CAIR Marks 20 Years On the Front Lines Defending American Muslims, Civil Rights

Community News


Right before the start of Ramadan, on June 22, the Council on American-Islamic Relations or CAIR as it is known, held a celebratory 20th year anniversary community picnic. Begun as a small office on K Street in Washington D.C., and now with nearly 30 offices and chapters from coast to coast; it is readily acknowledged as the nation's preeminent Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization. As such, a retrospective of CAIR's role and legacy is worthy to make mention of in these times.  In the beginning CAIR was created as an organization that challenges stereotypes of Islam and Muslims.(CAIR letter to Vice President Gore, 10/06/1995) and continues to do that and so much more.

According to Executive Director Nihad Awad, "At 20 I say to the American Muslims: we have come a long way.  Its day and night between 1994 and 2014. Now you have a voice and your voice is heard - and moving forward we have to continue to organize, mobilize, and assert ourselves through coalitions and supporting one another and standing together." In full disclosure, I am a big supporter of CAIR's work and volunteer each year at their national dinner which always features prominent speakers and allies of our community. Yet in additional to working with allies, it is also necessary to confront foes  a task CAIR does not shy away from.

In the news just last week was the ruling by a US federal judge that those placed on the government's so-called "no-fly list" are being denied their constitutional right to due process. CAIR has been at the forefront of this and other fights to defend the rights of Muslims to full access to school, jobs, and justice.  They have also gone against big names in the corporate and media industries to protect the image of Muslims and Islam. Indeed one of their first cases in 1994 was putting pressure on 20th Century Fox around an action film that stereotyped Muslims as terrorists and thus the first movie disclaimer appeared, of which there have since been many. Just earlier this year the ABC Family Channel dropped its new proposed series "Alice in Arabia" after similar concerns were brought up. CAIR worked hard to get sports wear giant Nike to settle a dispute in 1997 over the marketing of a shoe with a logo resembling the word "Allah"; As part of their public affairs reparations Nike constructed playgrounds at several Islamic centers nationwide.

Many companies employing Muslims have also been taken to task and then educated on the right of our sisters to wear hijab and be gainfully employed starting in 1996 with cases against Quality Inn Hotels or retail chain JCPenny to the Dulles International Airport case a few years later.  While this work continues even to this day, in 2005 CAIR also launched a parallel campaign called ?Muslims Care? to promote volunteerism in the communities where we live and to work to reduce fear and prejudice. This is a role every individual can and should play a part in.

As CAIR matured and grew as an organization they moved more into the political realm taking on state sanctioned prejudice and Islamophobia.  This included blocking anti-shariah state constitutional amendments or exposing the Representative King congressional hearings just to name a few. It also included filing a US Supreme Court brief in 2011 supporting the requirement that warrants be obtained before GPS tracking devices can be placed on an individual's car. From airplanes to cars, CAIR has been there to fight for our movement, free of suspicion.

In order to allay mistrust it is important also to be proactive as much as reactive.  On this front, CAIR has produced public service announcements (I am an American Muslim) and placed positive-imaging banners in the transportation system, and provides Qurans to not only public libraries but also opinion leaders and policymakers all to inform and educate.  They also hold events large and small. Since 1994, CAIR has conducted more than 800 seminars and workshops for leaders nationwide. More than 20,000 American Muslims have participated in a training topic such as on media, civic engagement, or legal awareness.?In D.C. they will be hosting on July 15 a young professionals iftar and on July 23 an interfaith iftar.

Again according to Nihad Awad, the work of CAIR has been the result of a great partnership with the community. The successes they were able to accomplish in the past two decades "are due to Allah swt's help and the community's participation and support. "In fact every campaign we have conducted and every action alert we have issued were a reflection of the community's need, community's response, and especially involvement. "Today American Muslims are active and engaged, yet a lot more can be done together."

National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper, involved with CAIR since their inception, echoed some of the same sentiments, "I have been honored to serve the community and the cause of justice for the last 20 years. It was only with the help of Allah and the support of the American Muslim community that CAIR has been able to be so successful in defending the constitutional rights of all Americans."