Muslim groups sceptical over commission's new 'faith unit'

Muslim organisations have criticised the Charity Commission for "singling out" Islamic charities in the setting up of its new faith unit.

The Muslim Council of Britain said it was "counterproductive" for the unit to concentrate on Islamic groups. The unit was announced last week by Ruth Kelly, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, in a new government strategy to tackle Muslim extremism.

"No group should be singled out," said Sir Iqbal Sacranie, general secretary of the council. "Directing this only at Muslim charities is counterproductive."

The unit, which will receive £1.2m over two years from the Department of Communities and Local Government and £400,000 from the commission, has been set up to improve leadership and governance in Muslim charities, including mosques.

Sacranie said that Muslim groups welcomed the chance to improve their governance practices, but there was concern about potential government interference.

"What is worrying the Muslim community is that there is too much influence from government," he said. "Is the commission going to start monitoring? It is going over and above its duties."

Julian Bond, director of communications at the Christian Muslim Forum, a charity that encourages inter-faith dialogue, also queried the unit's focus.

"You have to ask whether the governance of Muslim charities is different from Christian charities," he said.

Sabia Kamali, media executive of aid charity Islamic Relief UK, said: "Some Muslim charities probably need assistance with governance. This is not unique to them."

Sarah Atkinson, head of corporate affairs at the commission, said the unit would look at other faith organisations later. "Because Islamic faith charities are the next biggest group after Christian faith charities, it makes sense to start with this group," she said.

The unit will also encourage Muslim community groups to become registered charities. "It's really important for their beneficiaries to bring them into the regulatory fold," Atkinson said.

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