CAIR-Massachusetts: 2024 Legal Worker Award Recipient

What is CAIR-MA and what services does it provide?

Assalamu alaykum!  Thank you for asking! 

CAIR-MA is the Massachusetts chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization.  We are a small but passionate non-profit dedicated to protecting the rights of Muslims in Massachusetts.  In terms of our legal work, we provide representation in cases involving hate crimes and harassment, bullying, FBI surveillance, prisoners’ religious rights, travel abuses at airports and the border, and discrimination in employment, education, and public accommodations.  We have also created a series of “know your rights” resources on these topics.

But our legal work is only one part of what we do, as we are a Muslim civil rights organization, not a law office.[1]  We are especially proud of our youth outreach and advocacy work, where we organize and uplift the next generation of Muslim leaders, culminating each year in our Muslim Youth Leadership Program.  We also educate the public about Islam, participate in interfaith coalitions, and often provide a Muslim perspective for the media.  Finally, we inform the Muslim community about voting and civic engagement, and weigh in on legislative matters affecting Muslims in the Commonwealth. 

How does the focus of CAIR-MA’s work shift with what is happening nationally? Globally?

Like any demographic or population, local Muslims are buffeted by events taking place elsewhere. During the previous Administration, it was federal policy to demonize Muslims.  Not surprisingly, that sentiment trickled down to the streets and the classroom, as hate crimes and bullying increased. 

Since the war in Gaza began last fall, requests for help exploded at a rate we’d never seen before.  Indeed, more victims of hate crimes called for legal assistance in the fourth quarter of 2023 than in all of 2022.  College activists were under siege –  and remain so.  But the greatest demand came from employees – those in healthcare were especially hard hit – who were harassed, sanctioned, and even fired for their pro-Palestinian views, typically expressed on their personal social media accounts.  They were falsely accused of being antisemitic (often by anonymous and coordinated campaigns) for criticizing a foreign government.

This targeted attack on Muslims and Palestinians involved complex legal and social issues that were not directly within our usual purview.  We recognized the urgency of the situation and the need to prioritize the legal protections of impacted employees and student activists.  This meant rapidly acquiring new knowledge in relevant legal areas.  Our team embarked on a learning and development effort to address these unfamiliar aspects.

Additionally, acknowledging our own limitations, we strategically marshaled the expertise of our established allies.  This collaboration significantly enhanced our capacity to respond effectively to these pressing needs.

How has NLG-Mass supported CAIR-MA’s work?

NLG-Mass has consistently demonstrated its allyship by providing invaluable support.  This collaboration has taken many forms, from addressing technical inquiries to offering crucial legal expertise.

  • Championing Justice:  In recognition of his pro bono representation of a disabled Muslim woman in a housing discrimination case, NLG member Mark Stern was awarded CAIR-MA’s first-ever “Champion of Justice” award in 2019.  In 2020, NLG member Jeff Feuer led a well-received workshop on the legal rights of protesters for our Muslim Youth Leadership Program.  During a time of nationwide Black Lives Matter demonstrations, this workshop provided Muslim teenagers with essential legal knowledge.
  • Securing VictoriesIn 2022, NLG member Dick Bauer played an instrumental role in preparing us for oral arguments before the Appeals Court, which allowed us to successfully defend a harassment prevention order obtained for a Muslim family beset with Islamophobic harassment.
  • Ongoing CollaborationRecognizing the needs related to the Gaza conflict, CAIR-MA and NLG-Mass formed a joint task force in early 2024.  This collaboration, detailed in the “Empowering Student Activists” article in this issue of Mass Dissent, signifies an ongoing commitment to support campus activists.  The task force is actively strategizing on related topics such as doxxing and employment challenges faced by Palestinian rights advocates.
  • A Grateful Partnership:  In light of the growing suppression of pro-Palestinian voices, we express our sincere appreciation to the Mass. NLG chapter.

How can others support CAIR-MA and the great work you all are doing?

Sign up for our referral list!  Although we are a civil rights organization, we have a growing network of trusted legal professionals in various practice areas (immigration, family law, personal injury law, etc.) for paying clients.  We prioritize referrals to NLG members whenever possible, ensuring connections with qualified attorneys aligned with our values.

[1] We are also not a religious organization, as we do not wade into theological issues. We serve those who follow all branches of Islam.