Ahead of Ramadan, Reps. Tlaib, Beatty, Cleaver & Omar Lead Call for Big Banks and Regulators to Address ‘Banking While Muslim’ Disparities

April 23, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C.  – Yesterday, Congressmembers Rashida Tlaib (MI-13), Joyce Beatty (OH-03), Emanuel Cleaver, II (MO-05), and Ilhan Omar (MN-05) sent two letters cosigned by 18 of their colleagues to federal financial regulators and three big banks calling on them all to address banking disparities and difficulties experienced by individuals, businesses, and charities that “bank while Muslim.”

The phrase “banking while Muslim” refers to the phenomenon of many Muslim and Arab Americans being wrongfully deemed high risk and unbankable as a result of post-9/11 rules defined through the USA PATRIOT Act and other measures to strengthen the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA). As such, countless Muslim and Arab individuals, businesses, and charities have had limited  access to financial services. As today marks the beginning of Ramadan and amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, Muslim and Arab Americans need unhindered access to financial services more than ever.

“Banking as a charity/nonprofit and ‘banking while Muslim’ are not crimes and must stop being treated as such,” the lawmakers wrote. “As elected officials, it is our responsibility to amplify the voices of those who feel powerless in the face of big banks and regulators. We are therefore advocating for a more inclusive financial system, and we reject the notion that there is a binary choice between creating financial inclusion and protecting our financial system from abuse by illicit actors.”

The letter provided one example of an organization that’s suffered as a result of “banking while Muslim”: LaunchGood, a crowdfunding platform focused on serving the Muslim community, which was warned by WePay and its financial partner, Chase Bank, that they would be losing their services and engagement ceased because they had perceived LaunchGood to be a high-risk organization. Most recently, Muslim groups rallied to raise a whopping $500,000 for coronavirus relief grants via LaunchGood, further highlighting the need for federal financial regulators and banks to act as the lawmakers are urging.

The lawmakers also posed a series of questions related to “banking while Muslim,” including whether they could provide specific data to demonstrate their institution’s stated commitment to non-discrimination policies, and whether those policies could be made public.

“As Muslims around the world embark on this season of charitable giving, and as the urgent need for humanitarian aid continues amid the coronavirus pandemic, it is imperative that we address the issue of banking discrimination,” the lawmakers went on to write.

The list of co-signers and copy of the letter to federal financial regulators, including Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, can be viewed here.

The list of co-signers and copy of the letter to three big banks, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, and Bank of America, can be viewed here.