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Council on American-Islamic Relations  

Vincent F. Biondo III

The Council on American–Islamic Relations (CAIR) is the premier civil rights organization for Muslims in the United States. Founded in Washington, DC, in 1994 with an emphasis on public relations and media communications, over two decades it has expanded to about two hundred employees at thirty-two offices in major US cities in nineteen states, according to its official website. The organization emphasizes that it is structured so that these offices operate independently. In addition to tracking hate crimes, these offices provide or arrange for legal services in areas such as civil rights, immigration, and homeland security. The story of the organization’s growth and success reveals key issues for American Muslim involvement in politics, including those surrounding the First Amendment and the intersection of religion and race. In 2016, the National Board named its first female Chair, Roula Allouch, a lawyer from Cincinnati, who in the University of Kentucky’s Law School alumni magazine was described as “the only Muslim in her class,” and a person who “knows how to put people at ease . . . to break down misconceptions [and] seek peace.” The CAIR Board has become more diverse and representative since its founding and has ventured into defending non-Muslims from civil rights violations. Today CAIR describes its mission on its national website and in many state office annual reports as follows: “To enhance understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.” While it is primarily a civil rights organization, since its founding the organization’s leaders have found it necessary to counter misinformation by introducing educational information about Islam. Key civil rights efforts it has engaged in include support for thousands of immigration and religious discrimination cases every year, documenting hate crimes in annual reports, and challenging anti-shari’ah legislation. CAIR further leads educational efforts by coordinating diversity training sessions, a public library project, and media appearances.