Western Union Blocks Muslims' Transfer
By Sahar Kassaimah
"Americans who have not committed any wrongdoing must be able to
transfer money without any problems or delays," Ayloush told IOL.
WASHINGTON Western Union, a global money transfer agency, has
delayed or blocked thousands of cash deliveries by American Muslims on
suspicion of terrorist connections simply because senders or
recipients have names like Mohammed or Ahmed, drawing rebuke from the
community as a yet another form of identity harassment.
Mohammad Kamran Habib, a 29-year-old engineer at Cisco Systems in San
Jose, California, tried to make a payment to an Arabic teaching
institution when Western Union blocked his money transfer without any
"I just enrolled recently in a distance learning program for Arabic
Language," he told IslamOnline.net.
"The institute is based in Cairo and the only way for students to pay
their tuition fees is to send them via Western Union," he explained.
Habib said he wasn't able to send his money transfer to Egypt and the
online transaction gave him an error.
"It didn't even give me a MTCN number which it should do even if a
response was rejected," he noted.
Western Union, one of the world's most frequently used money transfer
services, is based in the United States and owned by First Data
Its North American headquarters are in Greenwood Village, Colorado,
and its international marketing and commercial services headquarters
are in Montvale, New Jersey.
The financial services and communications company has 270,000 agent
locations in over 200 countries and territories.
Habib took pains to understand from Western Union official what the
problem was but in vain.
"When I called them and explained the situation to them, their
employee told me very politely that she didn't understand what was
going on and she tried to approve the transaction because I answered
all the three security questions she asked me," he added.
"But she was unable to approve it."
Habib said that after asking the supervisor, the same employee told
him that apparently the system is not allowing her to approve the
transaction because of "business justification"
He took his complaint to the supervisor, asking why his transaction
was not being approved.
"She kept repeating the same thing that her computer is saying that it
cannot be approved because of business justification."
Habib, a software engineer, knows that computer programs don't
automatically know what the business justification is until it's
defined on the system.
But when he told that to the supervisor, she refused to give him any
"And to date, my money is still blocked," fumed.
Another Muslim American from an Arab descent, who requested anonymity,
said his money transfer was also blocked because his first name is
Like thousands of other Muslims, he was trying to send an
international money transfer to his brother in Egypt, but he was
surprised to hear that his money would not be released.
However, this Mohammed was lucky because his transaction was only
delayed for one hour.
"They only asked for identity verification and they released the
money," he said.
"It took me one hour to solve the problem, but I am sure it could
happen again in the future."
Western Union clerks insist they are simply following US Treasury
Department guidelines that aim to scrutinize cash flows for terrorist
links, which apply to money transfers made anywhere.
Western Union routinely delays or blocks transfers between customers
whose names even partially match names on the Treasury list, which
features names that contain hundreds of Mohammeds and Ahmeds.
According to Western Union, the money is usually released once
suspects can show identity documents that prove they are not on the list.
The Treasury Department has defended use of the program, saying it
plays a vital role in efforts to identify terrorist financiers.
Some Muslims and Arabs are thinking of alternative money transfer
agencies from where they can send their wires with less monitoring and
Many of them are also left wondering if the so-called war on terrorism
will cause them to actually lose the exact freedom and civil rights
that such policies are aimed at preserving.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest Muslim
civil rights advocacy in the US, insisted that the department has the
right to fight terrorism, but not over Arab and Muslim Americans rights.
"A comprehensive policy has to be implemented by the Treasury
Department to ensure accuracy in efforts to fight terrorism and stop
funneling of money to terrorists," Husam Ayloush, executive director
of CAIR Los Angeles chapter, told IOL.
"But at the same time, those Americans who have not committed any
wrongdoing must be able to transfer money without any problems or
delays," he stressed.
Ayloush said CAIR's national office has met with Western Union to
eliminate errors and ensure innocent individuals are able to transfer
money without any fears or obstacles.
"We also urged Western Union to change its forms to include the first
name, last name and middle initial of the sender and the recipient to
help reduce false positives that could delay money transfers
otherwise," he added.
"CAIR also filed an FOIA request with the Treasury Department to
become aware of what procedures are used to put the list together."
Iman al-Asyouti believes these regulations seem like an accusation for
every single Muslim American.
"It means that they [the government] treat us as terrorists until we
could prove the opposite," she said.
"It seems like a joke to me and I still can't believe that things like
this are happening here, in America," she fumed.
However, some Americans believe that these regulations are not
justified but the natural result of what Muslim extremists have done.
"Muslim extremists declared a holy war against America. So targeting
Muslims to protect our country makes sense to me," said Gaby Giuliani, 30.
"I know, you guys are under strong pressure, but we are also under a
But Muslims and Arab Americans counter that there must be a better way
to fight terrorism without tightening the noose around the necks of
"It is not my mistake that some terrorists have the same name as
mine," complained Ahmad Najati, a student at a California State
"Our government needs to realize that not all terrorists are Muslims
or Arabs," he said.
Najati, 21, asserted that American Muslims should not have to pay for
Muslim extremists' mistakes just as Christian Americans shouldn't pay
for those of Timothy McVeigh, the terrorist responsible for the
Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.
"Are they blocking money transfers to people whose name is Timothy or
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