Muslim Council of Britain calls for review into 'arbitrary' closing of Muslim accounts

Muslim Council of Britain calls for review into 'arbitrary' closing of Muslim accounts
4 min read
03 August, 2023
In an open letter to the UK Prime Minister, the Muslim Council of Britain called for a review of what it has identified as the widespread practice of banks arbitrarily closing the accounts of British Muslims and Muslim-led organisations.
Zara Mohammed is the Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain [Getty]

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has urged UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to call for a review over the alleged arbitrary closure of bank accounts belonging to Muslim individuals and organisations.

An open letter published Tuesday and authored by the MCB’s Secretary General Zara Mohammed asks Sunak to act over "the many law-abiding Muslim individuals and Muslim-led organisations that have been gravely impacted by the arbitrary withdrawal of banking services."

Mohammed contrasts Sunak’s recent "decisive intervention" in calling for the NatWest Group to reinstate services to former UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader and far-right figurehead Nigel Farage with his silence on the "unhindered" practice of banks doing the same to Muslims and Muslim-oriented organisations.   

The MCB letter claims that many high-profile Muslim individuals and charities have been targeted, but, unlike Farage, have not had the platform to protest and speak about their cases to banks, the media or the government, which is why a review is necessary. 

Calling for the review, Mohamed wrote: "We urge you to ensure that any review … examines why British Muslims and Muslim-led organisations appear to be systematically singled out, and disproportionately impacted, by this practice."

'Silencing' of activists?

Farage’s case involved Coutts, an exclusive private lender, closing his account due to, as was quoted in the bank’s own internal documentation, a fear of reputational damage over Farage’s alleged "promotion of xenophobic, chauvinistic and racist views".

The bank walked back its decision after a campaign of outrage by the UK's right-wing media and interventions from Sunak and Home Secretary Suella Braverman.

The incident led to questions on whether the targeting of Muslims had anything to do with their political views on Israel and Palestine, or other areas where they might go against the UK political consensus.

Most recently, Anas Altikriti, the CEO and founder of The Cordoba Foundation, which is a Muslim advisory and research group, took to social media to condemn Barclays bank for arbitrarily placing his bank accounts under "review", making him £500,000 overdrawn. 

In a series of tweets, Altikriti documented the bizarre occurrences with his account, which he said had left him "locked out of my means to move around and purchase essentials for myself and my family."

Two days before Barclays froze his account, he had written an op-ed criticising banks for targeting him and other Muslim activists and organisations in the past, as well as the media hypocrisy in not covering it in the way they did with Farage. 

Responding to speculation by some on Twitter that the freezes may have come down to other reasons, the think tank CEO said he has had six closed accounts over the years and he does not believe this pattern is a coincidence.

One of these closures involved the controversial 2015 case of HSBC closing the accounts of individuals allegedly linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, based on the fact the UAE had deemed the group to be "terrorists", despite no such designation in the UK. 

It is not yet known why Barclays has suspended Altikriti’s accounts, or whether or not he is being targeted for his political views.

However, the Iraqi-born activist, who advocates for Palestinian resistance and has supported the 'Islamic democracy' of the Muslim Brotherhood, clearly believes this to be the case, tweeting: "It is clear that I’m being silenced and the banks realise that I don’t have the means available to someone like Nigel Farage nor the media access he does."

When contacted, a spokesperson for Barclays told The New Arab that while they cannot comment on any individual account, "we comply with our legal and regulatory obligations. We would only withdraw banking services from an individual or business in exceptional circumstances".

"We support the government’s initiatives to standardise the approach across banks, including non-exclusion on the basis of political views or beliefs,", they added.