Islamic Relief: Muslim Brotherhood Tool for Recruiting the Poor

Executive Summary

Since its establishment by Hasan al-Banna, the Muslim Brotherhood adopted a principle that says: Regaining power requires the return to the roots, considering the Islamic religion as a comprehensive social, economic and political system, as well as a divine law.

Through its charitable organizations, the Muslim Brotherhood was able to achieve integration, mobilization, and create economic and political solidarity with them. Its charitable organizations, one of which is the “Islamic Relief”, have spread widely and in depth, beyond the concept of religious charity and helping the poor, to be the hand of the MB in mobilizing and recruiting the poor.

This paper discusses that issue through the following axes:

  • Islamic Relief, establishment and spread
  • MB activities through Islamic Relief
  • Humanitarian Relief Organization and MB strategy
  • Islamic Relief in the circle of terrorism
  • Conclusion

Islamic Relief Organization, establishment and spread:

Following the persecution of the MB in Egypt and other Arab states, the imprisonment and exile of its members, the MB began to chart it own paths to the new environments of survival. 1958, when Said Ramadan, the personal secretary of MB founder Hassan Al-Banna and his son-in-law, fled Egypt during Abdul Nasser’s reign, moved to Munich and managed the Islamic Centre there, then moved to Geneva and founded the Islamic Centre in 1961.[1]

With the continued arrival in Europe, institutional work began on the basis of providing assistance to those fleeing persecution from the Arab world and providing a foster environment for them and other Muslims, in which they could maintain themselves and their religion in the different environment. That was done through various centers and associations, teaching language and religious culture and to urge Muslims to integrate into societies, without abandoning the primary objective of upholding the function of religious affiliation, to establish a knowledge system based on Islamic religion. Later on their approach changed, when they started to consolidate their literature in the host countries and improved their objectives related to the status of Muslim minority.

A report from a meeting of the “Dawa and Communities Committee” in Britain, May 26, 1984, the goals of it, representing the kinetic dimension of the MB, shows most important goals and how they were manifested in creating a trend among Muslims residing in UK to pressure the British government to recognize Islam as an official religion. In addition, spreading Islamic jurisprudence among the communities, creating youth clubs and developing activities that keep pace with the developments of the times to attract them.[2]

The MB began building its various institutions, pooling its efforts, and building bridges with European institutions to stabilize and strengthen the position of Muslims in Europe. Among its organizations was International Islamic Relief (IRW), which was founded by Hani Al-Banna in 1984 in Birmingham as an “international charitable foundation for relief and development”. With the establishment of the Union of European Organizations in the year 1989, more than 1,000 unions, associations and centers were brought together, working in various directions, including the Relief organization, where Hani Al-Banna and senior officials in the organization enjoyed relations with heads of state, ministers, senior civil servants and with the media in the countries in which they were located. In addition to be listed on the international aid policy and the United Nations, Islamic Relief has become a member of the Disasters Emergency Committee that distributes the funds, having several offices around the world.[3]

Muslim Brotherhood activity through Humanitarian Relief

Since it received its first donation in 1984[4], the organization started to expand its global network and established many centres in different European, Arab and Islamic countries.

In 1992, Islamic Relief began working in Afghanistan in a number of areas, where it was providing food through work with the World Food Program, water and sanitation in addition to education, support for orphans, and seasonal programs such as distributing food aid in Ramadan.[5]

As a result of the activities of its leaders and members, the organization turned into the first specialized Islamic charitable organization, receiving funding from the British government for projects in the African continent in 1994. And within a short period of time, it was able to expand to about 48 countries around the world, established centers with different goals according to the needs of countries.

For example: It started its work in Jordan in 1997 through the orphan sponsorship program and providing seasonal projects.[6]

In Palestine, it established its centre in 1998 with the aim of using the difficult circumstances the Palestinian territories, contributing to achieving sustainable economic and social development programs: the Humanitarian Projects Program, the Community Development Program and the Child Care and Education Program.[7]

Also in Yemen, Islamic Relief has been working with local communities since 1998, implementing seasonal programs that include food distribution during Ramadan. It opened its permanent office in Baghdad in 2003, working alongside local communities to provide immediate assistance, such as emergency food aid and health equipment, as well as providing health and psychological support.[8]

After the outbreak of the war in Syria and the division of areas between regime and opposition, many centres were opened in the opposition-controlled areas and in the Turkish-controlled areas, where Syrians sought refuge and are considered a place for the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood and extremist groups.

Thus, the organization was able to penetrate and establish its activities in all Arab or Islamic conflict areas, such as Chechnya.

In Europe, it followed a principle in line with the MB’s methods of not drawing attention to its activities. Despite its reservations about the issue of integration and openness to the host societies, it was able to establish a discourse that agreed with the MB considering the openness: the one who wants to act and influence, not the submissive imitator, whose concern is to keep up and be affected.

They followed the approach of reconciling the host societies with what they declared the care of the Muslim minority and the necessity of Islamic citizenship, a public discourse that provided them with more support and facilitated them to achieve more cooperation with official authorities.

Despite the open relationship of Islamic Relief leaders with the Muslim Brotherhood during the last period, it did not draw attention to it as a threat. This allowed the organization to grow and gain more support as an effective humanitarian organization. It is estimated that Islamic Relief raises more than 10 million pounds annually alone from its annual Ramadan campaign in UK.

The resources of Islamic Relief were estimated at about 570 million pounds, including several donations such as those of the UN, UK and the European Union. It gets its funding from a combination of individual and business endowments and from government and taxpayers.[9]

Islamic Relief and MB strategy

Islamic Relief has been implementing these humanitarian programs with the aim of helping the needy, adopting the basic approach of the MB on restoring power and controlling, returning to the origins through their integrated strategy, based on three directions: extension in society and urging it to adhere to religion and rejecting what is outside the “society reformation”, the adoption of the Islamic economy “Takaful” as a successful economic system and pushing for political stability by working with the requirements of Sharia, “governance” as the legitimate force guarantor of their rule.

It adopted the first two trends to leave political stability for later stages. The issue of evaluating society and rejecting what is foreign is considered among its goals, in the east and west, to build a cohesive Islamic group, applying the “takaful” system and the economy of charity. Its approach differed between the West and the East: While the funds were made as an organization licensed in European countries and US by governments, some by alms of Muslims residing there.

According to the MB’s approach and its old methods of expanding, this organization turned into a place to attract the poor due to their need and gain their loyalty to it, infiltrating slowly MB’s ideology, which did not stop its activity and did not change its approach in building a nation for Muslims. It applied jurisprudence as law and policy and seeked the return of the caliphate, which was revealed by the Arab Spring revolutions, especially at their birthplace in Egypt during the reign of Mohamed Morsi, where they dropped the false cover of the MB by regarding the possibility of their participation in democratic politics, or the fact that they adopted a centrist ideology, or following the principle of non-violence. These were no more than tools to reassure western governments and to maintain their existence following the growth of extremist movements that have pursued the utmost violence.

Islamic Relief within the circle of terrorism

Islamic Relief drew the world’s attention after the UAE woke the world up and classified it as an organization that has been funding terrorism since 2005, then after Russian authorities accused it of supporting terrorism in Chechnya.

And in 2012, the giant Swiss banking, UBS, closed the organization’s accounts and imposed a ban on donations coming to it from its clients for fear of reports about financing of terrorism. HSBC did the same in 2016. In 2015, Israel also placed this organization on the list of terrorist financing in the Gaza Strip, as it funded organizations with close ties to Hamas. For example, Islamic Relief UK funded a project for the Al Falah Charitable Society, which is run by two prominent Hamas officials, Ramadan Tanboura and Jamal Hamdi Al-Haddad. The latter runs a Hebrew-language Hamas program for the Palestinians known as “Know Your Enemy”.

Several countries began to scrutinize the activities of the organization. Reports indicated that FBI investigators, the Internal Revenue Service and the Office of Personnel Management collected criminal evidence related to Islamic Relief in 2016. And it became the subject of extensive investigations since 2018, as well as its relationship with loyalists of (Bin Laden) such as Charitable Society for Social Welfare where they cooperated in collecting zakat funds.[10]

Consequently, the organization turned into an organization under international supervision, and scrutiny and protests escalated over its presence and support in many European countries. They began to review its activities, its expansion, its money, and how it was spent on supporting terrorism, despite the various evasions practiced by the organization by drawing up a list of humanitarian actions to cover its support for the MB or any extremist group that adopts their ideology.


Although nearly a century has passed since the establishment of the MB on a single strategy, based on to achieve political hegemony, creating stable political systems on the basis of Islamic religion to serve its interests, it is still evading through a new complex set of methods to strengthen itself humanly and materially, and to ensure its expansion, taking advantage of humanitarian ideas and helping the poor who did not find anyone else to support them, and needed the deception of the relief organization and others that barter hunger for the support of their ideology.

[1] Muslim Brotherhood in Europe: Long History and Foggy Future:










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