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By Linda S. Heard


Muslims in America have endured a rough ride over the past years. They have often been treated with suspicion, sometimes humiliated by authorities and have even been attacked verbally and physically. Many are grateful that there is one organization dedicated to looking after their interests The Council on American-Islamic Relations, known as CAIR.

CAIR, a nonprofit, grassroots civil rights and advocacy group was set-up in 1994 by Nihad Awad, Omar Ahmad and Rafiq Jabar to promote a positive image of Islam and its adherents in North America through media relations, advocacy, lobbying and the provision of education.  

Nihad Awad was one of a small group of Muslim leaders invited to join President George W. Bush at the White House to condemn the 9-11 attacks and the ensuing anti-Islamic hysteria.

CAIR’s Civil Rights Department counsels, mediates and advocates on behalf of individuals who have been discriminated against or are the victims of hate crimes. Its Communications Department monitors the media both to challenge negative stereotypes and to encourage positive depictions of Muslims.

It regularly offers conferences, workshops and seminars for media, government, law enforcement, employers and teachers to help them understand Islam. It also helps train Muslims in public speaking, civil rights law and how to be an effective advocate.

Today, CAIR, whose head office is in Washington D.C. has 32 regional offices all over the US and Canada and cooperates closely with the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, and the Japanese American Citizens League, among many other civil liberties groups.

Action alerts

CAIR seeks to empower American Muslims within the larger community and issues ‘action alerts’ in order to elicit a grassroots response to political, social and media issues related to Muslims and Islam.

One of the latest on its website urges Muslims to write politely to the editor of the Investors’ Business Daily to complain about an article dated May 3, titled “A Muslim-friendly America?”

The column complains about a decision made by the Kansas City International Airport to build a place of worship for Muslim taxi drivers.

“The cabbies complained it was hard to wash their feet and other body parts before praying to Allah in the existing kaffir bathrooms” writes the column’s author sarcastically. “You would think 9/11 would have marginalized militant Muslims”, he goes on, “But it’s only emboldened them. Now they’re demanding foot-baths in restrooms – and getting them!”  “What’s next, prayer-rug cleaning or box-cutting dispensers”, asks the anonymous author?

Another alert centers around a letter in the Santa Maria Times written by Charlene Whitfield expressing her concern about Muslims living in America and advising all Americans to read “Because they Hate” itself a hate-filled tome against Muslims by Brigitte Gabriel.

A third highlights a piece in the Tucson Citizen about Keith Ellison, a Muslim Congressman who elected to be sworn into office on the Quran. The writer describes the Holy Book as a “document of hate, death and purpose of a world caliphate incompatible with our laws” and asks Speaker Pelosi to watch Ellison carefully to ensure he doesn’t espouse the adoption of a caliphate.  “The camel’s nose has entered the tent” writes this author, whose name is not mentioned.

A fourth focuses on a piece in the Belleville News Democrat that begins “People seem blind to the threat of the new Nazi Party, also known as Islam”. It no longer appears on the website so one might construe that CAIR’s action alerts are having an effect.

The Chicago chapter of CAIR condemned Andrea Zinga, a congressional candidate for the 17th district of Illinois for saying “Profiling doesn’t bother me. If we are profiling the people who have caused the outrages against our nation and caused the deaths of American citizens, we’re talking about Middle Eastern men. We do know that the Islamic culture is bent on conquering and subjugating a great deal of the world including us”.

Other alerts encourage American Muslims to urge US action on Middle East peace and call for the government to expedite an orderly withdrawal from Iraq. There are also calls to support concrete action to alleviate suffering in Darfur, Sudan and to end racial profiling within the US.

Media disputes

CAIR has successfully lobbied against movies and television series that show Muslims in a negative light. For two years it complained about the film ‘The Sum of All Fears’ to Paramount, and managed to get the studio to replace what were to be Muslim terrorists with neo-Nazis.

In 2005, CAIR complained to Fox about its drama series “24”, which portrayed Muslims as terrorists. After meeting with CAIR executives, Fox agreed to air a public service announcement by CAIR and distribute this to its affiliates. It is also believed that Fox removed content from certain of its episodes, deemed by CAIR as offensive, although the network has been reluctant to confirm this. Fox was subsequently blasted by rightwing elements, including Daniel Pipes and Front Page Magazine for caving in to CAIR’s demands.

In 2006, CAIR issued a complaint concerning The Bill Handel Show, which it said had mocked the deaths of Muslims on pilgrimage to Mecca and received an apology from the KFI station that broadcasts the show.

Offensive products

In 1997, CAIR confronted NIKE over a logo design on a range of summer basketball products that was similar to the Arabic for Allah. The manufacture ordered a recall and worked with CAIR on graphics that would not be offensive to Muslims.


In 2003, CAIR ran a series of ads in major newspapers on the theme of “I’m an American and I’m a Muslim” outlining the brief bios of successful Muslims, such as Dr. Aisha Simon, who attended the medical college of Virginia, completed her residency at Georgetown University and said she would soon be attending Harvard University to earn her Master’s Degree in public health. Another ad features the faces of three young Americans and asks “Which one is a Muslim?”

Educational programs

CAIR set up a library project that entailed the selling of books and tapes about Islam for onward donation to public libraries and in 2006 during the cartoon controversy, it launched a program entitled “Explore the Life of Mohammed” that invited anyone interested in Islam to request free books or DVDs about the life of the Prophet (PBUH). CAIR also started an “Explore Islam” campaign aimed at distributing copies of the Quran free on request.

Assisting individuals

CAIR sometimes asks for donations to help individuals such as a Muslim convert, who risked losing custody of her nine-year-old son after she embraced Islam and married a Moroccan. The boy’s father sought custody so that his son could enjoy a normal life in an “all-American home”, and was backed up by a social worker.

The mother claimed that anti-Islamic bias was central to the dispute. “There is nothing ‘un-American’ about an Islamic home and assertions to the contrary are based on stereotyping and prejudice”, said CAIR’s Civil Rights Manager Joshua Salaam.

In another case a five-year-old boy was returned to his Muslim mother after he had been removed because she had married an Egyptian and embraced Islam. The woman’s father had accused his daughter of engaging in “bizarre behavior”, which included “wearing Muslim garb” and declaring herself to be a Muslim. Due to CAIR’s advocacy it became a high-profile case.


Its critics have often cast slurs on CAIR to the effect it backs terror whereas CAIR helped organize a fatwa or religious edict against terrorism and religious extremism.  It has launched an online ‘Not in the Name of Islam” petition drive that reads “We, the undersigned, wish to state clearly that those who commit acts of terror and murder in the name of Islam are not only destroying innocent lives, but are also devastating the image of the faith they claim to represent.  CAIR has also vehemently condemned attacks on synagogues and other places of worship.

Yet despite its best efforts to seek a rapport between all faiths and clearly show its distaste for terrorism, CAIR is held under a microscope by its enemies who believe the group is a front for extremists and will one day trip up. In fact, several websites have been set-up for the express purpose of attacking CAIR, its official and employees.

CAIR’s national spokesman Ibrahim Hooper, a Bosnian-American convert to Islam, a man often in the firing line, was asked last year on PBS whether attitudes in America have softened towards Muslims.

“Well it’s a mixed bag really”, he said. “We have a situation – and we do polling on these kinds of things, on attitudes towards Islam, and what we’re finding is that there’s a hard core – perhaps up to 20 percent of Americans – who have real hostility towards Islam. There’s a good middle ground that’s more or less neutral, and there’s another end that’s somewhat sympathetic. So I think we need to reach out to that middle ground”.

When asked whether anti-Muslim attitudes in the US are increasing, Hooper responded thus: “I…unfortunately, I think they are, or at least becoming more vocal. It’s more accepted now to attack Islam as an intrinsically violent faith, and that’s a disturbing phenomenon. And that’s what we would hope leaders – religious leaders, political leaders – would speak out against”.

As long as CAIR and similar groups in America stick to their principles and keep up the pressure, there may soon come a day when they will.


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