Shutting down Muslim charities

Last year, workers at a small Muslim social service agency in Virginia received a disturbing letter from their bank. After six years, Wachovia Corp. was closing the account of the five-person agency that specializes in domestic violence services and other types of immediate assistance to families of all religious backgrounds.

“We were totally shocked,” said Margaret Farchtchi, board treasurer of the Foundation for Appropriate and Immediate Temporary Help, also known as FAITH. “We always kept our accounts in good shape.”

But the agency also had other reasons to think that they would not be targeted. “We felt very secure because we are a local charity,” explained Farchtchi. “We don’t have donors from overseas. We thought we were out of what you might call the danger zone.”

Many people thought the same. As such, the story of FAITH illustrates the challenge now facing the Muslim community. Since 9/11, the government has frozen the assets of six large Muslim organizations and shut them down – although no one has been convicted of any crime.

People, in turn, have begun donating in larger numbers to local charities, assuming these organizations to be free of international ties and safe from government interference. But the experience of FAITH suggests that there are no guarantees.

ColorLines, September-October 2006