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Profile: The Council on American Islamic Relations

Read the full, comprehensive report: Profile: The Council on American Islamic Relations (PDF)

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization with offices around the country, defines its mission as “to enhance understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.”

Since its founding in 1994, CAIR has sought with some success to position itself as the go to American-Muslim civil rights organization. In recent years, it has focused much of its activity on responding to the proliferation of anti-Muslim incidents and sentiment around the country.

CAIR’s stated commitment to “justice and mutual understanding,” however, is undermined by its anti-Israel agenda. CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad has accused Israel supporters in the U.S. of promoting “a culture of hostility towards Islam” and CAIR chapters continue to partner with various anti-Israel groups that seek to isolate and demonize the Jewish State. 

CAIR’s anti-Israel agenda dates back to its founding by leaders of the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP), a Hamas affiliated anti-Semitic propaganda organization. While CAIR has denounced specific acts of terrorism in the U.S. and abroad, for many years it refused to unequivocally condemn Palestinian terror organizations and Hezbollah by name, which the U.S. and international community have condemned and isolated.

In a 2004 interview with Al Jazeera, Nihad Awad said, “If they want us to condemn a liberation movement inside Palestine or inside Lebanon they should condemn Israel tens of times on all levels at all times, and we will not condemn any organization.”

CAIR’s more recent criticism on Hezbollah began only when the terrorist organization’s stopped focusing solely on Israel and began engaging in military operations against Sunni Muslim fighters in Syria and Iraq. Hussam Ayloush, who heads the Los Angeles office of CAIR, called Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah “Satanic” in a post on Facebook in June 2013.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has distanced itself from CAIR over the years. In an April 2009 letter to the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology, and Homeland Security, the FBI explained that it suspended contact with CAIR because of evidence introduced during the Holy Land Foundation (HLF) trial, demonstrating that CAIR and its founders were part of a group set up by the Muslim Brotherhood to support Hamas. The trial ended with guilty verdicts on all charges against HLF and five of its officers, including a 65 year sentence for Ghassan Elashi, the founder of CAIR’s Dallas chapter. 

“Until we resolve whether there continues to be a connection between CAIR or its executives and Hamas, the FBI does not view CAIR as an appropriate liaison partner,” the letter read. In September 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a review of the FBI’s interactions with CAIR to reaffirm the FBI policy prohibiting non-investigative cooperation with the group.

Questions  about CAIR’s links to the Holy Land Foundation and the Muslim Brotherhood  also led some elected officials to request “federal officials to investigate the actions and non-profit status” of CAIR.

CAIR’s activity has also been the subject of controversy abroad. In November 2014, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) placed CAIR and a number of other American Muslim groups on a list of terrorist organizations. The UAE decision followed a campaign by the UAE government against the Muslim Brotherhood. This designation has raised questions, including by the U.S. government. A State Department spokesperson indicated that the U.S. was seeking more information from UAE about why the designation was made.