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Kai Ryssdal: Today’s an important day on the Muslim calendar. It’s the beginning of Eid al-Adha, the festival of sacrifice, a four-day celebration that marks the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.
Families often share meals with neighbors and give money to the less fortunate.
Since September 11th some recipients of that goodwill, Muslim charities, have been under a magnifying glass.
The government’s been watching them pretty closely. A that’s made donating complicated and sometimes risky.
Marketplace’s Caitlan Carroll reports on a new program that may help change that.
CAITLAN CARROLL: Sharif Rosen stands outside the UMMA clinic in South Los Angeles. He’s community director there.
Sharif Rosen: We’re just blocks from the flashpoint of the Los Angeles uprisings of 1992. And that really forms the backdrop in which UMMA clinic was founded.
UMMA stands for the University Muslim Medical Association. It’s one of the first owned and operated Muslim community clinics in the nation. UCLA medical students opened the clinic after the riots in ’92 ripped through the neighborhood. The founders are Muslim but the community they serve is mostly African-American and Latino.
Rosen: They created an institution basically from scratch that is now responsible for caring for over 20,000 of Los Angeles’ poorest families.
The clinic relies on donations for about one-third of its operating budget. Most of those come from the Muslim community and that’s become a problem. Since 9/11 many Muslim-run charities have found themselves scrutinized by the government. Officials are looking for ties to terrorist groups. And donors have been scared off by the possibility that they might be targeted for the same reason.
UMMA’s President and CEO Yasser Aman says he’s often on the phone reassuring potential donors about the clinic’s work in South Los Angeles.
Yasser Aman: You know, concerns or anybody asking just, “So what exactly do you do with your money?” In fact, the great thing that we can say is that you can just hop onto the 110 Freeway, exit Florence, and you’ll see where your money goes.
Not everyone can make that trip to see for themselves. Instead, they can take the word of the Better Business Bureau. Its Wise Giving Alliance program evaluates religious charities.
The Bureau pores over financial statements, looks at who’s on the board and affiliations to other groups. If the charities make the grade, they get a stamp of approval.
The program’s been around for a few years. But it only recently began reaching out to Muslim charities. The UMMA clinic is one of the first Muslim groups to apply.
The Wise Giving Alliance may help charities protect themselves in the future. That’s according to Farhana Khera, the director of Muslim Advocates, a legal aid group.
Farhana Khera: We also hear from leadership of American Muslim organizations that they’re concerned that they might be next in terms of the federal government, the FBI, knocking on their doors, coming and seizing their records, resources and things like that.
Khera says charities and their donors are frustrated that their money could be confiscated. She hopes the Better Business Bureau partnership will remove those fears.
Khera: It helps those donors feel a higher degree of confidence that their dollars are going to go for their intended charitable purpose.
Inside the UMMA clinic in South Los Angeles, Winnie the Pooh drawings share wall space with tapestries from Mecca. And patients chat with nurses.
UMMA’s CEO Yasser Aman says he’ll do whatever it takes to keep the clinic open permanently. He says local residents pushed for that commitment long ago.
Aman: And their response was — and it still resonates with us today — is that, We’re sick and tired of mobile things. Everytime there’s a problem in the community, you know, people mobilize. In a good way, but at the same time when money dries up so does the support.
Aman says that money and support don’t come automatically with the Better Business Bureau’s stamp of approval. But he hopes it will help them raise enough money to stay open one more day a week and build some new exam rooms.
In Los Angeles, I’m Caitlan Carroll for Marketplace.
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