The Council on American-Islamic Relations and What It Means for Muslims in America
This grassroots organization works to ensure the Muslim voice is represented
By Tracy Yu
The Progressive Teen Staff Writer
AS RELIGIOUS MINORITES IN AMERICA, MUSLIMS MAY FACE DISCRIMINATION in schools, workplaces, and their communities. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) aims at addressing these issues and protecting the civil liberties of Muslims. By monitoring government legislation, working with local and national media to change the current portrayal of Muslims in America, and issuing legislative action alerts to create widespread responses to fundamental social issues, CAIR is taking important steps against discrimination.
CAIR has a government affairs department which serves to represent the interests of the Muslim community before Congress, the Supreme Court, and other federal agencies. This department is responsible for monitoring any government activities or legislation that might affect Muslims. CAIR ensures that the needs of the Muslim community are being met by policymakers.
The organization seeks to encourage civic engagement among Muslims as well. Local chapters hold voter registration drives and create voter guides to distribute throughout their communities. Their civic participation handbook provides a guide for Muslims who are interested in being involved in the democratic process. The handbook covers everything from voting rights, campaigning for candidates, organizing fundraisers, volunteering, and contacting congress members. CAIR argues that Muslims have a duty to be active in government in order to raise awareness for important causes, and work toward a better society.
CAIR, America’s largest civil liberties organization, has taken initiative at protecting the rights of Muslims in the past. In 2006, CAIR sent delegates to Baghdad in an effort to free a captured American journalist and in 2009, staff from CAIR spoke with the president of Iran appealing for the release of journalist Roxana Saberi. In 2011, Yasir Afifi, a 20-year-old Muslim student from California, discovered a GPS tracking device on his car, placed there by the FBI without a warrant. CAIR proceeded to file a lawsuit on Afifi’s behalf on the grounds that the FBI had violated his 1st, 4th, and 5th Amendment rights.
A similar situation occurred in the case of United States v. Jones, where Jones also had a tracking device attached to his car without a warrant. CAIR filed a amicus brief in support of Jones, asking the Supreme Court to recognize the violation of the 4th Amendment. That same year, Gulet Mohamed, a 19-year-old Muslim from Virginia, was detained in Kuwait after being placed on a no-fly list. He was questioned by the FBI, where his repeated requests for legal representation were ignored. CAIR held a press conference with Mohamed’s family in an effort to attract public attention to his situation. CAIR then filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice as well as the FBI, hoping to receive a court order allowing Mohamed to return to the U.S.
The Council seeks to equip Muslim Americans with knowledge of the rights that they hold in the United States. They distribute a “Know your rights and responsibilities” guide to communities in order to inform people on their rights as a student, passenger, and employee — as well as how to react when contacted by law enforcement.
CAIR’s goal is to be the leading advocate for justice and mutual understanding.