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The Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, is, depending on who you ask, either a human rights and civil liberties organization founded to protect the rights of Muslims in the U.S., or an Islamist lobby group with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. It's perfectly possible for both to be true.


CAIR was founded in 1994. While it has often been accused of being a Hamas-connected front group, this largely stems from a single prosecution in which for procedural reasons CAIR was named as one of some 250 unindicted co-conspirators[1] in an investigation into organizations funneling money to Hamas via the Holy Land Foundation. The Foundation was a charity providing aid to Palestinians, and "set up food banks on the East Coast, helped victims of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and provided assistance to people after floods and tornadoes devastated parts of Iowa and Texas in the 1990s."[2] The Foundation -- not CAIR -- was held liable for the death of a U.S. teen killed by Hamas and his parents were awarded money damages.[3] CAIR has never been prosecuted for a crime.

CAIR has had one employee deported. Randall ("Ismail") Royer, CAIR's former communications specialist and civil rights coordinator, pleaded guilty to weapons and explosives charges, and supporting a Kashmiri terrorist group.[4]

Terrorism directed at CAIR[edit]

In December of 2015, two CAIR offices, one in Santa Clara, California, and the other in Washington, D.C., were evacuated after receiving letters containing white powder. The former was sent by "Infidel," and the latter contained a hate message.[5] CAIR compiles regular lists of reports of attacks on Muslim-Americans, and saw an increase after the terror attack in Paris. [6]

CAIR's legal advocacy[edit]

CAIR-Oklahoma brought the initial Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint against Abercrombie & Fitch on behalf of Samantha Elauf who was denied a job with the company because she wore a head scarf (hijab). The landmark case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court, which ruled 8-1 that Elauf's rights were violated when Abercrombie & Fitch refused to accommodate her religious head covering.[7]

But, while discrimination in the workplace is an issue for Muslim-Americans, perhaps more serious is that as of 2013, the U.S. government had 468,749 citizens on its "no-fly" list. That number was released in litigation when CAIR represented Gulet Mohamed, 21, of Alexandria, Virginia. In 2011, Mohamed was stranded in Kuwait on return from a trip to Yemen and his native Somalia.[8] The no-fly list has caused enormous anxiety and disruption for many Muslim-Americans.

The case of American Yaseen Kadura[edit]

Yaseen Kadura, a 25-year-old medical student, was placed on the U.S. "no-fly list" in 2012 and had not been able to fly for 3 and 1/2 years. He was also targeted by the Department of Homeland Security's Automated Targeting System[9] and he and his family were subjected to six-and-a-half hours of "humiliating" searches trying to cross back over the border from Canada to Michigan.[10] Then:

While driving back to the United States from a trip to visit family in Toronto, Kadura was stopped at the U.S. border, handcuffed, and detained for nearly eight hours...

“Later, when I was in the holding cell, I asked them why any of that had been necessary,” Kadura added. “They told me it was for both their protection and mine, so that I wouldn’t end up getting shot.”

Kadura again underwent humiliating searches and interrogation. ICE agents denied his requests to make a phone call and confiscated his phone, saying they would contact him to return it in 24 to 48 hours. In the end, he did not receive the phone for nearly two months.

CAIR took on Kadura's case pro-bono and filed a complaint on his behalf, and the ACLU filed a separate lawsuit on behalf of Kadura and other Muslim-Americans in similar positions. An ICE agent called Kadura's CAIR attorney, requesting a meeting with Kadura regarding the contents of his cell phone, which was declined. Then, Kadura reports, the agent then called him directly and threatened him with government harassment if he didn’t meet privately with him, and without his CAIR lawyer.

Moreover, Kadura also says the ICE agent told him that “the only way you’ll ever get your name off the no-fly list” would be by agreeing to work for the government as an informant, which Kadura refused to do. Just as the suits were to begin, out of the blue Kadura's lawyers received an email from DHS stating they had “reevaluated Mr. Kadura’s redress inquiry” and that he was no longer on the no-fly list.

Kadura finally flew again in January of 2016, but he "waited for nearly an hour while the attendant spoke on the phone with a DHS representative, relaying questions to Kadura about the purpose of his visit to New York." Then, he was given a boarding pass and "escorted by a number of TSA agents to a special security room, segregated from other passengers for a private security check." Despite this victory, "Kadura’s case in many ways exemplifies how placement on the no-fly list, an opaque, unchallengeable, and seemingly arbitrary database, can completely upend an individual’s life." Kadura now says:

“I feel relieved at the moment, but I also feel like these problems are not really going away,” he predicted. “The political environment is obviously getting very scary for Muslims in the U.S, and when you’ve been placed on secret lists like this, it’s always something that could be used against you in the future.”

“I was only 22 when I was first placed on the no-fly list,” Kadura said. “Even though no charge or accusation has ever once been made against me, if I ever decide that I want to voice an opinion or be politically active in the future, there’s always going to be this hanging over me.”


In 2013, the American Bar Association awarded Minnesota CAIR a Difference Maker Award in the category of "Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division." [11] CAIR-MN represented a Muslim woman whose supervisor at work denied her a hijab accommodation out of disapproval at her conversion to Islam. The firm also represented Somali refugees who were called “stupid liars” at work as well as Muslim employees who were called “terrorists” and “monkeys” and then fired when they complained about the hostile work environment.

The good[edit]

  • In 1995, CAIR fought to protect the rights of Muslim women to wear the hijab. This would become the most common type of court case they would be involved with.
  • After the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing in which over a hundred people were murdered by Timothy McVeigh, a number of Muslims became the victims of retaliatory hate-crimes, in spite of McVeigh not being a Muslim. CAIR attempted to raise awareness of this problem in order to prevent further injuries.
  • In 2005, coordinated a fatwa that condemns religious extremism and violence against civilians (though CAIR was criticized for not denouncing attacks on military targets; most definitions of terrorism don't include these[note 1]).

The meh[edit]

  • Wrote a letter to the chief justice of the Supreme Court asking to have a sculpture of Mohammed removed from the US Supreme Court building in 1997. [12][note 2]
  • Convinced Nike to remove a design of sneakers because the letters look like something else in Arabic.[13]

The bad[edit]

  • CAIR has been listed as a terrorist organization by the UAE,[14] mainly due to an ongoing pissing match between the UAE and the Muslim Brotherhood, whom the UAE feels is giving CAIR their marching orders.

Awards and endorsements[edit]

Ohio's ACLU chapter awarded CAIR-Ohio the 2003 Liberty's Flame Award for contributions to the advancement and protection of civil liberties.[15]

The ACLU of Washington State bestowed on CAIR-Washington the 2013 Civil Libertarian Award for "work[ing] tirelessly to protect the civil liberties of and to promote respect and understanding for Muslim Americans." [16]

Civil libertarian and journalist Glenn Greenwald strongly supports CAIR's mission, and has noted: “Always, certain marginalized groups are targeted for these abuses in the first instance, whether they be Native Americans or African-Americans or women or communists in the 1950s or Latinos in the immigration debate, and now American Muslims in the wake of 9/11...."[17]. This has also contributed to wingnuts claiming Greenwald promotes apologetics for hardline Islamists[18], which Greenwald says "underscores for me the kind of demonization that American Muslims are routinely subjected to, even to this day."[19]

External links[edit]


  1. Though see here for some cases that have been called terrorism despite being mostly on military targets
  2. Wait, why does the Supreme Court have a sculpture of Muhammad? Hmm...


  2. Even the Anti-Defamation League admits they were a charity.,db7611a2-02cd-43af-8147-649e26813571,frameless.html
  9. A blacklist people are placed on secretly and have no way to get off.
  14. List of organizations designated as terrorist organizations by the UAE