- Founding member and Executive Director of CAIR
- “I am a supporter of the Hamas movement.”
Nihad Awad was born in a Palestinian refugee camp in Amman, Jordan. After high school he moved to Italy and then to the United States, where he studied civil engineering at the University of Minnesota in the 1990s. Awad subsequently worked at the University of Minnesota Medical Center.
By way of the Bosnian Refugee Committee—an Islamic aid organization based in Minnesota—Awad in late 1992 spent a month in war-torn Bosnia during a time when Muslim intransigents from around the world were flocking there to wage jihad. Awad had previously written admiringly of the Bosnian Army soldiers who, he said, “courageously [stood] up to the might of Serbian tanks and planes” and “wore patches carrying the Islamic declaration of faith.” A news report from that time period cited the presence in Bosnia of an “Islamic foreign legion” of “mujahedeen” that included “Afghan guerrillas, Egyptian terrorists, Hamas and Islamic Jihad fighters, [and] Iranian special forces and Revolutionary Guard operatives.” Another report indicated that many of these mujahedeen had entered Bosnia “posing as relief workers.”
In 1993 Awad, who had developed into an increasingly outspoken advocate for the rights of Palestinians, became the public-relations director of the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP)—a front for Hamas. Soon thereafter, he also accepted a position as a contributing editor for the IAP publication, Muslim World Monitor.
In September 1993, Awad attended a secret three-day summit in Philadelphia along with a number of people whom the FBI believed were Hamas members or supporters. Ten years later, during a deposition regarding that meeting, Awad claimed he could not recall whether he had been there.
During his tenure with IAP, Awad, who has consistently rejected Israel's right to exist as a sovereign state, wrote a letter chastising the American Muslim magazine The Message, for having used the word “Israel” in one of its articles. Stating that hopefully this was “the result of an oversight,” Awad urged the periodical to “return to the terminology 'Occupied Palestine' to refer to that Holy Land.”
In 1994, then-IAP president Omar Ahmad convened a meeting with Rafeeq Jaber and Awad to discuss the possibility of branching IAP out in another direction. As a result of that meeting, in June of 1994 these “IAP three” incorporated the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR)—as Awad put it, “to bridge the chasm of ignorance between Muslims in America and their neighbors.” Awad became the group’s executive director, and Ahmad was named chairman of the board. Awad then solicited his friend and colleague from the Bosnian Relief Committee, Ibrahim Hooper, to serve as CAIR’s communications director. With the help of a $5000 donation from the Texas-based Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF)—yet another Hamas front group—CAIR opened up an office in Washington, DC.
Though HLF was eventually shut down by federal authorities in 2001 for funneling millions of dollars to Hamas, Awad repeatedly defended the organization. During a May 2003 forum at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, for instance, he said: “I am sure if we … put under the microscope, every major civic or political organization in this country, including the Red Cross, you will see that some dollars went here and there in some country, but we don't shut down the entire operation of the Red Cross…”
In his new position with CAIR, Awad's affinity for Hamas became increasingly evident. At a March 22, 1994 symposium at Barry University in Florida, he declared: “I used to support the PLO, and I used to be the President of the General Union of Palestine Students which is part of the PLO here in the United States, but after I researched the situation inside Palestine and outside, I am in support of the Hamas movement more than the PLO.”
In an interview that same year with newsman Mike Wallace, Awad was asked if he supported the “military undertakings of Hamas,” to which he replied: “The United Nations Charter grants people who are under occupation [the right] to defend themselves against illegal occupation.”
On another occasion, Awad wrote in the Muslim World Monitor that the 1994 trial which resulted in the conviction of four Islamic terrorists who had perpetrated the previous year's World Trade Center bombing was “a travesty of justice.” Notwithstanding the confessions of the terrorists, Awad said: “There is ample evidence indicating that both the Mossad [Israel’s intelligence agency] and the Egyptian Intelligence played a role in the explosion.”
When U.S. officials in 1995 arrested HLF founder Mousa Abu Marzook on an Israeli murder warrant, Awad said the measure was “politically motivated … [and] orchestrated to serve as a wedge between America and Islamic countries.”
Eager to gain influence with whichever political party holds power, Awad has long courted Democrats and Republicans alike. In 1997, during the Bill Clinton administration, Vice President Al Gore appointed Awad to a civil rights advisory panel for the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security. And during the 2000 presidential election cycle, Awad figured prominently in the American Muslim Political Coordinating Committee, a network of U.S.-based Islamic organizations that assisted in establishing a Muslim voting bloc to endorse George W. Bush.
At a 1998 event organized by the Muslim Students Association at Georgetown University, Awad said that U.S. policy in the Middle East had been corrupted by the fact that “many Presidents”—including then-President Clinton—“are servants to Israel” and to “the political authority of Jewish interests.”
At an Al-Awda rally in New York City on September 16, 2000, Awad emphasized his belief that Israel did not deserve to exist: “No matter where we are, no matter where our journey takes us as refugees, our final destination is Palestine.... They [the Jews] have been saying 'next year to Jerusalem,' we say 'next year to all Palestine.'”
In June 2001 Awad participated in a protest outside the State Department and the White House, condemning U.S. support for Israel’s allegedly repressive government. In conjunction with this demonstration, several organizations—including CAIR, IAP, the American Muslim Council, American Muslims for Jerusalem, the Muslim American Society, and the Muslim Public Affairs Council—released a statement declaring that “the real sources of violence” in the Middle East were: “the brutal Israeli occupation of Palestinian land”; “the continued expansion of [Israeli] settlements”; “the denial of the right of return for Palestinian refugees”; and “the billions of American taxpayer dollars that help finance Israel's occupation.”
When the FBI in September 2001 raided the Texas-based computer export company Infocom for its suspected ties to Hamas, Awad called the action “an assault and an insult to Muslims in America” based entirely on “stereotypes.” According to the Investigative Project on Terrorism: “Infocom subsequently was indicted and convicted of illegal transactions with Libya, Syria, and Hamas political leader Mousa Abu Marzook. Five company officials ... were convicted on related charges.”
In June 2002, Awad denounced a Justice Department anti-terrorism initiative to fingerprint and photograph nearly 100,000 foreign nationals who were already in the United States. “What is next?” he asked. “Forcing American Muslims to wear a star and crescent as a means of identification for law-enforcement authorities?”
In a February 2003 live dialogue on IslamOnline.net—a website affiliated with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood—Awad charged that “the racist policies and practices being carried out by some branches of the U.S. government” constituted a “war ... against Islam” that was being promoted by “extremists, including the Christian Right and the pro-Israel lobby.”
In September 2003, Awad and CAIR board chairman Omar Ahmad were invited to testify at hearings held by the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology, and Homeland Security; both men declined to testify.
In the 2006 U.S. mid-term elections, Awad contributed thousands of dollars to the campaign of Minnesota Democrat Keith Ellison, the first Muslim to be elected to the U.S. Congress.
During an August 2006 interview on C-SPAN's Washington Journal, Awad suggested that Muslim suicide bombings could be viewed as understandable attempts to address political injustices and had no inherent connection to Islam. To buttress his argument, he noted that according to political scientist Robert Pape, suicide terrorism “has more to do with occupations and fighting injustice than religion.”
In a 2008 interview with Islam Online, Awad indicated that America bore some, though not all, of the blame for 9/11: “[W]e should not blame the United States alone for the 11 September 2001 attacks, but we should also blame the perpetrators.”
In a 2010 speech to a joint convention of the Islamic Circle of North America and the Muslim American Society, Awad condemned Israel for “the bombings of Gaza, the building of settlements, the demolition of homes, the uprooting of olive trees, the deportation of Palestinians and the targeted killings of innocents and the destruction of the Palestinian economy.” “Members of Congress compete with each other,” he added, “whether Democrats or Republicans, to please the Israel lobby, to please Israel [and] put the interests of Israel ahead of the United States' interests.” Awad revisited his contempt for Israel in August 2014, when he wrote that the Jewish state “targets civilians,” “doesn't respect international laws or values,” and “is the biggest threat to world peace and security.”
When Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain reported in July 2014 that Awad and a number of other Muslim leaders were being spied upon by the FBI and NSA, Awad reacted: “I’m outraged as an American citizen that my government, after decades of civil rights struggle, still spies on political activists and civil right activists and leaders. I’m really angry that despite all the work that we have been doing in our communities to serve the nation, we are treated with suspicion.”
Notwithstanding his radical, pro-terrorist track record, Awad has managed to become a highly sought-after spokesman and educator on Islam-related issues in the United States.
- Awad has been a guest speaker at numerous colleges and universities, including Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and Stanford.
- He participates regularly in the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program, which welcomes foreign dignitaries, journalists, and academics who are visiting the President of the United States.
- A few days after 9/11, he was one of a select group American Muslim leaders invited by the White House to join President Bush in a press conference at the Islamic Center of Washington to condemn not only the terrorist attacks, but also the acts of anti-Muslim intolerance that allegedly had followed in some places.
- He has led negotiations with Fortune 500 companies and Hollywood film corporations on issues such as “religious discrimination in the workplace, racial and religious profiling, negative stereotypes about Muslims in major Hollywood films, and products that are offensive to Muslims.”
- He meets regularly with elected and appointed members of the U.S. government “to discuss policies affecting Muslims.” Likewise, he has testified before both houses of the U.S. Congress on such matters.
- He was a member of the United States Institute of Peace’s Advisory Committee on U.S.-Muslim Relations.
- He is currently the U.S. Representative at the Vatican-affiliated International Committee on Muslim-Christian (Catholic) Dialogue.
- He has conducted hundreds of seminars in the U.S. and around the world on “civil, political and media activism.”
- He is a regular speaker at major interfaith conferences all across the globe.
- In 2004, National Journal named him as one of its more than “100 Most Influential People in the U.S.” whose ideas “will help shape the debate over public policy issues for the next decade.”
- In 2009, Georgetown University’s Prince Alwaleed Bin Talaal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding listed him in its publication, 500 Most Influential Muslims.
- In 2010, Arabian Business ranked him 39th in the Power 100, its annual listing of the most influential Arabs.
- In 2012, the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center listed him as one of the world’s 500 most influential Muslims.
- In 2012 and 2013, Arabian Business included him in its Power 500 list.
- He is frequently interviewed on national and international media outlets such as Al Jazeera, BBC World Service, C-SPAN, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, PBS, and Voice of America. He also has been featured in newspapers such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and USA Today.