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UK withdraws interfaith charity funding over Muslim Council of Britain links

The decision to stop funding the Inter Faith Network was due to the “reputational risk” posed for government
Michael Gove, UK Communities Secretary (AFP)
Michael Gove, UK Communities Secretary (AFP)

The British government intends to stop funding an interfaith charity because one of its trustees is a member of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), which the British government refuses to engage with.

Communities Secretary Michael Gove told the Inter Faith Network (IFN) on 19 January that he is “minded” to withdraw its funding due to the “reputational risk” posed to the government by an MCB member serving as one of the IFN’s trustees.

The MCB member in question is Hassan Joudi, formerly an MCB assistant secretary general. He was appointed as an IFN trustee in July 2023.

The IFN said in a statement on Wednesday that its board did not seek Joudi’s resignation and “affirmed his role as a valued colleague”. 

The IFN, founded in 1987, says it “works to promote understanding, cooperation and good relations between organisations and persons of different faiths in the UK".

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It counts a range of religious and community associations among its member bodies, including the MCB - the country's largest body claiming to represent British Muslims. 

The IFN has received £3,858,000 from the government since 2010.

But in March 2023, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) - headed by Michael Gove - informed the IFN that it would no longer fund the charity. Several MPs and peers urged the department to reconsider the decision.

On 7 July 2023, after a ministerial review of its funded programmes, the department told the IFN that it would give the charity up to £155,000 in funding for the period between July 2023 and March 2024.

However, the IFN did not receive any of the promised money.

On 2 December, the Daily Telegraph reported that officials in Michael Gove’s department were concerned that the Inter Faith Network had not condemned the 7 October Hamas-led attack on southern Israel. 

Bob Blackman, the Conservative MP for Harrow East, said that groups like the IFN “have got a big job to do to call out these terrorist atrocities".

The IFN has a policy not to make statements on overseas events unless they are “directly affecting relations between different faith communities in this country”.

'On life support'

In late December, two member bodies of the IFN itself urged Michael Gove to stop funding the charity. 

One of them, Scriptural Reasoning, cited the MCB’s membership as a reason.

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On 10 January, multiple MPs defended the Inter Faith Network in the House of Commons. Labour MP Sir Stephen Timms said it would be a “terrible tragedy” if the charity collapsed, and Labour MP Holly Lynch warned that the IFN was on “life support” without government funding. 

Last Friday, Gove wrote a letter to the IFN saying he was “minded” to withdraw the offer of funding made in July 2023 because one of the charity's trustees is an MCB member.

The IFN responded to Gove on Monday, saying that the government had never advised it to expel the MCB from its membership. 

The charity noted that the MCB is not a proscribed group and has not been found guilty of any illegal actions. 

It said that “division would certainly be sown” if it attempted to expel “an organisation that has among its members (and therefore represents) over 500 national, regional and local Muslim organisations, mosques, charities and schools".

The IFN also argued that by funding the charity the government “is not engaging with the MCB. No one member of IFN’s Board of Trustees - currently 20-strong - of numerous faiths can determine IFN policy and actions".

It also said the board would soon decide whether the IFN will have to close down.

Policy of non-engagement

In his letter to the IFN, Communities Secretary Michael Gove wrote: “Successive governments have had a long-standing policy of non-engagement with the MCB.”

But while there was a brief boycott of the MCB by Gordon Brown’s government in 2009, Conservative ministers were meeting the organisation between 2010 and 2015. 

According to the Guardian, civil servants continued to meet with the MCB until March 2020, when the organisation produced a dossier outlining what it said was evidence of Islamophobia against more than 300 individuals, including Conservative MPs, councillors, party members and special advisers inside 10 Downing Street.

Shortly afterwards, civil servants broke off relations with the organisation.

However, MCB's deputy general secretary is currently a member of the Crown Prosecution Service London Scrutiny and Involvement Panel, as well as the Police Islington Advisory Group.

The MCB has not released a public statement on the situation.

When Middle East Eye approached the organisation for comment, it was directed to the IFN's statement.

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