Growing up in Chicago as a soccer-crazed teenager in the 1990s, I never gave the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development much thought. It was a respected Muslim-American charity known to me mostly for its heart-wrenching appeals sometimes accompanied by annoying music.
Fast-forward a decade: I’m on a stage in Dallas for a large rally in support of officials of the now-defunct foundation who were facing charges of providing material support to a terrorist organization. The nationally riveting case was about to go to trial, and I was joined by prominent American Muslims and civil rights activists hoping to educate the local Muslim community about the legal and public-relations battle ahead.
The past few years have brought a lot of changes, the sorts of changes that see a young Muslim consultant for a Fortune 500 company — yours truly — morph into a full-time civil rights activist, and that see a celebrated Muslim charity such as the Holy Land Foundation face trial as an enemy of the people. In that fateful way, and on that Dallas stage, our once divergent paths converged.
In my three years as the head of the Chicago branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the country’s largest Muslim civil rights group, I have encountered a plethora of civil rights abuses leveled against American Muslims. But more than any other, the case against the foundation represented a decisive moment in this stormy episode of the Muslim immigrant community’s young history.
There was too much of the Muslim community invested in this case. The foundation had been the largest Muslim-American charity during its time of operation. The prosecution’s unindicted co-conspirator list of 306 groups and individuals read like a who’s who of Muslim-American leadership: groups such as the council I work for; the Islamic Society of North America, the largest Muslim educational group; and the North American Islamic Trust, the largest Muslim holding company.
A guilty verdict threatened to engulf the Muslim-American establishment into a legal war of attrition spelling its slow demise. A not-guilty verdict held the promise of ending the nightmare that began six years ago and restoring the community’s trust in the system. (MORE)
Ahmed Rehab is the executive director of the Chicago Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org