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As part of a fundraising initiative during Ramadan, a partnership entitled ‘The Mosque Project’, managed by the Ummah Welfare Trust (UWT) in partnership with a number of student Islamic societies, aims to build six masjids in four Muslim countries.
The project has been advertised to students at University College London. Another seventeenstudent Islamic societies are co-operating with the project, including Imperial, Greenwich, Essex, Barts, Nottingham Trent, St. George’s, UEL, Leeds, Sheffield, Hertfordshire, Birkbeck, Kingston, UWL, LSE, Goldsmith, City and KCL.
However, the UWT has a controversial past, displaying extremist material on their website and hosting extremist speakers at their events. A number of archived webpages – which have since been deleted – have been documented by the anti-extremism blog Harry’s Place. These include an articlewhich calls the British government “an enemy to Islam and the Muslims” and encourages readers to “consider the Police and Intelligence as filthy human beings”. Other articles deleted from the UWT website have commemorated Hamas founder and spiritual leader Sheikh Yassin, hosted interviews with individuals who blame Mossad for 9/11 and praised martyrdom.
The UWT has given sums of money to Interpal, an organisation singled out by the US Treasury in 2003 as supportive of Hamas and forming “part of its funding network in Europe”. The UK Charity Commission cleared Interpal of supporting or aiding Hamas on three occasions, although they ordered the group to dissociate from the Union of Good, a Specially Designated Global Terrorist Group, in 2009. Interpal has been designated and banned in Australia and Canada because of its suspected links to Hamas.
The UWT has also worked with the Al-Salah Islamic Association, an organisation the US Treasury Department has accused of running “one of the largest and best-funded Hamas charitable organisations in the Palestinian territories”. Al-Salah had its assets frozen by the Palestinian Authority in 2003 over connections to Hamas; the group confirmed these connections in 2002.
The interfaith organization Stand for Peace has reported that the UWT organised a fundraising tour with two extremist preachers in 2013; Riyadh Ul Haq, who has defended armed jihad and disparaged Jews, Christians and Hindus; and Ismail Menk, who has described homosexuals as “filthy” and “worse than dogs and pigs”. In 2014, the UWT also ran a series of events with Suliman Gani, a preacher who has said “women are inferior to men”. Stand for Peace has also reported that Gani is“a vocal supporter of convicted terrorist Aafia Siddiqui”, described by former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller as “an al-Qaeda operative and facilitator”. UWT has also held gender-segregated events.
The UWT’s financial accounts were closed by Barclays Bank in 2008, and by HSBC in 2014. Although the UWT has openly accused the government of pressuring these banks to close their accounts, a spokesperson said, “It is strictly a commercial matter for a bank itself about whether or not to offer products or services to certain individuals or groups.”
HSBC specifically informed UWT that their accounts fell outside their “risk appetite”. Tom Keatinge, an associate fellow of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) and an expert in the field, said that the bank’s decision would have been informed by money laundering and counter-terror legislation and had nothing to do with Islamophobia. UWT later announced that they had moved their accounts to the Qatar-based Islamic Bank of Britain (IBB), a financial institution that has a history of taking in groups with alleged extremist links, such as Interpal, whose accounts have been closed down elsewhere.
It is perfectly understandable that students want to raise money for disadvantaged communities in Britain as well as in poor and developing countries. It is nevertheless disturbing that altruistic students are being exploited by charities with controversial histories and alleged ties to extremism.
We at Student Rights believe it is possible to balance giving to noble causes whilst exercising good judgement about charities that have potentially come into contact with extremism. Students should not be deterred from philanthropic activities but we strongly advise all students to be cautious about which organisations they decide to partner with or send funds to.