Muslim civil rights group raises $150K

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Livonia — The Michigan chapter of an American Islamic civil rights group raised some $150,000 Sunday toward its efforts to safeguard the rights of Muslims in the state.

The fundraising comes as Muslims face increased scrutiny and terrorism backlash, said CAIR-MI executive director Dawud Walid. At the same time, the group touted its successes in making Michigan more friendly toward Muslims.

“Since the presidential campaign season began, there has been a sharp increase in Islamophobia in the public discourse,” Walid said to the crowd gathered for the 16th annual fundraising dinner.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s comments on suspending the federal government’s resettlement of Syrian refugees in Michigan after the Paris terror attack in November prompted other governors to say the same, Walid told the audience. Since then, Snyder has sought to distance himself from Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump, who wants to temporarily ban any person of the Islamic faith from entering the country.

Snyder, in a joint letter with Lt. Gov Brian Calley, credited CAIR for “dedication to (its) heritage.”

That commitment means not only defending Muslims the organization believes have been wronged, but also working to ensure followers can live their faith.

In a video on the organization’s legal work, three young Muslim men talked about their experiences at border crossings or being recruited to become informants for the federal government.

After repeatedly turning down the government’s advances, one of them called CAIR-MI. He was instructed to give them the business card of legal director Lena Masri.

“After that,” he said on the video, “I didn’t hear from them anymore.”

During the dinner at Burton Manor in Livonia, Warda Kalim, a staff attorney who serves as CAIR-MI’s safe spaces coordinator, touted the organization’s success in making Michigan’s public spaces more Muslim-friendly.

At Wayne State University, CAIR-MI helped secure the regular offering of food certified for Muslims in its dining halls. When students at Saginaw Valley State University heard of the success at Wayne State, they asked CAIR to help them do the same. That project, Kalim said, is in the works.

A number of secondary schools in the area have established reflection rooms for observant students, Kalim said. Plymouth-Canton Community Schools, she said, even offers girls-only swimming classes for those who prefer modesty.

Hamtramck police have adopted hijab-friendly policies for female Muslim officers, Kalim said.

Mayor Karen Majewski, who attended the dinner, said she’s interested in America “being a nation that recognizes all residents and all our diversity.” “In CAIR’s advocacy, they’re really protecting all of our rights.”

Not every effort has been successful.

In 2015, a mosque proposed in Sterling Heights was opposed. The proposal failed 0-9.

Earlier that year, a Metro Detroit Muslim man tried to open a youth camp on his property in Ogemaw County. Residents expressed concern that the space would be used to indoctrinate fellow Muslims to become terrorists, or supporters of ISIS.

That proposal also failed.

U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint, was scheduled to accept a community service award, but was unable to attend.

In addition to a videotaped message, Kildee asked Amir Hekmati, an ex-Marine who was captured by Iran but allowed to return to Michigan via Germany in January, to speak in his place.

Hekmati thanked CAIR for its efforts, such as the #FreeAmirNow hashtag on social media, and those that took place out of the public eye, such as talking to the leadership in Iran.

“It is thanks to you I am here now,” Hekmati said, to applause.