The responses to my piece on NZF have been spritely to put it mildly.
Luqman Ali of Khayaal Theatre engaged with me on Facebook, first stating he didn’t have time to respond, before putting an emotional response together which accused me of proffering “spurious allegations” (the Facebook comments have been deleted, the comments left on the blog are still present). Of course, when asked to point out these spurious allegations, nothing substantive was forthcoming. What seemed to escape Ali was that it was the zakat funding at stake; would I or any other Muslim concerned about how their zakat money is used, fund what he is doing?
Some seemingly stamped out comments claimed it was a “fitna” and “defamation”. Another invoked the well-worn “adab” card, though I don’t recall donors and the poor being asked whether they agreed with the direction NZF was heading in. As expected, none of the comments engaged or disputed the material that had been presented.
Instead of taking a responsible tact and accepting that mistakes had been made, the statements resorted to an approach similar to Luqman’s albeit with added hyperbole. Thus, according to NZF, “public acts of defamation” had taken place using “unlawfully acquired information”. Azim Kidwai and Iqbal Nasim may struggle to prove defamation, given the basis of the article is their own internal document and publicly available information thereafter. As for “unlawfully acquired”, perhaps a security audit is overdue for the public to understand just how sensitive personal information is bandied about within NZF.
To discredit my article, NZF stretches its accusations quite a bit, claiming that “slander and suspicion” is promulgated about NZF’s “motivations based on ignorance, false assumptions and tenuous links”. The difference between the clarificatory statement and my article is that one is heavily referenced, and the other isn’t. My article lacks perspective too according to Iqbal and Kidwai, although, it must be said, it is NZF that is funnelling Zakat money to people involved in projects that promote the deformation of Islam, counter-extremism and pro-Israel agendas. I believe this “perspective” was missing, or worse, wilfully ignored, in their evaluations of zakat applications.
Recall, NZF suggest they have a birds-eye view of the Muslim situation in the UK. Whilst the evidence points to the contrary, I would like to add a further question here.
What makes NZF qualified for them to suggest they have the “well-informed, birds-eye view of the overall situation facing Islam and Muslims” and conclude that they make “well-researched and objective spending decisions” which are used on behalf of zakat payers “in the most impactful way”?
These qualifications need to be also made transparent.
The clarification contained some interesting conundrums too.
For example, NZF purport to be “deeply committed to an authentic understanding of Zakat” in the clarificatory statement, and yet Iqbal Nasim has stated that their interpretation of the category of “fisabillah”, “may depart from the specific legal interpretation of classical scholars”. This is after one considers that the theological basis which underpins their Zakat philosophy misquotes classical scholars and opposes on certain issues the consensus of the scholars.
Another example is how NZF emphasises the importance of their work:
“To date we have supported over 10,000 Muslims across the UK in this way. Currently, we are experiencing record levels of demand from our brothers and sisters in desperation.”
If the demand for desperate brothers and sisters is so high, how is NZF able to redirect 8% of Zakat payments in 2017, and then 18% from 2018 to, well, dramas, Facebook pages, cartoons and dubious projects that happen to dovetail deformist/counter-extremism/pro-Israel agendas?
How does NZF prioritise people like Julie Siddiqi, Luqman Ali, and organisations over people who are “desperate”? Do they have scholarly panel to assess prioritisation decisions?
NZF says that it “publicly advertised” the 2017 Muslim Leadership Development Fund in 2017 and detailed it in the 2017 Annual Report. A few things here:
- The eligibility policy page in the latter half of 2017 (e.g. November) does not make any mention, like the Annual Report does or indeed the present day version of the page does, that leadership and organisation are included as recipients of Zakat money. Where was it publicly advertised? And what is the point of referencing an end-of-year annual report and then claim transparency when the funding of the likes of Julie Siddiqi began in the second half of the year?
- Again, were those making zakat donations at the time aware that NZF was pumping money into people pushing pro-Israel initiatives and drama?
- Was permission sought from the intended recipients of zakat – the poor – to redirect funds to organisations in 2017/2018? If they were not, and I believe a subset weren’t, then how does NZF justify this funding?
Moreover, none of the reports NZF cites contains the organisations it has funded. The NZF clarification is the first to list them, and that because it was forced to do so after a “slanderous” blog based on “false assumptions” highlighted the same. Why the opacity?
The transparency does not go far enough either. There is no breakdown of how much the organisations have received.
NZF claims its process was thorough and positive for Islam and Muslims:
“Through our close interaction, due diligence and careful evaluation of numerous factors before making funding decisions, we are confident that the diverse range of their efforts has resulted in positive outcomes for Islam and Muslims across the UK.”
The clarification further pleads that, “we can emphatically state that we have never used Zakat to facilitate activities that might cause harm to our community.”
NZF financed Luqman Ali, who, according to the leaked NZF document, was able to subsequently deliver “55 performances this year, which is more than double our output for the previous year”. How was the positive impact “for Islam and Muslims” assessed? For Islam, we have someone who has been involved in counter-extremism initiatives and conferences which premise the demonization of Islam, hence the need to project a palatable Islam. Presence is what is of value for such initiatives as it is used to legitimise such policies before audiences. Though I did not feel the need to go into this in the previous piece, it is pertinent here because NZF believe they are confident they are benefiting Islam. The theatre work parades a Muslim woman before mixed audiences in the name of Islam. Ali himself promotes singing women playing musical instruments under the rubric of Sufi Islam on his Facebook page. When the type of Islam being projected is a wishy-washy liberalised version of Islam, then that is not a “positive outcome for Islam and Muslims”. It is a contribution to the deformation of Islam and making the lives of those Muslims who wish to adhere to an orthodox understanding a misery. Such Muslims not only have to resist Islamophobes but the riptide of securitised secularisation of Islam and Muslims propped by their fellow believers.
The same can be said of Julie Siddiqi. The statement confirms that money had directly been put into Siddiqi’s Sadaqa Day in 2018, though it shies from confirming the salary-like payments given to Siddiqi during 2017. NZF admits it “carefully evaluated” Sadaqa Day and Siddiqi.
Placing aside the rather bizarre situation of using zakat money to fund a sadaqa project, how exactly are “positive outcomes” assessed? Does the process consider a view of how this Jewish-Muslim initiative works under the blessings of pro-Israel outfits and how Siddiqi’s other initiatives whitewash Israel’s actions? I wonder whether four-month-old Maria Ahmad Ramadan al-Ghazali and her parents would agree with the “positive outcomes” part. They happen to be dead now, after their apartment in northern Gaza was targeted and hit by Israeli missiles. Ah but the baby and parents are not in the UK… right? Give Zakat locally to people who effectively whitewash policies abroad. Quite.
This is before one takes into account Siddiqi’s deformist views promoted through her speeches and by her members at Nisa-Nashim.
Sweeping all this under the carpet as a “shortcoming” is a copout.
Then of course there is a broader concern of where NZF is directing Zakat money more generally: a Ramadan app; media monitoring; a primary school; FOSIS; a medical research centre which, in 2018, was hosting Humera Khan, Shaykh Akram Nadwi, who has in recent years also articulated theologically problematic views, and Dr Ingrid Mattson, who has supported the troubling US-based HEART and feels feminism is not a threat to traditional non-Western values. Incidentally, Mattson is someone used by NZF to push their zakat philosophy.
Is this what zakat money should be used for?
NZF explain that in 2017 they funded 32 “emerging and existing leaders” for poverty and debt relief with a combination of maintenance, debt relief, project and development grants. In 2018, NZF funded 30 under the Muslim Leaders Development Fund (MLDF). In what seems like an attempt to maintain their lack of transparency, the statement reasons that since such recipients were zakat-eligible, the “personal identity and financial information” would be “kept confidential”.
If the above is accurate, then it raises more questions than it answers. According to the MLDF 2018 guidance and information page, the maximum annual grant limit is £10,000. Why was Julie Siddiqi receiving a total of £14,000 in personal maintenance grant split over monthly payments and an additional £15,442.41 for debt relief over half a year?!Another recipient was receiving £3,433pm for the last half of 2017.
To understand the magnitude of this issue, one needs to consider that a normal person applying for zakat has access to a maximum of £2,500 over 12-months. Siddiqi was receiving, according to her statement in the leaked document, £2,500 per month.
If we compare the maximum limits for grants for non-leaders and leaders, “leaders” are receiving four times more. Why is the limit so much higher purely by virtue of being a leader?
This brings us to the question of accountability of individuals.
If it is argued that the extra amount given to existing/emerging leaders is because they are existing/emerging leaders then this money is not connected to poverty but to support the leadership aspect of the recipient. At this point, this becomes a matter of public interest: why is an individual getting extra funding simply by virtue of having been identified as someone who is an emerging or existing leader? What are his or her politics? What are the theological views of this potential future Muslim figurehead? Are we funding another Maajid Nawaz? Or another Julie Siddiqi for that matter?
The façade that is the excuse that they are poor no longer matters.
For the 2018 MLDF, NZF partnered with Aziz Foundation (AF). AF disclose their list of leadership fund recipients. These recipients have applied for a grant because they need money, not because they are rich. If NZF’s partner can make transparent their list of recipients what is NZF’s problem?
Who is NZF hiding?
New Horizons for British Islam
In the previous piece it was established that New Horizons for British Islam is as toxic as Quilliam Foundation, fulfilling the neocon agenda. I questioned why NZF’s Lucy Bushill-Matthews would use NHBI as a base to push its zakat philosophy and feature in their video.
Unsurprisingly, the clarification remains completely silent on this highly questionable liaison.
“We are already so divided and facing so many challenges as Muslims that to engage in this behaviour is nothing other than an act of collective self-harm.”
Yes, we face many challenges. However, the solution is not to start working the likes of New Horizons for British Islam and fund people NZF has.
What is causing collective self-harm is not someone who seeks to shed light on how the wealth of the Ummah is being used. Au contraire, using the Ummah’s wealth to fund someone who wishes to deform Islam, is involved in counter-extremism strategies and dovetails pro-Israel agendas in the misguided belief that “we know better” is the very definition of collective self-harm.
Releasing the list of organisations funded is a step that has come late in NZF’s journey. Omitting the list of individuals declared leaders under the excuse that they are zakat-eligible is a massive misstep. If Nasim wishes to sincerely address concerns, it would be ideal to make transparent the list of organisations and individuals NZF have funded under the leadership initiative over the last two years. At the very least, NZF must publicly commit to stopping the funding of current individuals, make transparent any pending grants and ultimately scrap the MLDF initiative. A scholarly panel set up to review decisions and guide the organisation would be an important step in the right direction too.
Give zakat. As things stand, for now at least, don’t trust NZF.