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Posted by on in Empowering American Muslims

by Robert McCaw

"Our country's Founders understood the best way to honor the place of faith in the lives of all Americans was to fight for justice and equality as well as liberty and freedom."
- Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work, 2014 Pentagon Iftar Dinner

On Veteran's Day, American Muslims, like other communities, thank those who have served in our nation's armed forces.

The nation's military draws its service members from all communities including the American Muslim community, which has contributed over 6,000 soldiers who have served honorably in overseas war deployments since 2001.

Out of those volunteer soldiers, at least 14 American Muslims have made the ultimate sacrifice having been killed in action.

In March, CAIR staff and board members who are U.S. veterans marked Memorial Day with the release of a video featuring Muslim veterans honoring the sacrifices Muslim soldiers have made for their country.

Today's celebration finds its origins in Armistice Day, a day of national reflection and gratitude for the hard fought victory that marked the end of World War I. As history marched forward each generation of Americans has responded with courage and bravery to the call of service and we as a nation have established Veterans Day to demonstrate our deep appreciation.

There is not a single faith or community that is not represented by our nation's soldiers in uniform. When Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England helped dedicate the Marine Corps' first Islamic prayer center in 2006, he recognized that we are "a nation of people from all races and creeds who believe in liberty and freedom."

As a nation we are able to salute the service of our veterans while still publicly opposing the immoral political motivations that some administrations have used to justify sending our troops into harm's way. We are able to separate the service of volunteer soldiers from the decisions of policy makers and elected officials.

As a nation, we should better honor our veterans every day by empowering them through streamlining veterans' health care and benefits systems, securing more scholarships and educational grants for veterans, promoting veterans hiring programs, and ending the serious problem of veteran homelessness.

U.S. Muslims, like all other Americans today, will thank those who have served on our behalf and remember in our thoughts and prayers the ones who did not come home.

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Posted by on in Elections

It's election season. That means over the last several months, you've been inundated with ads from candidates who've collectively spent hundreds of millions of dollars vying for your vote.

If that makes you feel special, it should. Clearly, your vote matters.

Yet the results of CAIR's recent survey of Muslim voters indicate that less than 70% of registered Muslim voters will head to the polls this year. While that number is an improvement over Muslims' participation in past elections, we can do much better.

Many American Muslims who don't vote may say it's for one or more of the following reasons.

I'm disillusioned by the government's disregard for civil liberties and by growing Islamophobia. None of the candidates' positions reflect my views.

No one can blame you for feeling this way. But remember: the most effective way to change policies and affect problems like Islamophobia is by speaking out against them. Your vote is your voice.

By voting for the candidate whose views are most in line with yours, you are establishing yourself as someone who has invested in their career as a politician. It gives you credibility to make your concerns a priority for legislators. This makes you a stakeholder and ensures that you have a seat at the table.

Elected officials are public servants. They have an obligation to meet with their constituents and to listen to concerns, but they will prioritize the thoughts and opinions of people who go to the polls and cast their ballots.

If their position on one issue conflicts with yours, let them know how you feel. Build support for your position by mobilizing your friends and community. Organize grassroots campaigns. Launch petitions via sites like www.change.org. Whatever you do, don't remain silent and do nothing.

I don't know where the candidates stand on issues that matter to me.

The best voter is an educated and informed voter. Rather than becoming discouraged, learn about the candidates' positions on issues that matter to you.

Many organizations publish candidate scorecards that grade each candidate on their positions on important issues. Familiarize yourself with candidates' positions on issues that are important to you and learn what issues or causes they've supported in the past. Find out where candidates will be speaking and attend so you can listen to them speak firsthand or even ask them questions.

Research and watch past speeches and media appearances. Have they authored books or written articles? Reading these can help provide deeper insight on their views. Most importantly, the best way to learn is by asking questions. Speak with the leadership of your local mosque or another organization to organize a candidate forum.

I don't know how to register to vote.

Each state has a state board of elections whose website contains important information on the application process such as requirements to register to vote and important deadlines. The deadline to register to vote on November 4 is nearing or has already passed in most states.

If you are too late to register this election season, register now so you'll be prepared for the next election. And you can still make a difference by volunteering to be an election judge, volunteering for candidate campaigns, encouraging your friends and family who are registered voters to cast their ballots, and by helping to provide transportation to polling stations for the elderly and disabled.

I don't have a car and don't have any way of getting to the polling station nearest to me.

If you have trouble physically getting to the polls, there are other solutions. CAIR encourages people to carpool to and from the polling stations. Carpooling helps more people to vote in greater numbers, is more environmentally friendly, and provides transportation for people who otherwise may not be able to make it out.

Contact your local mosque to find out if arrangements are being or can be made to transport congregants to the polls. Call your state board of elections and find out what kind of transportation services they are providing and in what areas. Ask a family member, neighbor, friend or colleague if they would mind giving you a ride. Many cities provide free transportation to and from polling stations for the elderly and physically disabled.

It's just one vote. I don't think it matters.

Correction: It does! There's power in numbers. Never doubt the impact of a single vote, especially in critical battleground states where the Muslim vote has the potential to play a key role. Not only is voting your constitutional right, it is also your voice. It's a way to express your views.

If you don't vote, you allow others who do to affect decisions on important issues like the economy, healthcare and education -- and you may like the outcome even less. The next generation is depending on you to make important decisions that affect their future. One way to do your part to secure your children's future is to vote in their best interests.

County and statewide elections stand to have a greater impact on an individual level. The role you play and the decision you make in whether to vote will be instrumental in deciding the direction of our collective future. Don't sit this ride out -- buckle up and head to the polls on November 4 to make your voice count.

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Posted by on in Hate Crimes

Two years after the senseless shooting at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin that claimed six innocent lives, the challenges facing the Sikh American community have only been compounded.

Members of this religious minority continue to be subjected to hate and bias attacks from racists due to their physical appearance and traditional attire.

Last Thursday, a Sikh man walking with his mother was approached by three teenagers who yelled racial and ethnic slurs at his mom before calling him "Osama bin laden" and physically assaulting him.

Only a few days before that, a 29-year-old father of two, Sandeep Singh, was also victimized in a brutal hate crime. As he walked home with friends, a man in a truck began shouting racial slurs and abuse at Singh, who wears a turban. When Singh confronted him, the man reportedly mowed him down with his truck. Singh is now hospitalized, struggling to recover from the extensive injuries he sustained.

Physically, both of these victims are expected to recuperate; however, the mental and emotional trauma they have endured will take much longer to heal.

This most recent wave of attacks has heightened tensions in an already marginalized community that has suffered tremendous backlash in post-9/11 America.

These incidents fueled by bigotry and hatred must stop.

It is unconscionable, unjustifiable, and un-American to verbally or physically assault anyone based on their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation.

Hate is divisive and robs us of compassion and understanding. Intolerance blinds us to the vast diversity that strengthens and beautifies our nation.

The Sikh community is compassionate, and proud. Many Sikhs in America have shared heartbreaking stories of their struggle to reconcile their religious beliefs with their American identity.

It is unacceptable that they -- or members of any ethnic or religious group -- feel fearful of practicing their religion.

As a civil rights activist committed to advancing justice for all people, I strongly believe that if we are not a part of the solution, then we are part of the problem.

Martin Luther King, Jr. rightfully said: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." We cannot afford to idly sit back and ignore the threat bigotry and racism pose in our society; we must unequivocally condemn it.

Groups in both public and private sectors must work together to combat these issues that overshadow the discourse in marginalized communities across the nation.

Faith in our justice system must be restored. Law enforcement officials must take appropriate steps to discourage repeat attacks; they must conduct thorough, fair investigations and they must be held accountable in making sure justice is served.

And, perhaps most importantly, victims like Sandeep Singh and their families must be made to feel safe again in an environment that appears increasingly hostile towards all they represent.

Only when we unite as Americans to send a strong, clear message that racism and bigotry are unacceptable, can we effectively work to cure the intolerance that infects our society.

Tagged in: CAIR Hate Crimes Sikh
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Posted by on in Freedom of Religion

My English classroom in high school was covered in posters. Some had grammar rules, some showed pictures of authors, and others featured cats in funny costumes. But the one poster I remember most was a quotation. It read:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me.

Though I didn't know it at the time, this is a famous quotation from the Christian theologian Martin Niemoller. He was a German pastor who publicly criticized Adolf Hitler during the Nazi regime. Although he remained nationalistic and an outspoken anti-Semite throughout World War II, his criticism of the Nazi party caused him to be imprisoned for seven years in a concentration camp.

After he was released by Allied forces in 1945, Niemoller became one of the first Germans to talk about the guilt of the German people and the sin they had all committed through inaction . He spent the rest of his life as an advocate for international peace.

Now that I'm in my third year of studying religion, that poster-filled classroom seems a long way away to me, but Martin Niemoller's words seem closer and more urgent than ever before. In 2012 there were 5,796 hate crimes reported in the United States, 842 million people worldwide were undernourished, and just a few weeks ago, 60 people were shot in a single U.S. city over one weekend. This must stop.

Now that I work just blocks from the U.S. Capitol as an intern for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, I'm exposed to horrifying statistics like these more than ever. A few weeks ago I attended a conference advocating for equal rights for Arab-Americans with my fellow interns. We sat at a table and a woman shortly joined us. We introduced ourselves and told her we were interns with the CAIR. She told me about some of the work she does and then asked if I was Muslim. I told her no, I'm an atheist going to school in Minnesota. This shocked her and I gladly told her about my journey through the interfaith movement that led me to work at CAIR. But is the fact that I, an atheist, am concerned about Muslim rights so shocking?

When Niemoller died more than 30 years ago at the age of 92, he was still fighting for peace. I cannot begin to compare my effort to his long struggle for peace. I can't even compare it to the scores of people I've met in the last few weeks who dedicate their lives to advancing social justice. But I've learned how the status of one group affects the wellbeing of all.
Atheists like me must stand up to protect religious rights. Christians must stand for the rights of Muslims. Likewise, Muslims must stand up for the rights of their fellow Americans of other beliefs. Every group, minorities or majorities, liberal or conservative, religious or not, should work together to achieve peace. Not because one day they expect the other group to speak for them, but because of the loss they risk if they do not speak now.

In 1963 another international leader penned a famous letter from the cell of an Alabama prison. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote:

"I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice."

Which leads me to ask some important questions: What kind of world would we live in if people only stood up for their own rights? Where would we be if all remained silent for any justice but their own? And most importantly: is that the kind of world we want to live in?

The answer, of course, is no. So it's time to do something about it.

Robyn Adams is a religion major in her junior year of college. She is currently working as a summer intern for CAIR's department to monitor and combat Islamophobia.

Tagged in: CAIR
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17

Posted by on in American Muslims

By Robert S. McCaw

The Fourth of July is a time when we come together as a nation to celebrate our independence and political freedoms. This Independence Day, I will be joining my family in a small coastal town just south of Boston to show off my newborn son and enjoy a traditional halal barbeque and lobster clambake.

I will also be observing Ramadan, a month of spiritual reflection marked by fasting and appreciating the blessings God has provided my family, community and nation. On this day, the American Muslim iftar, or fast-breaking meal, will be accompanied by neighborhood barbeques, sweet dates and fireworks.

I will not take my independence and freedom for granted. I will thank my maternal grandfather and great uncle, who joined the U.S. Coast Guard and Marines respectively, for their service during the Korean War. I will remember my paternal grandfather, who served in the U.S. Navy as an aviator during World War II and the Korean War, my father and paternal uncle who served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, and send a note of appreciation to my cousin who currently serves as a command sergeant major in the Army.

While my family eats together, we'll surely be listening to the Boston Pops on the radio and hearing the distant roar as spectacular city fireworks are met with local neighborhood firecrackers. That day, we will be celebrating America as much as our ties to each other.

My family is a reflection of America's religious and politically diversity. Politics aside, my mother is Methodist, my aunt is Universal Unitarian, my grandfather is Episcopalian, my mother's cousins are Jewish, and my wife, son and I are Muslim.

My great grandmother, the daughter of Swedish immigrants who became the matriarch of a sprawling New England family, would often sit on the porch during such celebrations and smile to herself with a sense of great pride while gazing at the diversity of her linage.

As Americans, we each have a personal story for how we have come to express ourselves as patriots and how we celebrate our hard-won freedoms. From the Declaration of Independence, through wars and struggles for equality and civil rights and acknowledging our diversity as a source of national strength, celebrating the Fourth of July is a reminder of who we were and what we have all become: American.

Robert S. McCaw is the government affairs manager at CAIR's national office in Washington, D.C.

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