The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is a large and prominent advocacy organization for Muslims in the United States. Throughout its history, CAIR has been suspected of supporting political Islamist movements, especially the Muslim Brotherhood.
In 1994, a year before the United States labeled the Palestinian extremist group Hamas a Foreign Terrorist Organization, two individuals who were at the time working for a Hamas offshoot organization (the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP)) founded CAIR to support Hamas’ agenda in the United States. The IAP was also a known front for the Muslim Brotherhood.
Over the years, CAIR’s alleged ties to Hamas have proved troublesome for the organization. In 2007, federal prosecutors reportedly designated CAIR a co-conspirator with the Holy Land Foundation, a group that was eventually convicted for financing terrorism. In 2014, CAIR was designated a terrorist organization by the United Arab Emirates and multiple CAIR members have been arrested on charges related to terrorism.
CAIR is an opponent of American anti-terrorism policies like the PATRIOT Act, citing civil liberties concerns.  CAIR’s leaders are extremely anti-Israel, claiming that terrorist organizations Hamas and Hezbollah are liberation movements. 
CAIR claims to be partners with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), NAACP, and Amnesty International; rallied against President Trump’s decision to end the DACA immigration policy; and participated in the 2017 Women’s March.
Alleged Association with the Muslim Brotherhood
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) grew out of the Islamic Association for Palestine, a group that was created by the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas. The Muslim Brotherhood also identified the Islamic Association for Palestine as one of its United States fronts.
In 1993, the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestine Committee organized a secret meeting in Philadelphia that was surveilled by the FBI. At the meeting, two Islamic Association for Palestine officials (Nihad Awad and Omar Ahmad) discussed the need to create a new “neutral” entity for influencing U.S. policy and opinion to support Hamas because “it [was] known who we are.”
Structure and Funding
Since at least 2013, the CAIR Foundation 501(c)(3) has served as the main vehicle for CAIR’s operations with the Washington Trust Foundation (formerly CAIR, Inc.), functioning mainly as an asset-holding fund to “support the charitable purposes of CAIR Foundation, Inc.”
In 2015, the CAIR Foundation raised $3.3 million and spent a total of approximately $2.7 million.
CAIR claims to have 29 offices, 65 spokespeople, and 35 full-time lawyers.
In 2013, it was revealed that from approximately 2007 to 2012, CAIR, Inc., transferred $1.08 million to the CAIR Foundation. CAIR, Inc., had disclosed in 2005 that it received a total of $1.2 million from six contributors in Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E.
Subsequently in 2013, in its petition for nonprofit status reinstatement, the CAIR Foundation acknowledged that that it had received $405,000 from the government of Qatar during the five-year period that it failed to file IRS annual disclosures.
Nonprofit Status Controversy
CAIR Foundation had obtained its tax-exempt status in 2007, but failed to file the required IRS annual reports. It lost its tax-exempt status in June 2011.  In August 2011,  the CAIR Foundation filed for re-instatement with the IRS as a nonprofit charity.
In 2011, then-U.S. Representative Frank Wolf (R-Virginia) called for an IRS investigation of the organization because it was revealed that it had solicited overseas contributions from then-Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi during the years in which the CAIR Foundation failed to file its annual IRS reports.
Rep. Wolf pointed to a 2009 letter that CAIR Foundation Executive Director Nihad Awad sent to Gaddafi requesting $15 million to support the Muslim Peace Foundation. The Congressman noted that the letter was written with the full knowledge of the regime’s brutal treatment of its opponents and its deplorable human-rights record, as well as its long history of acts of international terrorism.
Congressman Wolf also claimed that he also had information indicating that during the same years, “CAIR representatives may have traveled to Sudan to solicit funds from Sudanese President Omar Hassan Bashir, an internationally indicted war criminal.”
The CAIR Foundation’s current purpose is to advocate and educate on behalf of Muslims using media relations, government relations, education/advocacy activities, and voter-registration efforts.
In 2015, the CAIR Foundation claimed to have spent $353,000 on communications to spin Islam and Muslims in a positive light, and $101,000 on government relations.
CAIR additionally engages in organized lobbying efforts and responds to legislation and government actions. Despite not filing any lobbying-registration documents, CAIR says that it coordinated 325 meetings with members of Congress or their staffs in 2015 and 2016. (Federal lobbying registration law requires registration once certain thresholds are met; non-registration despite meeting members does not necessarily imply impropriety.)
Additionally, in 2012, the White House acknowledged that President Barack Obama’s deputies held “hundreds” of closed-door meetings with CAIR representatives.
In 2009, five members of Congress and one senator wrote a letter to the IRS and the House and Senate Clerks claiming that CAIR potentially violated both the IRS rules against excessive lobbying by a 501(c)(3) organization and the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 2005 for failing to register as lobbyists.
CAIR positions itself as the principal American Muslim civil-rights and advocacy organization. In recent years, it has focused on responding to anti-Muslim incidents and sentiment around the country.
Since the 9/11 attacks, CAIR has consistently maintained that the U.S. government is targeting Islam itself in the war on terrorism and has violated the civil liberties of Muslims.
In 2003, CAIR and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee filed a lawsuit titled Muslim Community Association of Ann Arbor v. Ashcroft challenging the constitutionality of the USA PATRIOT Act, alleging that it violated the civil liberties of Americans, particularly Muslims. CAIR also endorsed the Civil Liberties Restoration Act of 2004, which was designed to roll back national-security policies that had been adopted after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
In 2007, former CAIR Board Chairman Parvez Ahmed said, “The new perception is that the United States has entered a war with Islam itself” and that “The war on terror is causing us infinitely more harm than the terrorists could have ever imagined.” Ahmed claimed that the Bush administration had used fear to generally create bad policies.
Islamic Religious Law
In a 1998 San Ramon Valley Herald article, Lisa Gardiner wrote that CAIR co-founder Omar Ahmad proclaimed that “Islam isn’t in America to be equal to any other faith, but to become dominant. The Koran … should be the highest authority in America, and Islam the only accepted religion on Earth.”
Similarly, in 1993, CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper told a told a reporter for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “I wouldn’t want to create the impression that I wouldn’t like the government of the United States to be Islamic sometime in the future.”
In 2014, Nihad Awad signed onto a letter denouncing the jihadist militant group Islamic State (ISIS). However, the letter appeared to support the imposition of Islamic religious law in civil contexts: The letter specifically stated, “Hudud punishments are fixed in the Qu’ran and Hadith and are unquestionably obligatory in Islamic Law.”
CAIR actively defended convicted Palestinian Islamic Jihad financier Sami Al-Arian before and after his conviction for financing terrorism. On the day Al-Arian was arrested, CAIR co-founder and then-Chairman Omar Ahmad issued a press release in support of Al-Arian, saying that his arrest was due to “political considerations, not legitimate national security problems.” A CAIR spokesman, echoing a common anti-Israel trope, blamed his arrest on the “pro-Israel lobby.”
In February 2007, CAIR endorsed a call by the American Muslim Taskforce for Civil Rights and Elections for a worldwide “rolling fast” in support of Al-Arian, who had declared a hunger strike. Then, in 2008, CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad led a delegation to visit Al-Arian, stating that “[Awad] believes in [Al-Arian’s] just cause and we were there to support him.”
In the hours after the deadly 2015 San Bernardino, California, terrorist attack in which Islamist terrorists had murdered 14 people and wounded 31 others, CAIR “advised” the family of the suspected terrorist and held a press conference featuring the family of the killers. In the days that followed, CAIR offered legal assistance to the family, and CAIR’s Los Angeles chapter appeared in court to help the terrorist’s sister obtain custody of his child. During this time, CAIR’s Los Angeles chapter director, Hussam Ayloush, said the United States was partly responsible for such acts of terror, saying “let’s not forget that some of our own foreign policy as Americans, as the West, have fueled that extremism.”
In 2008, CAIR’s then-National Board Chairman Parvez Ahmed described terror organizations Hamas and Hezbollah as “part of the political processes in their societies, just like the [Irish Republican Army, an Irish nationalist terror group] was part of the political process in their society.”
In 2004, when asked by Al-Jazeera about the U.S. designations of Hamas and Hezbollah as Foreign Terrorist Organizations, Nihad Awad said “we do not and will not condemn any liberation movement inside Palestine or Lebanon.”
According to the Anti-Defamation league, “CAIR’s anti-Israel agenda dates back to its founding by leaders of the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP), a Hamas affiliated anti-Semitic propaganda organization.”
In a 2004 interview with Al Jazeera, Awad said, “If they want us to condemn a liberation movement inside Palestine or inside Lebanon they should condemn Israel tens of times on all levels at all times, and we will not condemn any organization.”
CAIR officials have displayed a double standard for denouncing violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For example, Ibrahim Hooper in a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette interview refused to denounce the terrorism of Hamas and Hezbollah, stating “we’re not in the business of condemning.” By contrast, when Israeli troops killed Hamas founder Ahmed Yassin, CAIR condemned “the assassination of a wheelchair-bound Palestinian Muslim religious leader,” calling the operation “an act of state terror.”
The Investigative Project on Terrorism noted that CAIR’s failure to denounce Hamas has come while the organization has committed countless violent acts that have killed numerous Israeli non-combatants.
On May 6, 2019, CAIR released a report titled “Hijacked by Hate: American Philanthropy and the Islamophobia Network,” which listed several mainstream philanthropic foundations it claimed had been donating to organizations considered anti-Muslim hate groups between 2014 and 2016.  According to the report, roughly 1,096 philanthropies had been used to donate over $125 million towards the “Islamophobia Network” during the two-year window. Such organizations listed in the network include Fidelity Charitable Fund, the National Christian Charitable Foundation, and the Jewish Communal Fund. The network also claimed that President Donald Trump is part of an “Anti-Muslim Hydra Administration” and that more than a dozen members of his administration have been a part of these anti-Muslim groups. 
On March 10, 2020, CAIR, along with the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the American Muslim Fund (AMF), released a white paper discussing how philanthropic nonprofits can deny funding to organizations classified as hate groups. Titled “Hate-Free Philanthropy,” the white paper discussed areas including the issue of “hate-funding” for philanthropies, understanding the role of donor-advised funds, the role of private sectors like Big Tech in pushing anti-hate policies, and how the philanthropic community can develop a framework for “greater reform.”  The white paper itself was a product of a symposium in August 2019 which included CAIR, SPLC, and the AMF along with several dozen like-minded advocates and organizations. 
Alignment with Mainstream Liberal Groups
CAIR partners with a number of groups that are involved with organized American left-wing politics and advocacy including the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, Hispanic Unity, and the NAACP.
In October 2011, CAIR’s New York chapter expressed its support for the anti-capitalist movement Occupy Wall Street. In 2016, CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad said, “Black Lives Matter is our campaign.” In 2017, CAIR joined the “Women’s March on Washington.”
In 2017, CAIR condemned President Trump’s termination of the DACA immigration program and encouraged CAIR members to attend a rally for the DREAM Act hosted by the left-of-center immigration group United We Dream.
According to the Middle East Forum, since 2000, CAIR’s “key figures” have given over $700,000 to political candidates, with $635,000 going to Democrats. CAIR officials have been supportive of left-wing Muslims in Congress, providing $138,098 to U.S. Representative Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota) and $38,126 to U.S. Rep. Andre Carson (D-Indiana). The group’s figures have supported institutional Democrats and Democratic Party committees, providing $35,635 to Hillary Clinton, $24,138 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and approximately $37,000 to Barack Obama’s campaign committees.
Ties to Terror
Terror Financing Co-Conspirator
CAIR Executive Director Awad originally denied that CAIR had ever received money from the Holy Land Foundation, declaring, “Our organization did not receive any seed money from HLFRD.” However, it was later revealed that two months after its founding, CAIR took a $5,000 donation from the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development.
In 2008, five leaders of the Holy Land Foundation were convicted of funneling $12 million to Hamas after 1995, when the Clinton administration banned any dealings with the terrorist organization in what has been described as “the largest successful terror financing prosecution in U.S. history.”
During a preceding 2007 trial against the Holy Land Foundation, prosecutors named CAIR as unindicted co-conspirators in the case and introduced evidence that linked CAIR, Inc., to the Holy Land Foundation and the “U.S. Muslim Brotherhood Palestine Committee.”
In 2009, on appeal, a federal judge upheld the designation of CAIR as an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the case. The Judge found that the government presented “ample evidence to establish the association” between CAIR and Hamas, a Palestinian terrorist organization, and between CAIR and the Holy Land Foundation.
After these findings, the FBI explained that it had suspended contact with CAIR.
United Arab Emirates Terror Designation
CAIR Employees and Officials
According to the Middle East Quarterly, at least five individuals connected to CAIR as employees and local chapter board members have been arrested, convicted, deported, or otherwise linked to terrorism-related charges and activities.
Among these CAIR associates is Randall (“Ismail”) Royer, a CAIR communications specialist and civil-rights coordinator who was arrested in June 2003 with 10 others known as the “Virginia jihad group.” They were indicted on 41 counts of “conspiracy to train for and participate in a violent jihad overseas.” Royer’s eventual guilty plea deal stipulated that the events culminating in his arrest occurred at least in part while he was working for CAIR.
Among the other CAIR associates convicted of crimes related to terror are Ghassan Elashi, a co-founder of Texas CAIR convicted in 2005 of terrorism-related offenses and sentenced to almost seven years’ imprisonment, and former CAIR board member Abdurahman Alamoudi, sentenced to 23 years’ imprisonment for directing at least $1 million to al-Qaeda.
Nihad Awad is currently CAIR’s Executive Director. He has served in this post since the group’s founding in 1994. Prior to starting CAIR, Awad was the spokesman and public relations director for the Islamic Association for Palestine.
CAIR’s National Board is comprised of eight members and is chaired by Rouda Allouch.