Part 1: Introduction to WTE or Don't Pray on a Soiled Carpet
Emgage is a Muslim Civic Engagement Organization (two differently regulated nonprofits and a Political Action Committee). Before I get to the details I must explain the goal that colors the review.
Muslim nonprofits are fundamental to Muslim worship and practice in the United States. When Muslims donate to a charity, it is an act of worship. Any act of worship requires ehsan (excellence). We would not pray on a filthy carpet, so we might check to avoid having our forehead touch filth as we prostrate. Unfortunately, the "he's a good brother" or "she is a good sister" system of mutual vouching is how we know if a nonprofit is good or bad. Muslims will trust a charity because a Sheykh or another public figure spoke at their event or zoom conference, or because a leader or board member appears to be friends with someone you know and respect. This system has led to documented cases of corruption that seem to happen repeatedly. This system will enable further deterioration in the Muslim nonprofit sector.
The purpose behind the WTE newsletter (which you can subscribe to here) is to provide systematic research and analysis of nonprofits, specifically non-Mosque Muslim charities or charities that operate in Muslim spaces, both good and bad, using a uniform system. These factors include mission, transparency, social benefit, governance, executive team, ethics, zakat policy, and financials. You can read an explanation of the criteria here.
Our wealth and what we donate is an amanah, since everything in the heavens and earth and all that it contains belongs to Allah.
And to Allah belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth. Quran 4:126
When Muslim public figures vouch for an organization, their words are an amanah; when Masjid leaders offer a Muslim organization platform to raise money to educate the Jamat, this is an amanah. The goal of this newsletter is to give Muslim leaders the ability to do it with ehsan.
"Is the Reward for Ehsan anything but Ehsan" Quran 55:60
Most Muslim leaders and Masjid-going Muslims (who this newsletter is for) are not very political on a day to day basis. They may not be up on terms like "BDS," "MLI," "CVE," or how Muslims can profit from the war on terrorism.
Most Muslims want to go to the Masjid for worship, marry as worship, listen to a speaker as worship, raise their children as worship. They want to do the right thing, interact with ehsan because when we are at our best, we hope our interactions with each other are for good. Part of ehsan involves looking at that carpet before you put your forehead on it.
To develop this report, I have evaluated public records and some confidential documents and have spoken to over two dozen people. I verified facts stated in this report by talking to individuals with first-hand knowledge, including past and present employees of Emgage, though none of my interviews were for attribution. This is consistent with how this newsletter will evaluate other Muslim nonprofits.
Part 2: Mission of Emgage
Emgage is a "family of organizations," a 501(c)(3), an organization that cannot engage in nearly any political activity, and a 501(c)(4), a social welfare organization, which has more leeway (though not completely free to do everything). They also have a PAC, or a political action committee, which is insignificant financially in the 2020 cycle though it does endorse candidates.
The mission, as stated in the most recently published annual report, is
To educate, engage, and empower Muslim Americans through educational events, voter initiatives, and leadership development for the purpose of building a community of equitable, knowledgeable, and motivated citizens.
A Civic Engagement Nonprofit as Worship
The United States government (the same applies to local and state governments) is a force for good and ill. Muslims who want to make the country or their local communities better will need to organize, to "build power"- a process of making more people take Muslims and our values seriously. Suppose politicians want to bomb a country, ban immigrants, or perpetrate some sort of injustice. In that case, one hopes Muslim political power would present an obstacle to doing wrong and encouraging good in the future.
[…]those who turn to God in repentance; who worship and praise Him; who bow down and prostrate themselves; who order what is good and forbid what is wrong and who observe God's limits. Give glad news to such believers.
Good engagement would mean Muslims will form a shura and decide what causes and politicians to prioritize supporting. It may mean supporting some imperfect people to achieve overall benefits. Can supporting a Muslim “Civic Engagement” organization be considered an act of worship? Yes, it absolutely can be. That does not mean it necessarily will be. This kind of thing is not new in the Muslim community, and Emgage did not invent it. However, such an endeavor can devolve into corruption if we allow it.
Plenty of what happens with Muslims in politics is emphatically not to benefit humanity. A Muslim that supplies optical equipment for armed drone makers used in the "war on terrorism" may want to donate to a politician because that is a cost of doing business in that sector. A Muslim may be involved in politics to add to a collection of pictures of himself shaking hands with Presidents and Governors through his career hanging in his office building. The politics of these elected officials are irrelevant.
A Muslim organization can get into politics and not benefit society. Unscrupulous actors can use nonprofits to help insiders at the expense of the Muslim community. They may also be used to facilitate our enjoining the good and forbidding evil.
Muslims are the Product
Emgage is not, as I will discuss in Part 8, dependent on Muslim donations. Instead, it overwhelmingly obtains grants from non-Muslim sources that want Emgage to provide access to Muslim voters. There is money available to do outreach and education for many minority groups within the United States.
Emgage will draft proposals to various "funders." In many cases, the identity of the funders is opaque. To obtain funding, Emgage will sign contracts with funders describing what it will do for the money it receives.
The Muslim community and its places of worship are products purchased by funders. Muslims offered up as products by nonprofit leaders is not bad in itself. Every Masjid with a newsletter with ad spots or spaces for a booth does it, though they have standards in keeping with their mission as Islamic organizations. Voter outreach and education can be beneficial, but there is a problem. The non-Muslim funders' agenda is what the funders are paying for, and any benefit to the Muslim community, if it exists, is coincidental.
Emgage did not make its proposals to funders or contracts available for this review.
The mere fact that an organization keeps information secret does not mean it is pernicious and the leaders have evil intent.
I have no reason to believe most staff and volunteers at the organization are anything other than mission-oriented and want to do the right thing. However, we need to put this lack of transparency in the context of the other facts I will discuss in later sections.
At this point, given the lack of transparency in who Emgage serves and what the organization is supposed to do for them, I cannot verify the soundness of the organization's mission.
I have had the opportunity to speak with various current and former employees and a board member at Emgage (I will not name any of them). While I did not have all of my questions answered and did not receive the documents I wanted, those I spoke with made an effort to provide the information they could within considerable internal constraints. Unfortunately, with some board and staff, negative publicity within the Muslim community had likely caused some to go into "bunker mode." I would have liked to have spoken to more board members and staff than I did. I have also talked to dozens of people familiar with Emgage, including leaders of organizations and community members who have had interactions with Emgage, both positive and negative.
Emgage publishes an annual report on its webpage. I was also able to obtain information from filings provided to the Federal Elections Commission, the Florida Secretary of State, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Internal Revenue Service, and other sources, including future conflict of interest documents provided by a board member. I have asked Emgage for certain documents I did not get. For example:
· Their Strategic Plans: Insiders at Emgage have told me national organization and individual chapters have strategic plans. However, these plans are needlessly confidential.
· Contracts with their largest funders and Proposals: Emgage is fundamentally a service provider. Most of its funds come from relatively few funders from outside the Muslim community. There are contracts, proposals, and often requests for proposals. It is hard to get a complete picture without access to this information.
· Financial Records: Some funders have obscured their identity by using intermediaries that hide the actual source. One former employee has made a public allegation about financial mismanagement at the organization (among other serious claims). Though her claims are all uncontroverted by the organization, I cannot verify them without documentation. Even so, they do not appear to concern the Muslim community's funds but rather those of its funders. It may be useful to know this information.
· Data and metrics: Emgage as an organization likes to discuss its goals and accomplishments in terms of numbers, for example 1 million Muslim voters. However, without a better understanding of its claims, these are unsubstantiated.
I am grateful for the information provided by some staff and the time they had spent explaining the organization and what they do. It is also helpful Emgage has filed statutorily required documents with state and federal regulators. However, because they have not made critical documents available, I would consider Emgage to be not transparent.
Part 3: Social Impact
Emgage, as an organization operating in the Muslim community in the United States, has been punching significantly above its weight. It has been growing at a torrid clip (mostly due to a limited set of non-Muslim funders).
There are some significant issues of concern with the organization documented elsewhere. Azzad Essa's recent article in Middle East Eye portrays Emgage as a political project actively hostile to American Muslims.
View of Peer Organizations
Emgage's sudden increased prominence in the U.S. Muslim community might be attributable in part to their cooperation with other Muslim groups that do "civic engagement” work. At the sidelines of the 2018 ISNA Convention, organizations including Polygon, CAIR, Jetpac, Mpower Change joined with Emgage to create MCET, the Muslim Civic Engagement Table- so the groups can mutually collaborate in reaching out to more Muslim voters. A representative of Emgage told me this includes a voter list for 14 states (worth about $100,000) that Emgage has made available to these other organizations. All of these organizations do keep certain data proprietary, but other data is shared. MCET has an email list, a WhatsApp group, and a monthly call.
It is more than MCET though, in Emgage’s 2019 annual report, the organization listed a wide range of partners. Some are funders, while others collaborated with them in some way.
MCET however became somewhat controversial after Sami Al-Arian spoke at an online event for CAIR-Florida. He took the opportunity to criticize Emgage for its ties to Zionism. CAIR-Florida then pulled the video. A leaked email from Abbas Barzegar, who represented CAIR at the time at the MCET group, referred to a "mutual defense pact" among MCET to come to the defense of Emgage after they came under criticism within the Muslim community.
There is no evidence organizations other than CAIR recognized any such pact. A CAIR employee informed me the "Mutual Defense Pact" email was "a joke." Other than CAIR's ham-handed attempt to muzzle Dr. Al-Arian (which did not work), there was no other evidence that such a pact existed.
The view of Emgage among MCET organizations tends to be positive. Those I have spoken to respect Emgage's employees. From my interaction with Emgage employees, I can understand this.
In 2019, Emgage applied to and in 2020 was admitted to the United States Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO), an "umbrella" organization of Muslim organizations including CAIR (the dominant organization), American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), and others. After some controversy within the Palestinian-American community, AMP claimed on September 22 to have not worked with Emgage directly or indirectly, calling allegations against it grave. They had a prohibition on working with Emgage until it meets certain demands. After a petition campaign, USCMO started to take Emgage's problems seriously. Emgage is no longer a USCMO member.
There are serious questions in the Muslim community about how Muslim organizations would have failed to vet Emgage before recognizing them as a peer. One representative of USCMO informed me that they are small, with only 1.5 employees. They do not have the resources to vet organizations and lean on CAIR to ensure the organization is deserving of membership.
Emgage’s Florida Reputation
CAIR's central role in giving Emgage legitimacy within the Muslim community is interesting, given Emgage's history in Florida, where CAIR has maintained multiple offices. Emgage has been banned in a great many Masajid in Florida in part because it has developed poor relationships with Muslim leaders throughout the state. While Emgage is a member of the South Florida Muslim Federation, it is not especially liked there. Maintaining poor relationships and having a reputation for detestable conduct in Florida seems to be more of a problem for Emgage in that state than any perceived Zionist or Hindutva sympathy (even though nobody will forget to list these). I had talked to several Muslim leaders in Florida who recounted several unethical and underhanded tactics, for example:
· "Muslim Brotherhood" conspiracy theory mongering: Floridian Muslims I spoke with told me Emgage Founder Farooq Mitha had told politicians seeking office not to invite or work with other Muslim leaders because of alleged ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.
· Attempting to take over someone else's political event: Muslims I spoke with recounted an instance where Emgage sold tickets to an event organized by someone else and told the venue they would be managing the event.
· Use of abusive and vulgar language. A prominent Muslim leader in Florida told me how he had to intervene when Farooq Mitha used vulgar language abusively against a Muslim woman activist.
· Guerrilla tactics at Masajid: Widespread bans of Emgage in Florida has resulted in Emgage sending people to Masajid and distributing literature without authorization, creating conflicts with Muslim leaders as well as local political leaders.
· Threat of violence: I was told of a fairly serious allegation of a threat of violence against a Muslim woman political activist by multiple Emgage board members. This was first told to me by a source other than the victim. However, I verified this allegation by speaking to the victim. I cannot share the circumstances or the board members involved; however, my interviews uncovered this incident fairly easily.
Emgage Outside Florida
Outside the Sunshine state, Emgage has not experienced bans from participating in Muslim spaces. There are a few reasons for this. The Muslim community is not as political as many people think it should be, though there has been controversy in places like Texas and Metro Detroit.
Emgage has also made some savvy hiring decisions where employees do not have the same reputation as their Florida-based founders and board members.
The Muslim community is not a community of activists generally attuned to the various political tripwires Emgage repeatedly set off, like the campaign for normalization of Zionism in the Muslim community (which I will get to below), or the 2018 Emgage endorsement of a Hindutva-supported congressional candidate Sri Preston Kulkarni. A lot of this, however, represents significant gaps between activists more up on the issues and everyday Muslims. It demonstrates a need for more and not less civic engagement education and engagement.
Kulkarni was quite popular with Muslims in his Houston district, and he went above and beyond what most politicians do to create this circumstance. He attended two Masajid in his district and prayed 20 rakats of tarawih, despite not being Muslim, and did this repeatedly.
Muslims in his district loved that. Unfortunately, he has some unsavory financial supporters and was reluctant to cross Hindutva supporters in his district. Recently, Emgage decided not to support Kulkarni in 2020.
How Emgage Vets Candidates
This, of course, raises the question of how Emgage determines who they endorse in the first place. There is a questionnaire Emgage has made available in their 2017 annual report that would help illustrate why:
This is not a useful questionnaire. Any candidate for political office that subscribes to Democratic orthodoxy will answer each of these questions correctly.
However, it is also useful to look at the questionnaires of other advocacy organizations before they hand out endorsements. From my review (here is an example from a conservative group), they are quite detailed and demanding and often require specific pledges and nail candidates down to their principles.
Emgage did get a separate questionnaire for Joe Biden. It’s more substantive, though certainly missed many vital issues, including abuses in the war on terrorism (I will address this in Part 6 on ethics since there appears to a good reason for the omission). I have requested the current survey for other candidates for office; however, Emgage did not provide this. Based on this record on vetting, the most charitable interpretation is that Emgage has a record of being unserious and unsophisticated about Muslim political engagement.
The Pro-Israel Thing
I won't be covering ground already covered in recent mostly Zionism-related controversies on Emgage. The best place for anyone to read about them is the "drop Emgage" petition. "Emgage's response can be found here. However, the sum of this work is that there has been a whole lot of energy within Emgage working with Pro-Israel groups with a strong anti-Muslim record, namely ADL and AJC. I will address ADL in the context of Ethics in Part 6. However, it's important to address why the "normalization" campaign is a problem for the Muslim community for reasons that have little to do with Zionism, Palestine, or even Islamophobia.
I was on the ISNA Executive Council in 2016, when the Muslim Jewish Advisory Council was announced. ISNA's then-Washington D.C. staff agreed to create MJAC without proper authorization. In my many conversations, I learned there are Muslim leaders who believe Palestine should not be as big of a priority for the Muslim community or that it somehow hinders progress on other issues or developing relationships with the right people. These are real concerns that come from serious people. However, the political priorities for the Muslim community should be determined authentically within the community through a real Shura.
The problem from my perspective with MJAC was not that it is wrong to engage with (talk to) Zionists, though any Muslim organization should be wary of co-branding things with those that have Islamophobic and Anti-Palestinian records that were not going to change. The stated goals of MJAC were laudable, including working against anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.
The biggest problem was that this was a transparent effort to divide the Muslim community. Efforts like MJAC and MLIwere about non-Muslims curating Muslim leadership. We should not be open to efforts by people who have records of opposing the Muslim community to divide us and highlight some voices while marginalizing others.
Emgage is perhaps unique among Muslim organizations in how deeply immersed its people have been with these kinds of projects repeatedly. This reflects on their institutional priorities.
Their denial of this is not credible.
Part 4: Governance
The Board of Directors is a "working board" as opposed" to a purely "governing board." Board members tend to center themselves frequently and are involved in meetings with politicians and various web events, to the extent they happen.
Based on my discussions (which is somewhat contradictory and has been pieced together with incomplete information), executive authority rests with the Board and some board members more than others. A major weakness in this structure is that there is no real oversight of executive decision-making since the people who are supposed to be doing the oversight are the same people making the most critical decisions.
In addition to the national Board, Emgage has various state boards of directors. These boards are not part of the official governance structure of the organization, though they can be important volunteers. Emgage does not have separate state-corporate entities. While Emgage has a history of highlighting such state board members, their existence does not tell us about governance.
The different organizations, the Emgage Foundation, Emgage Action, and Emgage PAC, have separate boards, though with some of the same people. There also appear to be no real standards for why a person is or is not on the Board of directors. It is not clear what unique skill sets any given board member brings to the table. There are no term limits. Emgage Foundation has removed references to its board members from its website in recent days. The board members' identity can vary depending on the website or different federal or state filings and the different kinds of entities. The only constant names you see through time are members of the Mitha family (Farooq Mitha and Amin Mitha) and Khurrum Wahid. Farooq Mitha and Khurrum Wahid appear to be disproportionately influential in the organization's management.
One Emgage board member told me they were aware of many problems with the Board (and several governance problems they have are common in Muslim organizations) and are working on it. The selection of decision-makers in the organization appears to be largely based on the ideology of Khurrum Wahid and Farooq Mitha, which is limiting when it comes to finding leadership talent for the organization, at least within the Muslim community. I will address issues with these two board members in Part 6, ethics.
Part 5: Executive Team
Wa'el Alzayat and has served as CEO since 2017. Alzayat does not appear to have had any prior nonprofit management or political organizing experience. I could not find a Federal Elections Commission record of him contributing to a political campaign or even Emgage's PAC (though this latter part is true for other board members and staff). What he does have, however, is work history in the State Department. Some of Alzayat's work, especially after the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War, has earned him wide respect among Syrian-American Activists.
Other parts of Alzyat's record make him a poor fit as a Muslim leader. Alyzayat's "expert' status with a think tank affiliated with AIPAC (the Israeli lobby) is an odd feather in the cap for someone whose job it is to galvanize Muslim voters, as is his affiliation with MJAC (discussed in Part 4). Also of note is Alzayat's work as a provincial officer for the U.S. occupation of Iraq, particularly during the so-called "surge" (Bush's second-term escalation of violence) in Anbar province, which he seems to believe is a positive credential. The war and occupation caused widespread death and devastation in Iraq that is likely to continue for generations.
While Alzayat is the titular CEO, my interviews from within the organization have led me to conclude he is not in charge. However, the reasons why this is are not entirely consistent, likely a reflection of a spaghetti-like org chart. One of his biggest challenges is that board members tend to micromanage operations, a common problem with "working boards." The CEO does not have any real ability to lead.
The same might be said about the various "Executive Directors" operating in different parts of the country (though dynamics may vary from region to region). One Executive Director had told a group of Emgage employees last year that she was little more than a Secretary to the Board and felt threatened by it.
Another Executive Director told me Alzayat was a real CEO; however, he has no role in the strategic direction of the various state operations. The CEO's role is to make sure other Executive Directors follow the plans he had no role in creating. The Executive Directors have state boards who have the same function. The elections world is seasonal, so depending on the time of year and the year itself, up to half or more of Emgage’s employees hold a managerial title.
As far as executive leadership goes, the picture is confused and messy, though it is clear there is no professional CEO here at all.
Executive Team Score
Part 6: Ethics
A disclaimer to start this section: When I address ethics issues, I do not mean professional ethics for any profession (like lawyers or doctors) or violations of laws. Indeed I am not alleging anyone from Emgage has violated any laws. In the political world in the United States, many things that look like flagrant corruption are perfectly legal and, indeed, completely normal. My goal is to hold Muslim nonprofits and leaders to a higher standard.
Conflicts of Interest Policy
Emgage Board members sign conflicts of interest policies. This is a requirement of the state of Florida, where Emgage is based. An example of a prohibited conflict of interest would be a board member hiring himself as a consultant and siphoning off donated funds. However, the conflict of interest policy is silent on what is likely to be the most significant abuses: the use of a position to advocate for the Muslim community in order to obtain a position with a campaign or government agency or seek other personal gains, such as government contracts or private lobbying contracts. This is the kind of conflict of interest that got me to write about Muslim community matters in the first place.
Farooq Mitha, who now works for the Biden campaign to do outreach to the Muslim Community (and previously held a similar role for the Clinton campaign), continues to be a member of the Board (though an insider told me he is "inactive."). Any board member or senior staff that harbors a desire to join the government or a political party's machinery may find this desire may color their advocacy. Corporate and government conflict of interest rules often address similar risks. Say, for example, when a person works for the Environmental Protection Agency, helps a chemical company in a regulatory matter, then goes and works for the chemical company. There are rules about such things elsewhere but those rules don't exist for Emgage.
Emgage has not addressed this issue. It is also true that Muslim organizations, particularly those that engage with government and politics, don't have such conflict rules either.
Seeing through Clouds, to Murder People
Emgage Board Member Khurram Wahid is known as a criminal defense lawyer. Wahid claims another business, however, one with contracts with the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland security. Indeed, in a video interview, Wahid talks about an example of his work, helping the Department of Defense figure out how to see through clouds.
Children growing up in parts of Pakistan and other Muslim-majority countries started to dislike sunny days since this means American drone strikes. In the past, drones could not see through clouds, a problem the government has been trying to solve. In the Trump era, Drone strikes have only increased and have become less accountable.
The problem this presents for the Muslim community is that people who seek to profit from politics have different priorities from those interested in benefiting humanity. Emgage, in its candidate survey of Biden, asked nothing regarding the global war on terrorism, including the practice of regular drone strikes with no accountability. Given Wahid’s business interests, this makes perfect sense.
An ADL Problem
Another form of potential conflict of interest is when people volunteer for organizations that are hostile to the Muslim community. For Emgage, this is a glaring problem with board member Khurrum Wahid, who has served the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) for a decade. The Anti-Defamation League styles itself as a "civil rights organization"- though this is a dubious claim. Much of the organization's work involves smearing Muslim institutions and leaders to delegitimize them in civil society. Jewish Voice for Peace addressed the problems with ADL, so I will not belabor them.
One of the things Khurrum Wahid has done about his service to ADL is to rewrite it. On his webpage originally dedicated to his service to the ADL (I will get to that), Wahid writes about himself "Khurrum has been an advocate for the human rights of all people, including Palestinians." However, he goes on to say:
Khurrum has played the role of a resource on civil rights and national security law to various organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League. As the national chair of Emgage, he is also involved with the national Muslim Jewish Advisory Council, MJAC, which is a vehicle create (sic) by the AJC and ISNA.
While this website content was dated in 2015, this is unlikely as MJAC was created in 2016. In 2016, based on the internet archive, the same webpage looked like this:
In this earlier version, he omits the part about human rights. He simply goes on to state his position (which is significantly more commitment than "a resource"), and he writes out ADL's mission, which includes training law enforcement and advocacy for Israel. Wahid has prominently included his affiliation and political identification with ADL as part of his biography for speaking engagements for years.
Serving both an anti-Muslim organization along with a Muslim Advocacy organization is a difficult task.
Wahid owns at least one lobbying/ governmental affairs concern, known as Axcis Partners.
It is not, however, clear what this business does or who its clients are. The mere fact that he does this, though, presents another conflict of interest.
Conflicts of interest should be a relevant factor when deciding to give anyone a position of trust. This should be no different for Muslim organizations.
Farooq Mitha (and his father Amin Mitha) are both co-founders and board members. Emgage’s mail all goes to the Mitha family’s motel in Florida. At the same time, Farooq Mitha is the Muslim Engagement Coordinator for the Biden Campaign. The Mithas are Ismaili, followers of the Aga Khan.
All people have a right to follow their faith tradition, including Mitha. However, followers of the Aga Khan appear to have less in common with Muslims theologically than followers of other faith traditions, including Christians and Jews (see Sh. Yasir Qadi's brief explanation of the tradition’s beliefs). The theological issues are beside the point though and can be distracting to some. More important is that Ismailis do not generally share the same spaces as Muslims (either Sunni or Shia). While it is common to see Sunnis and Shias (I mean Ithna Ashari) pray in the same direction, go to hajj and fast in Ramadan, this is not generally true of followers of the Aga Khan. This has a real effect on political advocacy. One Muslim woman I spoke to who interacted with Mitha told me he was dismissive of her when she brought up the no-fly list. The concerns of Muslims, ranging from civil rights to foreign policy, are not his issues. One criticism I heard from a Muslim activist in Florida is that Mitha has adopted a "Muslim" professional profile that is not rightfully his largely in service of the national security state.
Bringing People Together
One Emgage Board member I spoke with took exception to the notion that Mitha's religion should be an issue at all. We should look at Mitha's effectiveness, not his religion. This board member claimed Mitha has a record of bringing Sunnis and Shias together. However, I have seen no evidence of this record beyond the claim. Indeed, Mitha's record in working with Muslims appears to be abysmal. As I stated in part 3 of this report, Mitha has spread Islamophobic "Muslim Brotherhood" conspiracy theories about actual Muslim leaders to prevent them from participating in events with politicians. Nadia Ahmad, an activist and law professor in Florida who wrote about Emgage at Mondoweiss, portrayed Mitha as a hindrance to Muslim engagement in politics, not a facilitator of it. This view of Mitha is consistent with my own discussions with Muslims who have had dealings with Mitha. There is no real evidence he is interested in helping Muslims anywhere.
I also inquired about Mitha's ability to bring Ismailis and Muslims together. From my conversations with employees of Emgage, there does not appear to be any record of Emgage doing voter education and outreach among Ismailis. One Emgage regional executive director I spoke with told me Emgage is open to working with "everyone"- and this person viewed Ismailis as being no different from Christians, Jews, Hindus, and Atheists in this regard. Those I spoke to from among staff or peers familiar with Emgage do not recall any outreach or education at all at an Ismaili place of worship. This was especially notable for Florida, where Muslim places of worship have banned Emgage for years and where Mitha is part of the local Ismaili community. For anyone who thinks Mitha is about bringing "Muslim Sects" together, Emgage is not that project, and Mitha is not that leader.
Jews for Jesus Engagement
For the Biden campaign, hiring Mitha as the "Muslim engagement" person is akin to asking someone from "Jews for Jesus" to be the Jewish engagement director, except that the Jews for Jesus guy is not interested in increasing serious Jewish engagement or really Jews for Jesus people either.
Part 7: Zakat Policy
Emgage's donation page does not include an option for donating Zakat. A former staff member I had spoken to had informed me that in the past, Emgage had taken Zakat. I have not verified this information, and even so, it may not be current.
Given the lack of a Zakat option on their donation solicitation page and that an Emgage executive has credibly told me that Emgage does not currently solicit or accept Zakat, I accept current staff at their word.
As a result, this policy is perhaps the brightest part of Emgage and makes them far superior to many other Muslim organizations in this one limited respect. You should not donate your Zakat to Emgage- something they will tell you themselves.
I am giving Emgage a perfect score for Zakat policy as they do not advertise accepting Zakat and a current Executive Director assured me, they do not accept such funds. This only reflects a positive view of their Zakat policy, but not Emgage as an organization.
Zakat Policy Score
Part 8: Financials.
Emgage would not share any information beyond what is available publicly through government filings. You can find filings with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services here.
Emgage has done very well financially. Emgage Action, in particular, the 501(c)(4) "social welfare organization" has seen impressive growth. In 2016, their revenue (it was Emerge Action at the time) barely registered. However, for their 2019 form 990, they showed revenue of $673,698, up from $231,196 the year prior, an increase of 191.4%, and this was in a non-election year. This was far more money than they knew what to do with, at least in 2019. Emgage Foundation, the 501(c)(3), has also seen growth, though not as spectacular as its corporate sibling. They raised $1,190,306. The biggest problem with both organizations is that it demonstrates Emgage does not have grassroots support in the Muslim community.
The Muslim community, as a whole, has the resources to fund organizations significantly larger than Emgage.
Indeed their overall budget for organizers and staff in six states is smaller than some individual Muslim places of worship. The Emgage Political Action Committee, which has not received grants, raised $18,482 for the 2020 cycle (as of June). However, it raised $110,994 in the 2018 election cycle.
Much of Emgage's (both the (c)(3) and the (c)(4)) funding comes from grants from non-Muslim organizations. The biggest funder is by far the Open Society Foundations (OSF). Some funders (including OSF) are well-known in the progressive world and have funded various causes that are good and valuable if your politics are progressive (and that is a whole lot of Muslims), though what value they offer to Muslims in our communal affairs is questionable. Much of the funding is opaque since it is directed through intermediaries. Grants through entities like Donor Advised Funds and Family Foundations are commonly used by wealthy families to lower administrative costs and tax planning. They can also be used to hide the flow of money. This is often called “dark money” in the political world.
Funders often have an agenda. That agenda may be that they love Islam and the Muslim community and want the betterment of it based on our values. However, I don't think it is wise to make this assumption, with the exception of the relatively few Muslim funders. The funding profile of the organization as well as the circumstances of its founders (see part 6, ethics) makes Emgage look more like an AstroTurf concern.
Without a better understanding of funding by making underlying contracts and funding proposals public, it is impossible to rate Emgage's financials well.
Part 9: Conclusion: A Cautionary Tale
Muslims, including Muslim organizations, should avoid Emgage as it does not exist as a benefit for the Muslim community. One Muslim leader in Florida told me he recognized years ago Emgage was a “bad faith actor.” There is overwhelming evidence he is correct.
The work Emgage aspires to do is good. Get Muslims civically engaged, advocate, for important issues. Emgage was not the first to do this, and their work is not essential to the Muslim community. We do not need them.
Emgage is also a cautionary tale for Muslim leaders and organizations. If you are a Muslim leader, you need to vet organizations you work with, invite to your Masajid, sit with or invite to panels, or speak at their events. Many Muslim leaders follow a vetting process of judging individual “good brothers” or “good sisters” at an organization. The good people who are employees, volunteers, and donors cannot mask the corruption at the heart of Emgage. We need a better way to vet organizations.
I will be updating my review of Emgage. It is possible that with new facts, my analysis will change. To see additional updates on Emgage and other reviews of Muslim nonprofits, subscribe to the Working Towards Ehsan Newsletter.