With the future unclear for the recently expired Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), federal data suggest that Muslims were yet another group on the wrong side of systemic inequities when the program was in effect. For reasons that might well repeat themselves if PPP is renewed.
Two Muslim organizations told TYT they were not aware of any incidents of individual bias, but Small Business Administration (SBA) data — and anecdotal reports from one Muslim group — suggest that banking’s existing inequities affected access to government relief.
Although Muslims make up an estimated 1.1 percent of the U.S. population, Muslim religious institutions accounted for only 0.36 percent of religious organizations reported as receiving more than $150,000 through the PPP.
“It certainly does raise a number of questions,” said Robert S. McCaw, director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) government affairs department, in response to TYT’s findings.
Some of those questions may have entirely innocent answers. For instance, the SBA did not name employers receiving less than $150,000, and Islam may have fewer large houses of worship per capita in the U.S. than Christianity and Judaism do. (The SBA gave churches a potentially unconstitutional exemption from a ban on loans to organizations affiliated with large institutions — which many Christian churches are.)
“Without a complete picture on the PPP loan program’s data, it’s hard to know whether these numbers are a cause of concern for mosques and Islamic community centers,” McCaw said.
And Islam itself posed a stumbling block of sorts. PPP’s relief came in the form of loans that will be forgiven if certain conditions are met — but otherwise require repayment with interest. Some Muslims consider interest-bearing loans to be against their teachings.
Islamic banking, which involves profit-sharing rather than interest payments, is offered by some community lenders, especially in heavily Muslim areas. But only a handful of larger financial institutions, including JP Morgan Chase, offer some version of it.
“The issue I have heard is that communities were reluctant to apply due to religious concerns,” said Saif Rahman, director of government and public affairs for the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center, which counseled Muslims around the country on PPP.
Rahman said the loans were “problematic for many institutions that we had discussions with.”
Another issue Muslims faced — along with other disenfranchised groups — was that the SBA didn’t direct the loans, banks did, and favored their richest clients. According to Rahman, that had an impact on Muslims.
“Smaller banks tended to be much better to [non-profit] institutions than larger banks,” Rahman said. “Larger banks tended to favor larger institutions.”
SBA data appear to reflect that. America’s two biggest banks, Chase and Bank of America, gave loans to five and ten Muslim religious institutions, respectively. Only three other loans of more than $150,000 were made to Muslim religious organizations by America’s top 15 banks, specifically, KeyBank, Fifth Third Bank, and Citizens Bank.
The other ten — PNC, Truist, Wells Fargo, TD Bank, U.S. Bank, Zions Bank, M&T Bank, Huntington Bank, BMO Harris Bank, and Cross River Bank — issued no loans of more than $150,000 to Muslim religious groups.
Instead, as Rahman suggested, smaller financial companies stepped up, including credit unions and community banks. (Both Dar Al-Hijrah and CAIR received PPP loans, as well.)
Not surprisingly in an effort this massive and quick, there were bureaucratic hiccups. “Religious organizations, they were saying, would not qualify,” Rahman said. “Then they changed that.”
Rahman said, however, that, with “banks overall, many Muslim organizations have faced issues…especially post September 11th.” He cited reports of Muslims being “unequally targeted” by banks, some of which reportedly closed long-standing accounts in the years after 9/11.
“Because of the issue of ‘Muslim while banking,’” McCaw said, “where larger banks are known to close the accounts of Muslim organizations, are they now banking with local credit unions?” He added, “Finally, is the Trump Administration doing as good a job communicating the PPP loan program to the Muslim community as it has done with their Christian counterparts?”
NPR reported that some black pastors had trouble accessing PPP funding, and that 28 churches, two synagogues, and a mosque were denied funding.
TYT’s analysis of the SBA data found 39 Islamic organizations among the 10,682 PPP recipients classified as religious organizations. Muslim organizations were identified based on keywords including, “Muslim,” “Islam,” “Mosque,” “Masjid,” “Sunni,” and variations of “Shi’a.”
The SBA broke down recipients according to ranges of amounts received. The data showed the following proportions of Muslim recipients compared to overall recipients, in the category of religious institutions:
- $150,000-$350,000: 25 out of 7002 (0.36 percent)
- $350,000-$1 million: 13 out of 3003 (0.43 percent)
- $1 million-$2 million: 1 out of 473 (0.2 percent)
- $2 million-$5 million: 0 out of 184
Some Islamic organizations received grants under other categories, such as schools or civic institutions. A search of all 661,218 named PPP recipients turned up 74 organizations with Islamic names, amounting to just over one one-hundredth of a percent.