A leading Islamic charity which penned an open letter criticising The Sunday Telegraph’s reports about its extreme speakers and filed numerous complaints to the press regulator has been warned by the Charities Commission it must distance itself from individuals who condone “violent extremism and acts of terrorism”.
Islamic Education and Research Academy (iERA) was investigated by the charities watchdog amid allegations that its leaders promote anti-Semitism and have called for homosexuals and female adulterers to be stoned to death.
The inquiry, which lasted almost three years, concluded that trustees must do more to prevent associating with organisations and individuals who “encourage or support terrorism and/or extremist views”.
The charities watchdog also criticised iERA over its partnership with Islamic University Online, an organisation founded by Dr Bilal Philips, who was banned from the UK for his extremist views by Theresa May in 2010 while she was Home Secretary.
The Charity Commission said it first became concerned about iERA after reports surfaced in March 2013 that the organisation had imposed gender segregation at an event held on a university campus, forcing women to sit at the back of the room.
A former aide to Barack Obama, who was due to speak at the debate, walked out of the event in protest and the University College London later banned the charity as a consequence.
The Commission launched a full-blown investigation the following year after identifying a number of “regulatory issues” over its organisation of events and how it chooses speakers and preachers for them.
The charities watchdog said their probe included assessing allegations raised in a dossier of evidence on iERA, compiled by the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB), an organisation set up to combat Islamist extremism.
The CEMB report, published in May 2014, noted that the charity’s founder and chairman, Abdurraheem Green, was filmed preaching at Hyde Park Corner, calling for a Jewish man to be removed from his sight. “Why don’t you take the Yahoudi [Jew] over there, far away so his stench doesn’t disturb us?” he can be heard to say.
iERA said that Mr Green’s comment was “aimed at a habitual heckler in Hyde Park Speakers Corner, in a highly charged forum of debate, who happened to be Jewish. It was not aimed at any community or meant to be anti-Semitic in any way. However, recognising that it could be misconstrued, he has apologised openly for such errors of judgement made more than 20 years ago.”
The CEMB report also says Mr Green, a Muslim convert, suggested in a blog that women who commit adultery should be subjected to a “slow and painful death by stoning”.
iERA later said that this was not meant literally, adding that it would be unlikely in practise for such a punishment to be dealt as the religious standard of proof for adultery requires a testimony by four reliable witnesses.
The Commission noted that a number of individuals, either currently or historically associated with the charity, who featured in the CEMB report had made comments in a personal capacity rather than on behalf of the charity or at a charity-run event.
It said that iERA must step up procedures to prevent organisations and individuals “who seek to encourage or support terrorism and /or extremist views from taking advantage of the charity’s status, reputation, facilities or assets”.
In its conclusion, it added that the trustees must take “additional steps to ensure that the charity not only distances itself from and is not associated with organisations and /or individuals which condone or appear to condone violent extremism and acts of terrorism”.
Turning to the charity’s links to Dr Bilal Philips, the regulator noted that it is “publicly known” that he has been banned from the UK due to his extremist views and deemed the relationship “high risk”.
Rupert Sutton, a research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society, a counter-extremism think tank, said the Charities Commission report is a vindication of those who raised concerns about IERA’s activities and speakers. He said the report “shows a robust regulatory attitude” towards organisations that associate with extremists.
He added: “However, it remains a concern that a high risk partnership with an organisation founded by a man barred from entering the UK has not resulted in further sanctions, with IERA simply stating that the connections have been discontinued.”
Maryam Namazie, a spokesperson for CEMB, said: “The Charity Commission has rightly raised concerns regarding iERA’s extremist speakers and partnerships.
“However, it has addressed them procedurally and as an exercise in the ‘risk’ management of ‘guest speakers’. iERA > has invited hate-filled preachers linked to the Islamist movement regarding everything from the death penalty for apostates to hatred against Jewish and LGBT people. Yet the Charity Commission says that the speakers have somehow all managed to incite hatred in their ‘personal capacities’.”
In 2014, Saqib Sattar, the then vice chairman of iERA wrote an open letter to Ian MacGregor, The Sunday Telegraph’s editor, complaining about the newspaper’s reports on the charity and claiming that “the term extremism has become a political tool to demonise and censor normative Islamic beliefs”.
The charity also filed three complaints in the space of four months to the independent press regulator about The Sunday Telegraph’s reports on the charity and its speakers. None of the complaints were upheld.
Saqib Sattar, vice-Chairman at iERA, said: “The charity has robust policies and procedures in place to manage risk and has been able to demonstrate compliance. The Commission has provided further advice and guidance on this area which the charity has taken on board. >
“The Commission did not find any evidence within the CEMB’s report which substantiated the allegations against our organisation or our speakers to be ‘extremists’ or ‘hate preachers’. The issue of ‘extremism’ was never a concern throughout the period of the investigation. Most importantly, the Commission found no evidence of ‘extremism’ in its final report.”