Two months ago, board members of an Islamic seminary in southern California debated late into the night before voting 7-1 to reject the single biggest grant they’d ever been awarded: $800,000 in U.S. government funds.
Administrators knew the decision would be welcomed by Muslims nationwide. What they didn’t expect was a windfall.
Declining the grant money drew instant praise for Bayan Claremont from Muslims who saw it as pushback against so-called CVE, or countering violent extremism, anti-radicalization tactics that focus primarily on Islam. Along with the compliments came cash – lots of it.
Since the vote, private donations have made up for $550,000 of the rejected grant money, with future fundraisers scheduled in Houston, Las Vegas, and Cleveland to reach the full $800,000, said Bayan Claremont President Jihad Turk. An added bonus, he said, is that direct donations mean the school has a freer hand in how to use the money.
“Our community members said, ‘Don’t take it,’ and we said, ‘OK, so step up then. This was over half of our annual budget.’ And they did,” Turk said.
The outpouring for Bayan – one doctor alone gave $300,000 – shows how impassioned Muslims are about two sensitive issues tangled up in the grant debacle: whether to associate with the Trump administration, and whether to participate in programs billed as CVE.
Homeland Security had touted the grant program as a model for government partnership with local groups. But if CVE already was controversial, Trump’s election made accepting the money impossible for many Muslim nonprofits. At least four Muslim awardees so far have declined more than $2 million from the grant program; protesters have launched petitions and social media campaigns to pressure others into following suit.