By Adil James, TMO
This yearâ€™s CAIR banquet found generous donations of about $130,000 this past Sunday at the Islamic Center of America. The banquet showed CAIRâ€™s continuing move towards proactive litigation rather than press interviews as a focus of its efforts, in its description of the work of the past year and in its selection of keynote speaker. The keynote speaker was attorney Sahar Aziz, who also received CAIR-MIâ€™s â€œCivil Rights Defender Award.â€
CAIRâ€™s choice of a secular Muslim keynote speaker and a non-Muslim MC, shows its underlying strategy of reaching out to non-Muslim communities as a means of serving its civil rights goals of protecting Muslims, and the presence of many lawyers among the audience and speakers showed its new emphasis on litigation as a means of securing the rights of Muslims.
Charismatic speaker Siraj Wahhaj spoke as well, providing entertaining fundraising for the audience.
CAIR-MIâ€™s increasing influence was shown by its selection of a prominent journalist as its MC, namely the prominent journalist Jack Lessenberry, Michigan Radioâ€™s senior political analyst. Lessenberry was named Journalist of the Year in 2002 by the Metropolitan Detroit Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
Executive Director Dawud Walid spoke on the movement of CAIR towards litigation as a strategy, mentioning CAIR Michiganâ€™s attorney Lena Masryâ€™s filing of a federal lawsuit against the discriminatory barring by Pittsfield Township of an Islamic Academy that had been planned for that area.
Mr. Walid mentioned also the discriminatory practices of customs border agents who have in the past asked intrusive and inappropriate questions about the religious (non-political) practices of Muslims who fall under their influence.
He went on to explain that the vision of CAIR Michigan is to â€œtear down discrimination, eradicate the disease by attacking the structuresâ€ that serve to bully innocent Americans like Trayvon Martin (recently tragically murdered by a man who was not even arrested after following, stalking, and gunning down the unarmed Martin).
Mr. Walid asked for the prayers of those in attendance, saying that was the real weapon of the mu`min, rather than guns or other physical weapons.
Siraj Wahhaj is a powerful speaker. He speaks very intelligently, with knowledge of Islam, and with an engaging sense of humor.
He explained that he had become so well known on account of his fundraising activities that one day as he began to speak he heard a young girl in the audience say â€œDaddy, do we have to give money again?â€
He argued that prophets are sent when there is something wrong in the world. Nuh (as), Ibrahim (as), Musa (as), Eissa (as), and Prophet Muhammad (s) were all sent to bring the world from darkness into light.
Analogously, he argued, service organizations within the United States sprang up to defend the oppressed against oppressors. The NAACP was started over 100 years ao, he said, because of the oppression of black people. Similarly, CAIR had come into existence to defend Muslim people against the oppression of bigots, ignorance, and intolerance.
He then went into a very effective and entertaining explanation of why it was better to give money before leaving dunya in the name of Allahâ€™s path.
But the keynote speaker at the event was the prominent and accomplished lawyer Sahar Aziz, who joined the faculty of Texas Wesleyan University School of Law in 2011, and who had previously served as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center where she taught national security and civil rights law.
She previously served as an attorney in a Washington DC law firm, litigating class action lawsuits on gender discrimination.
Ms. Aziz spoke at length on the importance of activism to protect the civil and human rights of Muslims and others in the United States.
She spoke initially about famous people who had stood up against injustice courageously, including such famous people as Derrick Bell, Sojourner Truth, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, WEB Dubois, and Rosa Parks, emphasizing that during their lives these people were persecuted, not celebrated.
Ms. Aziz spoke about her own journey to the point where she realized she would do what she could to stand up against discrimination, despite the persecution that she expected to suffer as a result.
â€œNot one of us doesnâ€™t have scars on our backs,â€ she said. Nevertheless we insist to be judged on the content of our character and not through guilt by association.
It was through her travels to the outside world that she realized the special power of American cultural diversity, of the â€œfreedom from old traditions that hold you back,â€ and she learned a newfound commitment to American values.
She emphasized that the bigots who would seek to strip Muslims of their rights and even their citizenship would also do the same to other minorities, and that in fact the true threat to Americaâ€™s ethics is from those intolerant people.
â€œWe must work across lines to hold the government accountable for breaches of our rights,â€ she said.
She advised the American Muslim community to embrace the differences within it, to unify under the common goal of common defense.
â€œThe Muslim community must recognize that Muslim women deserve a place at the table,â€ she also said.
The theme that ran through her speech was that Muslims must stand up against discrimination.