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CAIR Responds to Becket Fund Letter on Imams’ Lawsuit

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful


Muslim civil rights group says letter based on false allegations

(WASHINGTON, D.C., 3/27/07) – The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) today responded to an open letter from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which criticized the Muslim civil rights group for supporting a discrimination lawsuit brought against US Airways by six imams, or Islamic religious leaders.

CAIR characterized the Becket Fund’s letter as “misleading” and based on false allegations against the imams.

In his letter to Becket Fund for Religious Liberty President Kevin J. Hasson, CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad wrote:

Dear Mr. Hasson:

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) would like to respond to your open letter dated March 23, 2007, regarding Shqeirat et. al. v. US Airways Group, Inc. et. al.

SEE: An Open Letter regarding Shqeirat, et al. v. US Airways Group, Inc., et al. (“The Case of the Flying Imams”)

We trust that the Becket Fund and CAIR share the same objective of upholding the Constitution and preventing violations of religious and civil rights.

Unfortunately, your letter was misleading and mischaracterized the lawsuit brought against US Airways by the six imams. It appears you believe the false allegations promoted by irresponsible and unaccountable parties on the Internet that the imams and their lawyers intend to target “ordinary citizens” who were simply reporting suspicious activity.

Mr. Omar Mohammedi, the attorney representing the imams, has repeatedly asserted that this is not the case. The only individuals against whom suit may be raised in this litigation are those who may have knowingly made false reports against the imams with the intent to discriminate against them.

The imams will not sue any passengers who reported suspicious activity in good faith, even when the “suspicious” behavior included the imams’ constitutionally-protected right to practice their religion without fear or intimidation.

When a person makes a false report with the intent to discriminate, he or she is not acting in good faith.

Since March 19, 2007, several days prior to your letter, the imams’ attorney has repeatedly clarified this position in media outlets including the Star Tribune (Minnesota) Fox News and The Nation. He has also amended the complaint to reflect this clarification. (Footnote 1)

We stand by the principle that when anyone’s rights are diminished, the rights of all Americans are threatened and we do recognize this works both ways.

I believe we can both agree that Americans do not have the right to make false reports with the intent to discriminate. It is a criminal offense that disturbs public order and creates unnecessary fear, suspicion and division in any society. (Footnote 2)

Making false reports of suspicious behavior with the intent to discriminate during a time of war is doubly harmful. It not only harms the persons against whom false reports are made, but wastes urgently-needed law enforcement resources.

We can also agree that Americans do have the right to be free from baseless accusations made to law enforcement because of their faith, ethnicity or race, and that they have a right to confront those who may make such false reports.

Having said this, please know that the focus of the imams’ claim is the conduct of US Airways. The lawsuit asserts that the airline and its personnel discriminated against the imams and treated them as if they were common criminals because of their religion and ethnicity.

I would like to thank you for your legal advice and for sharing your theory on proper civil rights litigation.

However, we must respectfully disagree with your assertion that naming individual defendants in civil rights litigation is bad legal form.

Actually, the civil rights movement taught us that discrimination is not exclusive to federal or state governments, but that private individuals unfortunately do sometimes engage in discriminatory conduct that causes harm to other people.

As a result, civil rights actions have been brought against individuals in several civil rights contexts, including housing discrimination and false/discriminatory arrest cases.

Public opinion may not view this case favorably, but again as the civil rights movement taught us, any initiative to racial and religious justice is not always popular, particularly in its early stages.

We now rightly view the “rabble rousers” and “troublemakers” who defended African-Americans in the courts as champions of social justice and civil rights. CAIR takes these champions as our example and works toward adding to their great legacy.

The attorney representing the imams is an officer of the court with extensive experience in civil rights litigation. (Footnote 3) His religion is irrelevant to the legal issues in the imams’ case. Any civil rights attorney should be willing to defend the civil liberties of these religious leaders.

Finally, CAIR has great respect for your organization’s work in advancing the cause of religious liberty and we have worked with you in the past on a number of issues. That is why we were surprised that you sent your open letter characterizing the lawsuit in a manner contrary to the clarifications previously made by Mr. Mohammedi.

CAIR is shocked at your reference in the media to the imams’ case as “legal terrorism” (Footnote 4) and concerned that you find your group opposing this litigation. (We are also concerned about your use of stereotypical and derogatory terms such as “The Case of the Flying Imams.”)

Additionally, we are deeply disappointed that nowhere in your letter did you recognize the imams as the possible victims of religious discrimination, nor did you recognize the imams’ right to defend their freedom of religion.

We find your letter to be inconsistent with your organization’s mission.

We do agree with you that we should not allow a “chilling” effect on an individual’s right to report suspicious behavior in good faith, which is not the case in this litigation. However, you seem very comfortable contributing to a national environment that chills the right of American Muslims, Arab-Americans and South Asians to redress violations of their civil rights.

This chilling effect is caused by labeling efforts to protect Muslim civil rights in court as “legal terrorism” and warning that the public will view this case as “Muslim lawyers running amok.”

The American Muslim community has been profiled by law enforcement in the past and has been the target of numerous false allegations made by fellow Americans with the intent to discriminate.

Many airlines are being sued because people who are, or are perceived to be, Muslim, Arab-American and South Asian have been profiled based on their race, language and religious appearance and not based on suspicious activities. See Cerqueira v. American Airlines, Inc., 2005 WL 4799302 (D. Mass) and Klein v. American Airlines, Inc. (SDNY 2006).

Recently, some fair-minded Americans thoughtfully reminded us that at times it is necessary to bring these grievances to court:

“[A]bout a century ago. . .the nation went through much the same anguish. Catholic immigrants were pressured to convert to Protestantism. German immigrants were suspected of spying. Chinese and Italians were accused of spreading disease and suspect cuisine. Americans have learned a great deal since then about assimilation and tolerance, but some lessons have to be learned over and over, even if the classroom turns out to be a courtroom.” (Footnote 5)

I hope that upon reading this letter, and looking further into the imams’ case, you will no longer find yourself in opposition to their effort to clear their names and defend their religious liberty.

At the very least, we ask you to please refrain from using such charged statements such as “legal terrorism” when referring to a civil rights case brought by American Muslims. It is not constructive and only adds to the empty and sensationalistic rhetoric of those who seek to disparage and demonize a segment of our society.

I am more than willing to meet with you to discuss this case.


Nihad Awad
Executive Director

1. On March 19, 2007, he was quoted as saying: “I think there is a difference between someone reporting suspicious activity and someone making false reports about a fact that did not exist. . .” (Back )

See: Imams May Sue Airline Passengers (The Nation)
See also: US Airways Passengers Who Reported “Suspicious” Imam Activity May Be Sued (Fox News)

Again on March 22, 2007, Mr. Mohammedi told the Star Tribune that the suit “is directed at the airlines and the airport, not passengers. . .If someone has a legitimate security concern, we’re not going after that person, or if someone saw them praying and reported that out of ignorant fear, we aren’t going to target that.”

See: Attorney Offers Aid to Defendants in Imam Suit (Star Tribune)

Additionally, the complaint now identifies possible John Does as “individuals who on November 20, 2006, may have made false reports against Plaintiffs solely with the intent to discriminate against them on the basis of their race, religion, ethnicity and national origin.” Paragraph 21 of Complaint

2. See 18 USCS 1001 (2007) (Back )

3. He has represented the Amadou Diallo family in their suit against the NYPD and tried other prominent civil rights cases on behalf of Muslims and people of other faiths. (Back )

4. See: Hill Bill Protects Flying Public (Washington Times) (Back)

5. See: Six Imams: Maybe a Judge Can Find Clarity (Star Tribune) (Back )

– END –

CONTACT: CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper, 202-488-8787 or 202-744-7726, E-Mail:; CAIR Communications Coordinator Rabiah Ahmed, 202-488-8787 or 202-439-1441, E-Mail:; CAIR Communications Coordinator Amina Rubin, 202-488-8787, E-Mail:


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