Misappropriating Zakat-Restricted Donations for Non-Zakat Purposes

Under Nihad Awad’s leadership, the CAIR-Foundation National office has refused to set clear written policies on Zakat donations despite repeated community requests. Zakat, one of the pillars of the Islam, is charity specifically provided to uplift the needy – in contrast the more general form of charity called sadaqah.

Ahmed Shaikh, a lawyer specializing in Islamic Estate Planning, runs a watchdog Substack newsletter tracking the official Zakat policies of various community charities. Shaikh writes:

….[CAIR] is abusing zakat, a pillar of Muslim worship, and is doing so without any justification. They should stop. Muslim donors should hold CAIR-National accountable for its false and misleading claims. 

Shaikh notes that CAIR National’s opaque Zakat spending policies is not shared by all of CAIR’s local chapters, some of whom have had clear and ethical policies on how Zakat money is being spent:

…CAIR-Michigan does not currently make any zakat solicitations or accept zakat at all on its donation page.  CAIR-Michigan does take some zakat in person but tightly controls distribution so that it benefits the poor. CAIR-California handles zakat through a zakat policy that is more permissive about how it can use the funds and actively fundraises for zakat, though it is different from the way CAIR-National handles Zakat in that it segregates funds it regards as Zakat-eligible and activities that may not be.

Shaikh points out that he has repeatedly requested an official written policy from CAIR-Foundation yet been denied.

Zakat is used for ALL of CAIR’s programs. CAIR-National claims to not use Zakat for honorariums or conference swag. I have asked for a zakat policy that is usable by internal staff, but they have not been able to provide it.

Nihad Awad sets CAIR-Foundation’s Zakat approach. His refusal to offer the community a clear written policy suggests he likes the current arrangement where CAIR-Foundation declares itself Zakat-eligible but then uses any donations from the community for any purpose – including potentially paying for Awad’s own six-figure salary as Executive Director, not to mention lawsuits against former employees (which serve to run down fellow Muslims rather than uplift them, an inversion of the core purpose of Zakat). Maintaining the current opaque policy means Awad can use Zakat donations as he wants without appropriate restrictions.