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Posted by on in Civil Rights

By Nihad Awad

On March 7, 1965, Americans marching in Alabama for their right to vote were met with violence. It was on "Bloody Sunday" that state troopers attacked the peaceful civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

That attack on marchers at the Edmund Pettus Bridge and the national upheaval that followed led to passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of our nation's most important pieces of legislation.

In 1965, the first march on Selma began with African-Americans demanding the right to vote, but today the legacy of that movement encompasses all challenges to bigotry, racial prejudice, religious profiling, and unwarranted surveillance of Americans.

Sadly, nearly 50 years later the right to vote again came under attack. In January 2013, in Shelby County v Holder, a simple majority of the Supreme Court held that the coverage formula in Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act was unconstitutional, meaning that states could change their election laws without advance federal approval unless Congress enacted a new coverage formula (which they have not).

Civil rights advocates decried this decision as gutting the hard fought protections of the Voting Rights Act. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in her dissent, said that the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the nation's commitment to justice had been disserved by the decision.

Since that time, many states and local governments have begun passing restrictive voter laws and to become more aggressive in expunging voters from registration rolls.

For American Muslims, many of whom are African-American, the struggle that began in Selma continues today in a different form. African-American Muslims face the double challenge of both racial and religious stigmatization and marginalization.

The second March of Selma succeeded because of the call Dr. King made for the nation to join hands across racial and religious lines. It also succeeded because the images of police brutality shocked many Americans and drew civil rights and religious leaders to Selma in support of the marchers and the cause of voting rights.

Today, many in our communities are still facing brutality because of their race and background, and the images can be just as disturbing.

A recent Department of Justice report on the Ferguson, Mo., police department showed that while the majority of the city's residents are African-American, less than 8 percent of police officers are black. It showed that African-Americans residents accounted for 90 percent of officers' use of force cases.

While African-American drivers in Ferguson were twice as likely as white drivers to be searched during traffic stops, they were 26 percent less likely to be found in possession of illegal contraband.

We can only overcome this type of discrimination when everyone feels the duty to confront bigotry and disenfranchisement at the social, political and personal levels.

American Muslims today face Islamophobia, stereotyping, hate crimes and discrimination.

Ordinary Muslims nationwide feel the impact of growing hate rhetoric promoted and exploited by a well-funded and well-coordinated "Islamophobia industry" that spends tens of millions of dollars on anti-Muslim propaganda, including trying to enact state laws that negatively impact Muslims.

We stand on the shoulders of giants in this struggle. Like all Americans, we are tremendously indebted to those who sacrificed before us to gain equal rights. We hope that our efforts now to end bigotry and intolerance will benefit generations to come and will contribute to helping our beloved country live up to its ideals of equal rights and equal treatment for all.

As Muslims, we tell our brothers and sisters who sacrificed and died to fulfill the dreams of the Civil Rights Movement, we are with you in Selma, in Ferguson, in New York, in Cleveland, and everywhere that dream remains unfulfilled.

Your struggle is our struggle. It is America's struggle.

Nihad Awad is the co-founder and national executive director of CAIR.

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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 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

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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