Dini Mohamed was standing in a post-prayer group with Abdoul Shmohamed and Akbar Osman.
“There is always a misconception about Islam being a violent religion,” said Shmohamed, “but Islam is about peace.”
The three men each said they have heard numerous accounts of violence and discrimination against Muslims in Columbus. They said employers have fired Muslims for praying—Islam demands prayer five times per day. It was reported that a few teachers, as well, have allegedly prevented Muslim students from praying.
For these and other problems, Akbar Osman said Muslims locally turn for help to the Center for American Islamic Relations (CAIR) of Ohio.
CAIR Ohio is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to empower Muslims to be active in their communities, and to dispel misconceptions and stereotypes about Islam.
The organization is an affiliate office of CAIR National, which was founded in Washington, D.C. in 1994.
Having completed his Ph.D in civil engineering at Ohio State University, Ahmad Al-Akhras sat in Columbus watching on television the fallout surrounding the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.
“Around the country we were faced with suspicion,” said Al-Akhras. “It immediately it came to mind to blame Arabs or Muslims. People were beaten up...and (mosques and businesses were) broken into and vandalized.”
He and other Columbus Muslims were concerned that Muslims were getting a bad reputation, were being endangered, and were being discriminated at work.
At that time the only CAIR office existed outside the organization’s Washington, D.C. headquarters in northern California. But in June 1998, Al-Akhras presided over the first meeting of CAIR Ohio.
In the past seven years, the local Muslim-advocacy nonprofit has grown apace with Columbus’s expanding Muslim communities. Estimates now peg the central Ohio’s Muslim population at between 30,000-35,000. There are 13 mosques in Columbus.
Statewide, 150,000 Muslims call Ohio home. CAIR opened offices in Cleveland and Cincinnati. As of 2005, 29 CAIR chapters operate throughout the country. Though numbers vary, it is estimated roughly 6-7 million Muslims live in the U.S.
Sitting in his office on Reed Road in Upper Arlington, Adnan Mirza is still getting used to his new role as director of CAIR Ohio.