial reformist figures (such as “gay Muslims”) on discussions about Islam.
In the leaked document, Siddiqi says that without NZF funding she might have even considered an alternative career.
She said: “The financial and other support I have received from Iqbal (Nasim, NZF CEO) and from NZF has honestly been what has made the difference and really did come at the right time. The potential for good through this work and in me has been recognised in a way that it hadn’t been up to now.
“I may have had no choice but to give up on this route and pursue other options in work and career… Having the stability to know that I have some basic funding coming in each month has made all the difference to how I think and feel and how I operate.”
Meanwhile, with the year ending 2017, Luqman Ali received £38,565.27 from NZF.
Ali is the co-founder of the Khayaal Theatre Company, a theatre and drama education company which explores Muslim world literature and the experience of Muslims in the modern world for the stage, radio and screen.
From 2007-11, via the government’s Preventing Violent Extremism fund, Khayaal received £129,541 to build its organisational capacity and deliver counter-extremism plays.
Ali told 5Pillars that he does not support Prevent but decided to take government funding because of the good work that he knew he could deliver with the money.
He said that accepting the money does not mean he agrees with the government’s agenda and it is unfair to tar him with a “counter-extremism” image when he has been a dedicated community activist for 30 years.
Commenting on the revelations, Abdullah Noorudeen, of the Coolness of Hind blog which first revealed the leaked document’s contents, questioned whether NZF was abusing Zakat funds.
He said: “When NZF set out to deform Islam to fit their own agenda, it exposed the Muslim community to the threat of potential abuse of zakat funds. NZF, Mufti Faraz Adam and his theological stamp of approval have indeed opened a can of worms which are burying themselves into agendas that seek to deconstruct Islam.
“The funding of the likes of Luqman Ali and Julie Siddiqi and their projects which dovetail counter-extremist, deformist, pro-Israel agendas, should be a wake-up call for the Mufti, and the Muslims that give their zakat money to NZF.”
NZF told 5Pillars that they categorically reject any links with Prevent or Israel.
In response to the Coolness of Hind blog post, NZF CEO, Iqbal Nasim, and Azim Kidwai, Chair of the Board of Trustees, issued a public statement which can be read in full here.
5Pillars put the following questions to NZF:
- Did NZF give money to individuals and/or organisations as part of its leadership programme without having publicised it to the public?
- Has NZF funded individuals or organisations which are in any way involved with or linked to counter-extremism work?
- Has NZF provided funds to Julie Siddiqi and Luqman Ali, or any of their respective organisations?
- At the time of approving funding for Julie Siddiqi, was NZF aware that she has been previously funded by Prevent, and has close ties with New Horizons for British Islam and prominent pro-Israeli groups and figures?
- At the time of approving funding for Luqman Ali, was NZF aware that he was or had been involved in counter-extremism work?
- Funding potential leaders appears to be a public concern. Will NZF be making transparent who they have funded under the leadership programme?
In response to our questions, NZF CEO, Iqbal Nasim, said: “We completely reject any assertion that NZF has ever used Zakat funds (or any other funds) to support Prevent, counter extremism or Israel lobby related activities. Moreover, we have never received any funding related to any of these agendas.
“The circumstances in which these claims have arisen involve defamation, false assumptions, tenuous links and slander; and all of this in the last days and nights of Ramadan.
“Please do not share this ‘news’. The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said: ‘The one who spreads rumours with mischievous intent will not enter Paradise.’
“NZF is bound by Islamic ethics, data protection regulations and our commitments to 10,000+ beneficiaries since 2011 to keep confidential the circumstances of individuals who may have received Zakat from NZF under any of our programmes. This includes the 70+ individuals that NZF has funded under the Leadership Investment Programme (LIP). By contrast, we are open about the organisations that NZF has funded under the LIP.
“We recognise that it may be of significant interest and concern to some Muslims, including Zakat payers to NZF, as to who the specific individuals funded under the LIP will be going forward. There are a number of complex factors to consider. We are carefully assessing whether to change our policy on this matter and commit to issuing an update before the end of the year.
“In the meantime, I would like to reassure NZF’s supporters and the UK’s Muslims at large that we treat the distribution of Zakat with the utmost seriousness. We will continue to listen, to learn and to strive for excellence in everything that we do. May our hearts become settled and united.”
Iqbal Nasim told 5Pillars that he can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org if the public has any questions, feedback or ideas.