On November 12, 2015, the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), with the support of a number of local Islamic groups in Boston, organized a lobbying day at the Massachusetts State House, ostensibly to advocate on behalf of local Muslims.
Nadeem Mazen, a director of CAIR's Massachusetts branch (CAIR-MA) and an elected councillor for the city of Cambridge, explained: "We must be thought leaders and exemplars in our communities for basic social justice. And we're meeting with our legislators to remind them that we are hundreds, thousands, and in many cases tens of thousands strong in their communities."
Certainly, the discussions that took place fit the "social justice" narrative – the Boston Globe reports that participants argued for "increasing affordable housing, reforming school discipline, and reducing mass incarceration for non-violent offenders."
But who exactly was behind this lobbying day? And what does it mean for American Muslims that such groups claim to represent their interests in state legislatures?
The chief organizing body, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, is a prominent Islamic group, but which has a long history of involvement with extremist and terrorist causes. In 2009, during the Holy Land Foundation terror financing trial, U.S. District Court Judge Jorge Solis concluded that, "The government has produced ample evidence to establish the associations of CAIR... with the Islamic Association for Palestine, and with Hamas."
During the trial, CAIR was designated an "unindicted co-conspirator." As a result of CAIR's apparent links to a terrorist movement, the Justice Department in 2009 announced a ban on working with CAIR. The FBI also severed relations.
CAIR was founded in 1994 by three officials of the Islamic Association of Palestine, which, the Holy Land Foundation trial would later determine, was a prominent Hamas front group. One of CAIR's Islamic Association of Palestine founders, Nihad Awad, is today CAIR's Executive Director.
The Anti-Defamation League notes that CAIR has long expressed anti-Semitic and pro-terror rhetoric, adding that, "[CAIR's] public statements cast Jews and Israelis as corrupt agents who control both foreign and domestic U.S. policy and are responsible for the persecution of Muslims in the U.S."
The other groups involved in the lobbying day included the Muslim Justice League, which campaigns against counter-terrorism initiatives; and MassMuslims, a Boston-based organization that claimed to promote civic engagement for the region's Muslims. Nadeem Mazen -- a councilor in Cambridge, a director of CAIR-MA and the chief architect of the lobby day -- founded MassMuslims in 2014. His group has promoted events with Omar Suleiman, a extremist preacher who describes homosexuality as a "disease" and a "repugnant shameless sin."
In May, another MassMuslims official, Omar Khoshafa, invited the extremist preacher Yasir Qadhi to address students at Harvard. Qadhi has claimed that "Hitler never intended to mass-destroy the Jews," and that the Holocaust is "false propaganda." Khoshafa, who was quoted as a participant at the lobby day, describes Yasir Qadhi as "one of the foremost Muslim-American scholars and an amazing lecturer."
Other activists involved with CAIR's lobby day included Abdullah Faaruuq, a Muslim cleric, who, in response to the arrest of the Al Qaeda operative, Aafia Siddiqui, told Muslims to "grab onto the gun and the sword and go out and do your job."
Abdullah Faaruuq, wearing a white skullcap, takes part in a Muslim "lobby day" at the Massachusetts State House.
But do any of these extremist connections matter if the purpose is simply to involve Massachusetts Muslims in the democratic process? The lobbying topics may seem relatively benign -- affordable housing, school reform and prison incarceration rates. But a letter sent by the Boston-based Americans for Peace and Tolerance to all State Legislators, and signed by a number of prominent Muslims explained that, "CAIR's initial strategy is to assert itself as the political voice of Massachusetts Muslims by addressing some of the legitimate needs of the American Muslim community, but it will eventually be lobbying for the acceptance of a radical and hateful ideology, to the detriment of Massachusetts's historically moderate, integrated Muslim population and the greater Boston community."
By purporting to advocate on behalf of Massachusetts Muslims, CAIR appears to be seeking credibility as a voice of American Islam. When legislators meet with CAIR, they help CAIR impose itself upon Muslim communities as their self-declared representatives.
Very few American Muslims, however, seem to feel that CAIR is a legitimate ambassador for American Islam. According to a 2011 Gallup poll, about 88% of American Muslims said that CAIR does not represent them. Muslims all over the world, in fact, apparently do not think CAIR is a moderate or legitimate Muslim group: in 2014, the United Arab Emirates, a pious Muslim state, designated CAIR a terrorist organization, along with dozens of other Muslim Brotherhood organizations.
In reality, American Muslims are extremely diverse, and no single group can claim to speak on their collective behalf. American Islam comprises dozens of different religious sects and political movements, many of which advocate distinctly different ideas. But for Islamist bodies such as CAIR, it suits their agenda if American Muslims are portrayed as a monolithic community. If American Muslims can be seen as homogenous, then a group such as CAIR has a better claim to represent their interests.
Even CAIR's own research, however, undermines their claim to speak on behalf of American Muslims. A 2011 report reveals that a majority of American mosques are not affiliated with any American Islamic body.
Addressing a conference in 2000, Sheikh Abdul Hadi Palazzi, a Muslim cleric and secretary general of the Italian Muslim Assembly, explained that, "[CAIR] is a Muslim Brotherhood front organization. It works in the United States as a lobby against radio, television and print media journalists who dare to produce anything about Islam that is at variance with their fundamental agenda. CAIR opposes diversity in Islam."
In truth, CAIR only speaks on behalf of a small extremist ideology that, as discovered by federal prosecutors, emerged across the United States during the 1990s out of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. Although CAIR does not represent American Muslims, it managed, before the Holy Land Foundation terror trial in 2008, to persuade a great many people that it did. Enough time has passed that CAIR seems to believe it can try this move once again.
CAIR has been denounced by anti-racism groups, the federal government and by other Muslims. Its activities in the Massachusetts State House appear to be part of a larger effort to rehabilitate its image in the eyes of politicians and journalists.
While CAIR's preferred topics of discussion may seem benign is irrelevant, the real threat is one of legitimacy. If State Legislators continue to meet with CAIR and journalists continue to write puff pieces about CAIR's work, then we betray a worthy non-extremist Muslim majority while rewarding an extremist minority.
Who represents America's Muslims? In truth, no one. And certainly not CAIR.