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Is CAIR Suing Passengers (in the Imams’ Case)?


What a great opportunity for the CAIR-critics to spin this one monstrously (FOX was of course not far behind; by the way you can click HERE to “get back” at FOX a bit)! If you don’t know at all what I am talking about, read it here. Sadly, many Muslims fell into the trap and started circulating e-mails asking CAIR not to sue the passengers, but only the airline. Of course, they missed the simple rule… VERIFY. Especially when it concerns your Muslim brothers and sisters or your Muslim organizations. Also, Becket Fund, a respectable organization, got involved with an open letter (here’s a news article from the ‘fiendly’ Washington Times), and of course Congressional Republicans didn’t want to be too far behind to obtain some positive PR at the expense of CAIR; always a win-win for them with the media firmly in control of the anti-CAIR lobby.

So, who did CAIR in fact sue? Here’s the story on CAIR’s response… and the entire letter from CAIR to Becket is appended below. So, next time you want to jump at CAIR’s throat, ask yourself, what would you do if you were the victim of a false reporting? What if a neighbor reported to the police that you were loading ammonium nitrate bags into your truck, resulting in a SWAT operation at your house? Would you just let that go in the kindness of your heart? Perhaps you would let it go, but if you did not want to let it go, would it be not your full right to take your neighbor to task legally? Especially if he denies it or if there are conflicting reports? So, the same goes in this situation with CAIR and the Imams… Why not let the Court decide? Why are we so afraid of getting to the bottom of the situation? Only one party speaks the truth: the Imams or the Passengers, and since the media seems to have already defamed the Imams with no redress from US West, how else are they going to seek justice for what they they underwent? So, those who jumped on the anti-CAIR-suing bandwagon, for next time let’s think, and then act.


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Dear Mr. Hasson:

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) would like to respond to your open letter dated March 23, 2007, regarding Shqeirat et. al. v. US Airways Group, Inc. et. al.

SEE: An Open Letter regarding Shqeirat, et al. v. US Airways Group, Inc., et al. (“The Case of the Flying Imams”)

We trust that the Becket Fund and CAIR share the same objective of upholding the Constitution and preventing violations of religious and civil rights.

Unfortunately, your letter was misleading and mischaracterized the lawsuit brought against US Airways by the six imams. It appears you believe the false allegations promoted by irresponsible and unaccountable parties on the Internet that the imams and their lawyers intend to target “ordinary citizens” who were simply reporting suspicious activity.

Mr. Omar Mohammedi, the attorney representing the imams, has repeatedly asserted that this is not the case. The only individuals against whom suit may be raised in this litigation are those who may have knowingly made false reports against the imams with the intent to discriminate against them.

The imams will not sue any passengers who reported suspicious activity in good faith, even when the “suspicious” behavior included the imams’ constitutionally-protected right to practice their religion without fear or intimidation.

When a person makes a false report with the intent to discriminate, he or she is not acting in good faith.

Since March 19, 2007, several days prior to your letter, the imams’ attorney has repeatedly clarified this position in media outlets including the Star Tribune (Minnesota) Fox News and The Nation. He has also amended the complaint to reflect this clarification. (Footnote 1)

We stand by the principle that when anyone’s rights are diminished, the rights of all Americans are threatened and we do recognize this works both ways.

I believe we can both agree that Americans do not have the right to make false reports with the intent to discriminate. It is a criminal offense that disturbs public order and creates unnecessary fear, suspicion and division in any society. (Footnote 2)

Making false reports of suspicious behavior with the intent to discriminate during a time of war is doubly harmful. It not only harms the persons against whom false reports are made, but wastes urgently-needed law enforcement resources.

We can also agree that Americans do have the right to be free from baseless accusations made to law enforcement because of their faith, ethnicity or race, and that they have a right to confront those who may make such false reports.

Having said this, please know that the focus of the imams’ claim is the conduct of US Airways. The lawsuit asserts that the airline and its personnel discriminated against the imams and treated them as if they were common criminals because of their religion and ethnicity.

I would like to thank you for your legal advice and for sharing your theory on proper civil rights litigation.

However, we must respectfully disagree with your assertion that naming individual defendants in civil rights litigation is bad legal form.

Actually, the civil rights movement taught us that discrimination is not exclusive to federal or state governments, but that private individuals unfortunately do sometimes engage in discriminatory conduct that causes harm to other people.

As a result, civil rights actions have been brought against individuals in several civil rights contexts, including housing discrimination and false/discriminatory arrest cases.

Public opinion may not view this case favorably, but again as the civil rights movement taught us, any initiative to racial and religious justice is not always popular, particularly in its early stages.

We now rightly view the “rabble rousers” and “troublemakers” who defended African-Americans in the courts as champions of social justice and civil rights. CAIR takes these champions as our example and works toward adding to their great legacy.

The attorney representing the imams is an officer of the court with extensive experience in civil rights litigation. (Footnote 3) His religion is irrelevant to the legal issues in the imams’ case. Any civil rights attorney should be willing to defend the civil liberties of these religious leaders.

Finally, CAIR has great respect for your organization’s work in advancing the cause of religious liberty and we have worked with you in the past on a number of issues. That is why we were surprised that you sent your open letter characterizing the lawsuit in a manner contrary to the clarifications previously made by Mr. Mohammedi.

CAIR is shocked at your reference in the media to the imams’ case as “legal terrorism” (Footnote 4) and concerned that you find your group opposing this litigation. (We are also concerned about your use of stereotypical and derogatory terms such as “The Case of the Flying Imams.”)

Additionally, we are deeply disappointed that nowhere in your letter did you recognize the imams as the possible victims of religious discrimination, nor did you recognize the imams’ right to defend their freedom of religion.

We find your letter to be inconsistent with your organization’s mission.

We do agree with you that we should not allow a “chilling” effect on an individual’s right to report suspicious behavior in good faith, which is not the case in this litigation. However, you seem very comfortable contributing to a national environment that chills the right of American Muslims, Arab-Americans and South Asians to redress violations of their civil rights.

This chilling effect is caused by labeling efforts to protect Muslim civil rights in court as “legal terrorism” and warning that the public will view this case as “Muslim lawyers running amok.”

The American Muslim community has been profiled by law enforcement in the past and has been the target of numerous false allegations made by fellow Americans with the intent to discriminate.

Many airlines are being sued because people who are, or are perceived to be, Muslim, Arab-American and South Asian have been profiled based on their race, language and religious appearance and not based on suspicious activities. See Cerqueira v. American Airlines, Inc., 2005 WL 4799302 (D. Mass) and Klein v. American Airlines, Inc. (SDNY 2006).

Recently, some fair-minded Americans thoughtfully reminded us that at times it is necessary to bring these grievances to court:

“[A]bout a century ago. . .the nation went through much the same anguish. Catholic immigrants were pressured to convert to Protestantism. German immigrants were suspected of spying. Chinese and Italians were accused of spreading disease and suspect cuisine. Americans have learned a great deal since then about assimilation and tolerance, but some lessons have to be learned over and over, even if the classroom turns out to be a courtroom.” (Footnote 5)

I hope that upon reading this letter, and looking further into the imams’ case, you will no longer find yourself in opposition to their effort to clear their names and defend their religious liberty.

At the very least, we ask you to please refrain from using such charged statements such as “legal terrorism” when referring to a civil rights case brought by American Muslims. It is not constructive and only adds to the empty and sensationalistic rhetoric of those who seek to disparage and demonize a segment of our society.

I am more than willing to meet with you to discuss this case.


Nihad Awad
Executive Director


1. On March 19, 2007, he was quoted as saying: “I think there is a difference between someone reporting suspicious activity and someone making false reports about a fact that did not exist. . .” (Back )

See: Imams May Sue Airline Passengers (The Nation)
See also: US Airways Passengers Who Reported “Suspicious” Imam Activity May Be Sued (Fox News)

Again on March 22, 2007, Mr. Mohammedi told the Star Tribune that the suit “is directed at the airlines and the airport, not passengers. . .If someone has a legitimate security concern, we’re not going after that person, or if someone saw them praying and reported that out of ignorant fear, we aren’t going to target that.”

See: Attorney Offers Aid to Defendants in Imam Suit (Star Tribune)

Additionally, the complaint now identifies possible John Does as “individuals who on November 20, 2006, may have made false reports against Plaintiffs solely with the intent to discriminate against them on the basis of their race, religion, ethnicity and national origin.” Paragraph 21 of Complaint

2. See 18 USCS 1001 (2007) (Back )

3. He has represented the Amadou Diallo family in their suit against the NYPD and tried other prominent civil rights cases on behalf of Muslims and people of other faiths. (Back )

4. See: Hill Bill Protects Flying Public (Washington Times) (Back)

5. See: Six Imams: Maybe a Judge Can Find Clarity (Star Tribune) (Back )

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Abu Reem is one of the founders of MuslimMatters, Inc. His identity is shaped by his religion (Islam), place of birth (Pakistan), and nationality (American). By education, he is a ChemE, topped off with an MBA from Wharton. He has been involved with Texas Dawah, Clear Lake Islamic Center and MSA. His interests include politics, cricket, and media interactions. Career-wise, Abu Reem is in management in the oil & gas industry (but one who still appreciates the "green revolution").



  1. AnonyMouse

    March 28, 2007 at 1:39 PM

    Subhan’Allah, that totally sucks :S
    It also reminds me of an aayah in the Qur’an that tells us to double-check our sources – can anyone remember what the exact aayah is?

  2. Amir

    March 28, 2007 at 10:11 PM

    The only individuals against whom suit may be raised in this litigation are those who may have knowingly made false reports against the imams with the intent to discriminate against them.

    How can it ever be proven that a particular person made a report with an “intent to discriminate”? It seems a strange area to be wading into because whilst the act (making a report) can be proven, it is very difficult to prove bad intent.

  3. Moiez

    March 28, 2007 at 10:18 PM

    I think I watched a clip on these imams on the news i forget which station but they did a pretty good job at explaining themselves. Just another thing that makes a person frustrated

  4. Amad

    March 28, 2007 at 10:27 PM

    Good question Amir. I think the first step is to prove that a false report was made… that would involve witnesses under oath. For instance, if a passenger claimed that Imams were making anti-American chants, and other passengers (all under oath) disagree, then you could have a case of false report being proven in court.

    Intent to discriminate would be a subjective question, probably based on reactions and answers by accused (if they take the stand) to cross-questioning by attorneys. However, I could ask the same question of any discrimination case. How do you ever prove intent, which resides in the person’s heart, except by the consequences of the intent, i.e. actions that clearly contradict the standards of normal behavior?

  5. In Pursuit of Justice

    March 29, 2007 at 2:00 AM

    AnonyMouse, I believe this is the ayah you are refering to:

    “O you who have believed, if there comes to you a disobedient one with information, investigate, lest you harm a people out of ignorance and become, over what you have done, regretful.” [49:6]

  6. Affad Shaikh

    March 31, 2007 at 12:11 PM


    Its funny, maybe all of you know, but today a Neo-KKK group of dead beat ignorant folks will be protesting in front of CAIR offices. They will be hanging an effigey of Osma Bin Laden and “throwing shoes at him” its “great family fun so bring your kids” to the nearest CAIR office.

    Thought people might get a kick out of the fact that they are protesting on a Saturday when no one is working at the CAIR offices. But hey, they do have day jobs.

  7. Pingback: Travelling with terrorists? at Congregation of Muslim Bloggers

  8. Pingback: » “Preliminary Victory” In Imams’ Suit Against US Airways

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