Daily Herald: Charity groups struggle for Mideast causes

While several groups have launched fundraising campaigns for Israel, an atmosphere fueled by fear has hindered their Islamic and Arabic counterparts.

“A lot of people are afraid of donating to Middle East causes because they’re afraid they’ll be accused of supporting something other than humanitarian causes,” said Duston Barto, spokesman for the Zakat Foundation of America.

Zakat refers to the obligatory portion a Muslim head of household donates to the poor as mandated in their holy book, the Quran. The charitable group is an international organization with a Chicagoland office that helps those in need. It’s so far raised about $140,000 of its $250,000 pledge to Lebanon, Barto said. An estimated $40,000 has come from Chicago donors, he added.

Barto said he doesn’t blame those who are apprehensive about donating to his group or others, but it frustrates him that those in need can’t get the proper aid including mattresses, medicines, fresh water, first aid kits and clothes. He said he knows of few Chicago-area groups that have mounted a charitable effort.

One group helping to raise funds for Lebenon is the Our Lady of Lebanon, a Maronite Catholic church serving the Lombard and Oak Brook area.

“We must help our people rebuild, no matter how far we are,” said the Rev. Alfred Badawi, pastor of Our Lady of Lebanon. “We have collected $30,000. The money will be sent to the Patriarch in Lebanon, to be distributed. Another mailing will be sent shortly. Our goal is $50,000.”

The Charity Without Fear law, enacted in spring by the Illinois Legislature, has calmed some donors’ fears. The law prevents donors from prosecution if their contributions are used unlawfully without their knowledge.

“I think the focus of the community is helping Lebanon heal and rebuild,” Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “Obviously, the devastation they have witnessed is incredible, all of us who are incensed by that want to transform the negative energy to positive.”

Those wanting to help can visit www.thezakat.org.

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