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Posted by on in Border Questioning
As Americans, we have a lot to be thankful for. In the hustle of everyday life, we might take for granted the little things that we have grown accustomed to, such as the ability to speak freely and defend our own rights, or the ability to travel freely whether on business, for leisure, or visiting loved ones. Yet even when we're accustomed to these everyday liberties, it's always good to pause and put things in perspective.

What happens when those liberties start to be taken away? 

Imagine you're on a road trip with your family, and as you cross from Canada or Mexico at a U.S. border checkpoint, you're signaled to pull your car to the side of the road. Imagine you're asked to step out of your car and are put into a holding room -- and held for up to 10 hours.

Imagine an unidentified government agent comes in and begins aggressively interrogating you, asking personal questions like: How many times a day do you pray? What do you pray for? What mosque do you go to? Do you believe in the Qur'an?

Now imagine that your personal belongings such as your wallet, purse, cell phone, and laptop are confiscated and held by the government, possibly for several months.

What if this begins to happen every time you travel? Highways and airports would become barriers rather than facilitators to moving freely.

These scenarios that I've described are not hypothetical: they are happening as we speak, on an alarmingly frequent basis, to Muslims travelling in North America and abroad. 

Suddenly, travelling has become a nightmarish experience for many ordinary Americans whose names that raise a flag in a clearly imperfect system. 

Some of these people believe they've been placed on a government watch list, but even if they wanted to appeal that placement, there's no reliable path to have your name cleared from those lists. Many in the American Muslim community are now finding themselves lost in a seemingly endless maze of secrecy, red-tape and frustration. From an advocacy and activism standpoint, we must stand up and help find a resolution for these issues.

A few weeks ago, staff and board members from CAIR chapters across the country sought to find a solution to this situation as we participated in Muslim advocacy days on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. This has become a yearly tradition that enables us to meet face-to-face with our elected officials and their staff. Each year, our reach increases; this year we met with 168 congressional offices.  

I come from the border state of Arizona, and this issue hits especially close to home for me, as the number of reported instances of religious questioning and lengthy detainments at the borders is on the rise. The same is true for states along the northern border with Canada. CAIR offices in these states have been handling these religious questioning cases for years and have filed inquiries with DHS. 

We might assume that our elected officials are aware of such cases of religious questioning or improper behavior by law enforcement, but most of the time they're not. It is our job to educate them on these issues -- as the Rev. Al Sharpton said during CAIR's national banquet last year, we need to "bring light to dark places."

When we sat down and described these issues that many of their constituents are facing, the congressional offices responded with surprise and a great deal of support and concern about this trend. By bringing forth such stories, we are able to ask these members of Congress to support letters of inquiry or other possible legislative routes that could eventually bring about a resolution. The members of our community who have been unfairly targeted by these egregious practices deserve nothing less.

As we move forward from these productive meetings, we must continue to do our part to bring these issues to light. I hope we all realize that even though these types of intrusive tactics are happening to a targeted segment of the population, it is vital to always stand up for the inalienable rights of all Americans.

We live in times where civil liberties are slowly eroding for the population at large; therefore, issues such as this should be of grave concern to all. The liberties that we should all be thankful for are in jeopardy; our choice is to stand up and defend them or face an uncertain road ahead.

Imraan Siddiqi is a board member for CAIR-Arizona.

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Posted by on in Political Advocacy
Several weeks ago I participated in the nation's largest Muslim advocacy day at the U.S. Capitol. Hosted by CAIR, the three-day event brought representatives from the American Muslim community and over 20 CAIR chapters to Washington, D.C., where we met with a third of the House of Representatives and a quarter of the Senate.

In total we met with 168 congressional offices, 112 Democratic and 56 Republican. Some of these offices were longtime allies while others we met with for the first time.

We were there to discuss important issues that are affecting our community. One of these is the misapplication of federal watch lists such as the no-fly list to strand and pressure American Muslims traveling abroad. We also briefed lawmakers about acts of religious profiling and discrimination along the northern border and sought their intervention. Finally, we voiced support for immigration reform and anti-bullying efforts like the Safe Schools Improvement Act.

In just three days of meetings, we received overwhelming support from Congress on these issues, including definitive actions to address them. In the months ahead I hope that positive results from these meetings will be felt not only by American Muslims but all Americans.

And while CAIR remains committed to protecting the civil liberties enjoyed by all Americans and will continue our annual Hill visits, a few days of advocacy is just not enough to create significant change in Washington.

For these visits to be truly effective, lawmakers must already have strong relationships with the American Muslim community in their states and districts. The growing voice of Muslim citizen advocates needs to be heard.

These relationships should start early on -- perhaps when a neighbor announces candidacy for public office -- and span the life of political careers, starting with local offices and progressing to members elected to state legislatures, the governor's mansion, Congress, or the presidency.

As Muslim citizen advocates we need to invite candidates running for office to speak at public forums and gatherings hosted by Muslim community centers and houses of worship. Officials can also be asked to attend public and private religious celebrations and everyday events.

It is critical for Muslim communities to continue organizing Muslim advocacy days at state capitols across the nation, like the ones already being hosted in California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Texas, and Washington state.

Political capital is built over years by active Muslim citizen advocates donating their time and resources to candidates who reflect their views, regardless of political party. In turn, political capital is spent by Muslim communities visiting elected officials to let them know how they as public servants can help address important issues.

Let's not wait for CAIR to host next year's Capitol Hill advocacy days. We can start now by becoming more politically engaged and cultivating relationships that will benefit American Muslims for years to come.

Robert McCaw is the government affairs manager at CAIR's national headquarters on Capitol Hill.
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Posted by on in Indefinite Detention

As dozens of Guantanamo detainees carry on the hunger strike that began in early February over allegations of guards mishandling inmates' Qurans, CAIR is joining 24 other human and civil rights organizations today in sending a letter to President Obama calling for "immediate steps to end indefinite detention without charge and begin closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay."

Reports differ between military officials and detainees' attorneys on the number of prisoners on hunger strike. The military is claiming that 26 out of the 166 inmates are on strike, with 11 being fed through feeding tubes, while attorneys and prisoners say 130 prisoners are on strike, and that one attempted suicide. As the hunger strike continues, the possibility of prisoner deaths becomes more imminent.

After being detained for 11 years without charge or trial, many Guantánamo prisoners are willing to go on hunger strike and risk death to draw attention to their indefinite detention.

When President Obama first took office, he pledged to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay within a year. Yet five years later, Congress has repeatedly outmaneuvered the president's efforts to do so and closing the facility no longer seems to be a priority, deepening the despair of the remaining Guantánamo prisoners.

After twice failing to make good on his threats to veto the National Defense Authorization Acts of 2012 and 2013, President Obama has signed into law a number of restrictive provisions that check his ability to transfer or prosecute detainees or close the prison. While 86 prisoners were approved for release by the U.S. government's Guantánamo Review Task Force in 2009, none have been cleared for transfer because of these obstructive provisions.

As this crisis further develops, CAIR is joining the Center for Constitutional Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, Witness Against Torture, and many others to call upon President Obama to once again commit his administration "to transfer[ing] the remaining detained men [at Guantánamo Bay] to their home countries or other countries for resettlement, or to charge them in a court that comports with fair trial standards."

Moreover, we ask that the president appoint an individual within his administration to lead this transfer effort. Appointing such an individual would be an important step to show that he is recommitting to closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay once and for all.

The shameful detention of prisoners at Guantánamo has become a symbol of our government's erosion of civil liberties over the past 12 years. Only when we as a nation address the issue of indefinite military detention can we begin to restore those liberties and repair our international reputation as a country committed to the rule of law.

Robert McCaw is the government affairs manager at CAIR's national headquarters on Capitol Hill.

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Posted by on in Freedom of Religion

It's generally true that most lawmakers are lawyers, or at least are familiar with the law. It appears, however, that that may not be the case in North Carolina, where at least 11 Republicans sponsored a clearly unconstitutional bill that would allow North Carolina to declare Christianity its state religion by arguing that the First Amendment doesn't apply to states.

One of the basics of constitutional law is that the Fourteenth Amendment (the one extending citizenship to former slaves) makes it clear that states are required to follow the U.S. Constitution, at least the provisions of the Bill of Rights.

The relevant section is called the Equal Protection Clause, and it reads:

"No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

The purpose at the time was primarily to overturn Jim Crow laws, such as the barring of blacks from juries in West Virginia. But it has since been used much more broadly, to protect the infringement of citizen's fundamental rights as contained in the Bill or Rights.

Of course, the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights guarantees freedom of speech and religion. There is no more fundamental right in American tradition than the freedom to worship (it was numbered first for a reason). The First Amendment states, in its entirety:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Key in it is the Establishment Clause, which prevents the government from establishing a state religion.

Again, the Fourteenth Amendment means that states, and their divisions, need to respect all fundamental liberties of their citizens. But this point is apparently lost on some in North Carolina where the resolution with 11 Republican sponsors reads:

SECTION 1. The North Carolina General Assembly asserts that the Constitution of the United States of America does not prohibit states or their subsidiaries from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.

SECTION 2. The North Carolina General Assembly does not recognize federal court rulings which prohibit and otherwise regulate the State of North Carolina, its public schools or any political subdivisions of the State from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.

The reason for this clearly unconstitutional proposal is to establish Christianity as the official religion of North Carolina and ensure that all prayers offered at the beginning of meetings can be Christian ones. The ACLU recently filed a lawsuit charging the Rowan County Board of Commissioners with breaching the Establishment Clause by having 97% Christian prayers at their meetings, and some in the state capitol are trying to run around this.

Hopefully those with a basic understanding of the US Constitution kill the resolution in committee, where it currently is, but if not it certainly can't be upheld by any federal court. A better proposal might be to require some basic civics classes for the Republican cosponsors. I'm sure CAIR or the ACLU would be happy to oblige.

Todd Gallinger is the director of chapter development at CAIR's national headquarters in Washington, D.C.

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Posted by on in Islamophobia

Reently, The Associated Press (AP) emailed an update to its online Stylebook subscribers about revisions to the recommended use of the term "Islamist" by media professionals. (The AP Stylebook is perhaps the most influential publication of its type and impacts coverage worldwide.)

Late last year, CAIR had approached AP about modifying the reference, which read at that time:

"Islamist -- Supporter of government in accord with the laws of Islam. Those who view the Quran as a political model encompass a wide range of Muslims, from mainstream politicians to militants known as jihadi."

CAIR suggested that AP change its Stylebook to incorporate language similar to that used in the reference to "fundamentalist," which states that the label should not be used unless a group applies the term to itself.

Earlier this year, CAIR urged media outlets to drop the term because, "Unfortunately, the term 'Islamist' has become shorthand for 'Muslims we don't like.'"

In its Thursday email, AP modified the "Islamist" reference to read:

"An advocate or supporter of a political movement that favors reordering government and society in accordance with laws prescribed by Islam. Do not use as a synonym for Islamic fighters, militants, extremists or radicals, who may or may not be Islamists. Where possible, be specific and use the name of militant affiliations: al-Qaida-linked, Hezbollah, Taliban, etc. Those who view the Quran as a political model encompass a wide range of Muslims, from mainstream politicians to militants known as jihadi."

SEE: The Associated Press Revises Another Politically Charged Term

We believe this revision is a step in the right direction and will result in fewer negative generalizations in coverage of issues related to Islam and Muslims. The key issue with the term "Islamist" is not its continued use; the issue is its use almost exclusively as an ill-defined pejorative.

What do you think?

 

Email comments to me at: ihooper[at]cair.com

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Posted by on in Civil Rights
As the drone silently glides across the horizon, hundreds of civilians and militants alike are stalked. It surveils homes, businesses, hospitals, and schools, and reports its findings to officials safely installed in military compounds hundreds or even thousands of miles away from the dangers of war. A drone is not affected by human emotions, and it will not hesitate to take a life.

During President Barack Obama's time in office, the United States has conducted over 300 drone strikes in Pakistan -- five times as many as under the Bush administration. These strikes have resulted in the deaths of an estimated 3,577 people; out of that number, 2,693 were deemed "combatants."

Unfortunately, there is no real method for determining exactly how many of those 2,693 "combatants" belonged to Al-Qaeda or the Taliban or were fighters of any kind, since recent reports indicate that all military-aged males (typically anyone between the ages of 18 and 65) are targeted as combatants even if they may be unarmed civilian bystanders.

The use of drone strikes in general has not garnered much public attention in the U.S. However, the use of drones in the extrajudicial murders of two U.S. citizens -- Anwar al-Awlaki, and later, his 16-year-old son Abdulrahman -- sparked a necessary debate over the legality of using drones for the targeted killing of American citizens without charge or trial.

The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution prohibits the government from "depriving a person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law." Due process is our right as Americans to fair legal proceedings with an opportunity to be heard before the government deprives us of our life, liberty or property. However, Anwar and Abdulrahman al-Awlaki were not even charged with a crime, let alone given a trial, before they were killed by their government.

The United States' use of drones overseas has drawn scrutiny from the United Nations. The UN recently announced that it will have a panel investigate the rise in drone strikes by the U.S. and other nations and the related allegations of unlawful killings.

The International Bill of Human Rights exists as a universal constitution providing all humans with fundamental rights, including the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. In using drones to assassinate suspected terrorists, the U.S. government clearly disregards Articles 7, 10, 11, 12 and 28 of the International Bill of Human Rights.

More recently, the suspected use of surveillance drones in the search for accused murderer Christopher Dorner raised additional concerns as civilians, reporters and politicians questioned the government's invasion of our constitutional right to privacy.

Drones may have assisted in finding Dorner, but we should not disregard the breach in privacy of allowing Americans to be watched in their homes and businesses by drones. Normalizing the use of drones enables a path towards increasing government infringement on our civil liberties if left unchecked and unpressured by the public.

Hamza Yammout is an intern with CAIR-LA's civil rights division.
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Posted by on in Islamophobia

Earlier this week a controversy erupted in the Tennessee State Capitol. Apparently, multiple state law makers were concerned about the possible nefarious uses of a new floor level sink in a men's restroom. They were worried that it might be used by American Muslims as a place to wash their feet before praying.

To assure those lawmakers that Tennessee was not, in fact, making any allowance for American Muslims, Legislative Administration Director Connie Ridley sent the following in an email to lawmakers: "I confirmed with the facility administrator for the State Capitol Complex that the floor-level sink installed in the men's restroom outside the House Chamber is for housekeeping use. It is, in layman's terms, a mop sink."

Yes, a mop sink.

Stephen Colbert continued the urgent mop sink investigation in a segment of his show Wednesday night, saying: "Think about it: A mop is nothing but a beard on a stick."

But with that major issue quelled, another example of "Creeping Sharia" emerged. In an op-ed in Tuesday's Washington Times (the far smaller and more conservative competitor to the Washington Post), noted Islamophobe Frank Gaffney expressed his concerns with Obama's new for Secretary of Labor, Thomas Perez.

Since 2009 Perez has been Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the United Sates Department of Justice. Before that he was appointed by Maryland's Democratic Governor Martin O'Malley to as Secretary of Maryland's Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

Not surprisingly, Perez's prior accomplishments and experience don't matter to Gaffney. What matters to him is Perez's literal embrace of an American Muslim leader. You see, in 2011, Perez hugged the imam of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, Imam Mohamed Magid.

Never mind that Imam Magid served on the Department of Justice's Countering Violent Extremism Working Group or that he's the president of a respected Muslim organization; he's a Muslim and no one in government should hug him.

The two examples should be humorous, and they are. But they do show the amount of mistrust that many in power have of Muslims, to the extent that they are truthfully afraid of a mop sink. Those lawmakers in Tennessee probably felt that way because of the misinformation they've been fed from active Islamophobes like Frank Gaffney. These are people who make a living (some of them a very nice living) by feeding fear and attacking Muslims. They spread a vision of the world where a hug is an affront to American ideals and a sink is threatening.

It's up to Americans of all faiths to unite behind an inclusive vision of our future together. We need to come together to speak out against such bigotry, and to laugh when it gets to this level of absurdity.

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Posted by on in Civil Rights

This week, the Senate will take up another vote to move forward on Sen. Chuck Hagel’s nomination as secretary of defense. I believe he should be confirmed.
 
His confirmation would send the signal that President Obama’s second term will be more diplomacy-oriented and less hawkish in its relations with the Muslim world.
 
Sen. Hagel has a depth of knowledge of foreign affairs and connections with key players in the international arena that will serve him and our nation well as secretary of defense.
 
While I cannot endorse all the administration’s defense policies – particularly the counterproductive drone assassination program and actions relating to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – Sen. Hagel’s confirmation may offer a path to re-building the tattered relations we currently have with so many regions and nations that are vital to our national interests.

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Posted by on in Interfaith

CAIR ISLAM-OPED: Jesus and Muhammad are Brothers

ISLAM-OPED is a syndication service of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) designed to offer an American Muslim perspective on current political, social and religious issues. ISLAM-OPED commentaries are offered free-of-charge to one media outlet in each market area. Permission for publication will be granted on a first-come-first-served basis.

Please consider the following commentary for publication.

CONTACT: Ibrahim Hooper, [email protected], 202-488-8787, 202-744-7726 (c)

Jesus and Muhammad are Brothers
By Ibrahim Hooper
Word Count: 520

[Ibrahim Hooper is national communications director for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation's largest Muslim civil liberties organization. He may be contacted at: [email protected] A photo of Ibrahim Hooper is available at: http://tinyurl.com/hooperphoto ]

During the Christmas season, Christian families seek to maintain a focus on Jesus and his legacy.

Many of our Christian brothers and sisters may be surprised to know that Muslims love and revere Jesus as one of God's greatest messengers to mankind, just as we love and revere the Prophet Muhammad, may peace be upon them both.

The Prophet Muhammad sought to erase any distinctions between the message he taught and that taught by Jesus, whom he called God's "spirit and word."

Prophet Muhammad said: "Both in this world and in the Hereafter, I am the nearest of all people to Jesus, the son of Mary. The prophets are paternal brothers; their mothers are different, but their religion is one."

"Behold! The angels said: 'O Mary! God gives thee glad tidings of a Word from Him. His name will be Jesus Christ, the son of Mary, held in honor in this world and the Hereafter and in (the company of) those nearest to God.'"

The quote above is not from the New Testament. It is taken from the Quran, Islam's revealed text. (3:45)

Other verses in the Quran, regarded by Muslims as the direct word of God, state that Jesus was strengthened with the "Holy Spirit" (2:87) and is a "sign for the whole world." (21:91) His virgin birth was confirmed when Mary is quoted as asking: "How can I have a son when no man has ever touched me?" (3:47)

An entire chapter of the Quran (Chapter 19) is named after Jesus' mother Mary, "Maryam" in the Arabic of the Quran.

The Quran shows Jesus speaking from the cradle and, with God's permission, curing lepers and the blind. (5:110) God also states in the Quran: "We gave (Jesus) the Gospel and put compassion and mercy into the hearts of his followers." (57:27)

Muslims believe Jesus will return to earth in the last days before the final judgment. Disrespect toward Jesus is very offensive to Muslims.

The message of love, peace and forgiveness taught by Jesus, and accepted by both Christians and Muslims, can serve as a unifying force in a troubled world.

It is the same message of unity expressed by another verse in the Quran:

"Say ye: 'We believe in God and the revelation given to us and to Abraham, Ismail, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, and that given to Moses and Jesus, and that given to (all) prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and it is unto Him that we surrender ourselves.'" (2:136)

Obviously, Muslims and Christians have differing interpretations of the details of the life and message of Jesus. But by focusing on what we have in common, Christians and Muslims of goodwill can help build bridges of interfaith understanding and serve as a counterweight to the voices of division and extremism.

As the Quran tells us: "O humankind! We have created you male and female; and we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another. Verily, the most honored of you in the sight of God is the most righteous of you." (49:13)

Tagged in: CAIR
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Posted by on in Understanding of Islam

Give Thanks and Give to Those in Need

By Nihad Awad

WORD COUNT: 611

(Nihad Awad is national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), America's largest Muslim civil rights organization. He may be contacted at: [email protected].)

During our nation's current economic downturn, and in the wake of natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy, many of our fellow Americans are suffering.

That is why it is so important this Thanksgiving to show thanks for all the blessings we have by reaching out to those in need.

Video: A Thanksgiving Message from CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad

American Muslims nationwide are helping set an example of such giving.

Members of Georgetown University's Muslim Student Association are traveling to Tennessee to perform community service projects over their school's holiday break.

In New York, Muslim attendees at a church's annual multi-faith Thanksgiving celebration donated food items for distribution to the needy.

Muslims and Jews in at least 17 cities across North America will join together to provide meals to the hungry and homeless.

Groups like Muslims Against Hunger Project and American Muslims for Hunger Relief will feed homeless people in New Jersey, New York, Boston, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.

The University of Cincinnati's Muslim Student Association and Project Downtown Cincinnati combined efforts to distribute turkeys and food packages to needy families in the Cincinnati area. They adopted this effort from the Cincinnati chapter of my own organization, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which has run this project since 2008.

The Columbus office of CAIR also donated Thanksgiving turkeys to the YWCA Family Shelter as part of its Feeding Families project.

These are just a few examples of what can be done by committed volunteers to help their fellow citizens who are in need.

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: "Whoever fulfills the needs of his brother, God will fulfill his needs. Whoever eases his brother's difficulty, God will ease his difficulty in this life and on the Day of Resurrection." (Sahih Al-Bukhari)

The Prophet also said: "He who has enough food for two, let him invite a third, and he who has food for four, let him invite a fifth or a sixth." He also said: "He whose food exceeds his needs, let him share it with those who do not have food." (Fiqh-us-Sunnah)

Another Islamic tradition (hadith) stresses the spiritual reward for feeding the needy. In that tradition, God is quoted as saying: "(O humankind). . .Did you not know that had you fed (those in need), you would surely have found (the reward for doing so) with Me?" (Hadith Qudsi)

In the Quran, Islam's revealed text, God said: "(The truly virtuous are those) who feed the poor, the orphan and the captive for the love of God." (76:8)

God also states: "What will explain to you the path that is steep? It is the freeing of a (slave) from bondage, or the giving of food in a day of famine to an orphan relative or to a needy (stranger) in distress, and to be of those who believe, enjoin patience (in
adversity) and encourage deeds of kindness and compassion." (90:12-17)

Because Thanksgiving is not a religious holiday, Americans of all faiths have an opportunity to offer their own perspective on this uniquely American gathering.

Muslims are taught to thank God on all occasions, even in times of difficulty.

The Prophet Muhammad said: "The first to be summoned to paradise on the Day of Resurrection will be those who praise God in prosperity and adversity." He also said, "Whoever does not thank people, does not thank God." (Al-Tirmidhi)

So this year, when we celebrate with friends and family this Thanksgiving, let us all encourage deeds of kindness and compassion, count our blessings and show true thankfulness by sharing whatever we have with those in need.

Giving thanks and performing acts of kindness should be incorporated in our lives every day of the year, not just at Thanksgiving.

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Posted by on in Empowering American Muslims

ISLAM-OPED: American Muslims May Decide Who Becomes President

ISLAM-OPED is a syndication service of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) designed to offer an American Muslim perspective on current political, social and religious issues. ISLAM-OPED commentaries are offered free-of-charge to one media outlet in each market area. Permission for publication will be granted on a first-come-first-served basis. Please consider the following commentary for publication.

CONTACT: CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper, [email protected], 202-744-7726 (c)

-----

American Muslims May Decide Who Becomes President
By: Nihad Awad

Word Count: 686

[Nihad Awad is national executive director of the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation's largest Muslim civil liberties organization. He may be contacted at: [email protected]]

In this close election, it is a small voting bloc that will decide the outcome. On November 6, American Muslims are in a position to determine which presidential candidate will win in key swing states such as Ohio, Virginia and Florida.

A recent survey of registered Muslim voters, conducted by an independent research firm for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), indicates that some 25 percent of Muslim voters are still undecided about who to vote for in the presidential election and are therefore still open to appeals from the candidates.

CAIR's survey also shows that American Muslims are engaged in the political process, with more than 90 percent of Muslim voters saying they will go to the polls on election day. Of those polled, 68 percent said they will vote to re-elect President Obama and seven percent said they will vote for Mitt Romney.

Like many other Americans, the top five issues of importance to American Muslim voters are jobs and the economy, education, health care policy, Medicare and Social Security, and civil rights.

The percentage of those who said they are closer to the Democratic Party grew from 49 percent in a similar poll taken in 2008 to 66 percent today. Almost half of respondents said that the Democratic Party was friendly towards Muslims.

Muslim voters are very concerned about the rising level of Islamophobia within American society and with the promotion and exploitation of Islamophobia within the Republican Party. More than half of CAIR survey respondents say that the Republican Party is unfriendly toward Muslims.

As was evident from the third presidential debate, Mitt Romney's hostile view of the Muslim and Arab world makes American Muslims voters anxious about a possible repeat of George W. Bush's counterproductive foreign policies. Romney's ideological approach to foreign policy does not inspire confidence in the establishment of more productive relations with the Muslim world.

Because of their knowledge and understanding of international issues, American Muslims also care about foreign policies such as democracy in the Muslim world and peace and justice for the Palestinians.

Sixty-eight percent of respondents to CAIR's survey say the U.S. should provide support to those fighting for freedom in Syria and 76 percent say the U.S. and NATO made the right decision by intervening in the Libyan revolution.

The majority of American Muslims will likely vote for President Obama, but not as enthusiastically as they did in 2008. They are clearly not happy with the continued erosion of Muslim civil liberties, the most egregious example of which was the widespread spying on Muslim students, shopkeepers, schools, and mosques by the New York Police Department in cooperation with the CIA.

There is relief that the unjustified war on Iraq was ended by President Obama, but also concern that the escalation of military action in Afghanistan caused more harm than benefit. And American Muslims are not alone in opposing the drone attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan that have claimed so many innocent civilian lives.

A number of surveys have shown that Muslim voters are religiously diverse, well integrated in American society, politically active, and support candidates of any party who address their concerns.

In the 2000 election, Muslims voted overwhelmingly for George W. Bush, in part because of his public stand against the use of secret evidence in the nation's courts. In 2004, Muslims concerned about the erosion of civil rights in the post-9/11 era voted for Sen. John Kerry. In 2008, almost 90 percent of American Muslim voters picked Barack Obama.

It is this willingness to swing between parties that makes Muslim voters so important in close elections.

In the end, American Muslim voters will look at the overall picture of the future under either one of the major candidates and will then they make a decision about who to vote for. But the lack of engagement with American Muslims by the candidates may very well cost one of them the presidency.

The fact that more than 90 percent of registered Muslim voters intend to go to the polls on November 6 clearly shows that Muslims are among the most politically-engaged of all Americans.

Tagged in: CAIR Ibrahim Hooper
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Posted by on in Freedom of Religion

The System Worked for Tennessee Muslims
By Gadeir Abbas

Word count: 502

[Gadeir Abbas is a staff attorney at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation's largest Muslim civil liberties organization. He may be contacted at [email protected]]

This year, the Muslim community of Murfreesboro, Tenn., will likely be able to open its doors in time to share Ramadan together in the mosque they built, the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro (ICM).

Houses of worship are built and opened all the time, but this one has acquired special significance. In opening its doors in spite of unprecedented obstacles and opposition, the mosque serves as a lasting testament to America's abiding commitment to religious freedom.

The obstacles and opposition to ICM opening its doors were breathtaking. Shortly after ICM received permission to begin construction, a viciously anti-Muslim groundswell rose up to oppose it. The protests were ugly.

Mosque opponents leveled accusations of treason and disloyalty, fueled by the bigoted notion that Muslims are somehow inherently predisposed to violence and subterfuge. The humble mosque even became a campaign issue. While running for governor, Ron Ramsey questioned "whether being a Muslim is actually a religion."

This wasn't the worst of it. Mosque opponents spray painted "not welcome" on a sign announcing ICM's future location. Construction equipment was set ablaze. And there was a bomb threat against Muslims worshiping in Murfreesboro.

Then came the legal assault. Four individuals appeared before state court Judge Robert Corlew, asking him to stop ICM from finishing construction of the mosque. And disappointingly, Judge Corlew turned his court into a circus, allowing the likes of Frank Gaffney to pedal anti-Muslim conspiracy theories as a witness, and attorney Joe Brandon to make outrageous claims that ICM, because of its affiliation with Islam, is a threat to Tennessee.

In a shocking setback, Judge Corlew utilized a heightened "Muslim-only" standard he concocted to prevent ICM from using its mosque. Judge Corlew's discriminatory standard effectively required government to provide greater notice to the public regarding zoning decisions for Muslim houses of worship than those affiliated with other faiths.

Predictably, in applying this discriminatory standard, Judge Corlew found that, for ICM, the government's notice was not robust enough to meet the more onerous standard he created. The judge then refused to allow ICM to receive permission to use the mosque that it built.

All of this is a lot for a single community to handle. But vandalism and violence, discriminatory government acts, and baseless smears--these expressions of religious intolerance will always, to some degree, be present in our society. The true test of America's commitment to religious freedom is not whether discriminatory things happen but how the country's institutions respond. And here, our institutions performed admirably.

The Department of Justice indicted Javier Alan Correa who federal prosecutors believe threatened to bomb ICM. The hate speech of anti-Muslim mosque opponents was countered by more speech refuting irrational fear with rational argument. And Judge Corlew's discriminatory decision preventing ICM from using its building was invalidated just hours after the Department of Justice filed suit on ICM's behalf.

It wasn't pretty, but the system worked. Muslims in Murfreesboro will be able to worship in their community, just as the First Amendment of our Constitution envisioned centuries ago.

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ISLAM-OPED: The System Worked for Tennessee Muslims

ISLAM-OPED is a syndication service of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) designed to offer an American Muslim perspective on current political, social and religious issues. ISLAM-OPED commentaries are offered free-of-charge to one media outlet in each market area. Permission for publication will be granted on a first-come-first-served basis.

Please consider the following commentary for publication. CONTACT: CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper, [email protected], 202-744-7726 (c)

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Posted by on in No-Fly List

I hope that someday we will all look back in shame at how routinely the United States once barred traveling American Muslims from returning to their country. But while that day may be far off, Ali Ahmed serves as just the latest example of how the misguided and illegal use of the no-fly list imposes a strange form of extrajudicial exile on a growing number of Americans.

Ali, a 20-year-old American citizen studying journalism in San Diego, traveled abroad for his wedding, to visit family, and to make a religious pilgrimage to Mecca.  He performed his pilgrimage without incident, but soon after, Ali got his first hint that the U.S. was going to obstruct his movement abroad.

When he attempted to enter Kenya to visit his father and for the wedding, Kenyan authorities did not let him in and instead sent Ali to Bahrain.  The next day, distraught that his wedding had to be postponed and that he would not be able to see his father, Ali tried to return to his country of citizenship, the United States. At the airport, he was told that he would not be allowed to return because sometime after he left the United States his government had put him on its no-fly list. There was no explanation, no way to resolve the problem – just that he could not fly now or at any point in the future.

People placed on the no-fly list are not allowed to board airplanes, whether inside the U.S. or not, that will cross American airspace. Because the U.S. shares its no-fly list with other countries, it also impacts the ability of listed individuals to enter other countries. In the past few years, we've seen people on the U.S. no-fly list denied entry to Great Britain, Mexico, and now Kenya. And it's a life sentence for listed individuals: people put on the no-fly list almost never get off.

But Ali is not alone in this situation – he joins a long list of American Muslims who are not even accused of any wrongdoing, but who found themselves placed on the no-fly list in the midst of their travels. This list includes Gulet Mohamed from Virginia, Amr Abualrub from Connecticut, Aziz Nouhaili from Nevada, and Michael Migliore, Jamal Tarhuni, and Mustafa Elogbi all from Washington state. Just a few weeks ago the United States prevented another San Diego resident from returning to his country of citizenship. And these are only the ones we know about; there are surely many others who have not fought against their placement on the list and the effective exile that results.

It is unprecedented for our government to be able to effectively bar traveling Americans from returning to the U.S. This is why, many years from now when historians catalogue our government's breathtaking transgressions in the post-9/11 era, the extrajudicial use of the no-fly list will be listed along with government-sanctioned torture, the Patriot Act, indefinite detention, kill lists, warrantless wiretapping, and the United States’ international gulag of secret prisons. We'll view people like Ali Ahmed as part of the vanguard of American citizens who said “Enough is enough,” and asserted their rights.  But for now, we can all do our part by demanding that our government allow Ali and others in his situation to come home.


By Gadeir Abbas

Word count: 550

[Gadeir Abbas is a staff attorney at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation's largest Muslim civil liberties organization. He may be contacted at [email protected]]

ISLAM-OPED is a syndication service of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) designed to offer an American Muslim perspective on current political, social and religious issues. ISLAM-OPED commentaries are offered free-of-charge to one media outlet in each market area. Permission for publication will be granted on a first-come-first-served basis.

Please consider the above commentary for publication.

CONTACT: CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper, [email protected], 202-744-7726

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Posted by on in Empowering American Muslims

Word Count: 713

[Nihad Awad is national executive director for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation's largest Muslim civil liberties organization. He can be contacted at: [email protected] ]

As we mark one of history's most triumphant acts of liberty, I want to share with you some of the many things America's Muslims are doing to preserve this fundamental principle of the American identity.

The revolution we honor each year on July 4th was in part sparked by unreasonable government intrusions into individual liberty. In 1761, Boston lawyer James Otis spoke against overly-broad warrants issued by the British government. These Writs of Assistance allowed the crown's agents to search any house or ship they wished, without any specific reason. John Adams -- signer of the Declaration of Independence and our nation''s second president -- said of Otis' speech, "Then and there, the child Independence was born."

In times of threat, public opinion often shifts away from liberty. Ten years after the 9/11 terror attacks, the Pew Research Center found that a troubling number of Americans supported government monitoring of credit card transactions (42%) and phone calls (29%). Similarly, the Associated Press found disconcerting percentages of Americans embracing the ideas of warrantless monitoring of domestic phone calls (23%) and email (30%).

A lawsuit filed on behalf of a California Muslim serves as one example of turning to the Constitution to preserve American liberty from over-broad or warrantless government intrusions into individual liberty. The lawsuit asserts that the FBI violated Yasir Afifi's First, Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights when the bureau failed to obtain a warrant to place a GPS tracking device on his car to monitor his daily activities.

American liberty is about going before a judge, providing reasonable suspicion and getting a warrant, not about unchecked government power to intrude into a person's life.

Liberty in the form of free exercise of religion is also crucial to our nation. Everyone who went to elementary school in this country knows the pilgrims came to the New World to escape religious persecution in Europe.

In 2011, 54 bills or amendments aimed at interfering with Muslims' religious practices -- so-called "anti-sharia" bills -- were considered in 25 states and the U.S. Congress. This trend continues today. It is often carried out under the banner of a conspiracy theory that asserts Muslims are working to undermine the Constitution and replace it with Islamic law.

Yet we know that no religious code can replace American law. Article VI, Clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution clearly states, "This Constitution ... shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby."

Laws intended to target Muslims have been passed in Oklahoma, Tennessee, Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, and South Dakota. This is a serious threat to the First Amendment, which prohibits government from making any law "respecting an establishment of religion."

Muslims, along with interfaith and business partners, have been active in opposing such bills. The 2010 amendment to Oklahoma's state constitution, which violates the First Amendment by explicitly subjecting Islam to government censure, immediately faced a legal challenge from a Muslim living in that state. A federal judge put the law on hold after determining that the challenge had merit and will likely result in the law being ruled unconstitutional.

There are countless examples of Muslims defending American liberty. Muslims have worked to undo the sections of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that allow for indefinite detention of Americans without charge or trial. The NDAA is unconstitutional because it disregards the Fifth Amendment guarantee of due process for "all persons" and the Sixth Amendment right to a fair and speedy trial.

When presidential candidates Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich asserted that they would impose loyalty oaths on Muslims who may have wanted to serve in their administrations, Muslims again asserted American principles, pointing out that Article VI of the Constitution prohibits "religious tests" for public office. America is about who merits the position, not what their faith might be.

I am grateful for the opportunity to live the American dream and help fulfill that dream for all our nation's citizens. On July 4th, I will join my fellow Americans of all beliefs and backgrounds to mark the courage the Founding Fathers showed in asserting liberty from a tyrannical British king. The next day, I will go back to defending American ideals, because that is what my faith compels me to do.

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