Muslim Charity Closed by U.S. amid Protests. (News)

Article excerpt

For the staff at the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development in Richardson, Texas, the month of Ramadan was the busiest time of the year. It's a time when many Muslims pay their zakhat, or alms--a charitable gift equal to 2.5 percent of their net worth and one of the five pillars of Islam. "We are working long hours, from 8 in the morning to midnight just to keep up with all of the donations," said John Janney, a foundation spokesman.

All of that changed at midnight December 3 when President George Bush ordered the assets of the foundation frozen and their headquarters in Richardson was closed down, along with offices in Bridgeview, Illinois; Paterson, New Jersey; and San Diego.

The foundation, which raised $13 million in 2000, is accused of raising funds for the terrorist group Hamas. "The Holy Land Foundation claims that the money it solicits goes to care for needy Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza strip," said Bush, but "money raised by [it] is used by Hamas to support schools that indoctrinate children to grow up to become suicide bombers."

Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill accused the Holy Land Foundation of masquerading as a charity, "while its primary purpose is to fund Hamas. This is not a case of one bad actor stealing from the petty-cash drawer and giving the stolen money to terrorists. This organization exists to raise money in the United States to promote terror."

Holy Land Foundation President Shukri Abu-Baker denied that the group has any ties to terrorism, or that it had violated any U.S. laws. A statement released by the foundation criticized the government actions as being anti-Muslim, saying "the decision by the U.S. government to seize the charitable donations of Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan is an affront to millions of Muslim Americans who entrust charities like ours to assist in fulfilling their religious obligations." The Council on American-Islamic Relations and other U.S. Muslim organizations also criticized the actions, saying that they "could create the impression that there has been a shift from a war on terrorism to an attack on Islam."

In Bridgeview, a Chicago suburb with a large Muslim population, passersby watched as federal agents removed documents from the foundation's offices. …