- Served as Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Florida chapter from 2000-2009
Born in Georgetown, Guyana, Altaf Ali earned a master’s degree in social work at Florida International University, where he headed the campus Muslim Association, the Student Social Work Association, and the Phi Alpha Honor Society. He subsequently served as executive director of the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) from 2000-09.
During an October 11, 2001 guest appearance on a radio program, Ali wavered on the question of whether or not the victims who had died in the World Trade Center on 9/11 could be classified as innocents whose killings were unjustified. He was asked that question directly, by both the program host and a fellow guest, a total of ten times before he begrudgingly stopped evading it and answered in the affirmative. Noticeably angry by then, Ali asked one of the questioners (his fellow guest) whether he was Jewish. When the guest replied that he was in fact Jewish, Ali retorted “No wonder!” Then, charging that his questioners were attacking him unfairly, Ali decided to cut short his participation in the interview and left the studio.
On a number of occasions post-9/11, Ali complained that it had become “open season” on Muslims.
In 2003 Ali was hired by Diversity & Cultural Outreach department of the Broward County (Florida) School Board to provide diversity training to school personnel.
In March 2003 Ali said the following regarding the possibility that Adnan El Shukrijumah — who had been identified as an Al-Qaeda operative by 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — might in fact be involved in terrorist activity: “That would be a total shocker. It is beyond explanation. You’re talking about someone in your circle who frequents the same family centers you do.”
In 2003 as well, Ali used a joint press conference with the FBI to cast doubt on what he depicted as the coerced confessions of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. “Has he [Mohammed] been deprived of sleep?” Ali asked. “Food? We have no idea, and they [the U.S. government] won’t tell us what measures they have taken to elicit this information. Yet, they are willing to … label this man public enemy Number One.”
Ali also defended the reputation of Shaikh Abdur-Rahman Al-Sudais, chief cleric of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, who had once described Jews as “the scum of the human race, the rats of the world, the killers of prophets, and the grandsons of monkeys and pigs.” Ali portrayed Al-Sudais as a highly respectable individual whom he had “never heard … say anything hateful.”
In August 2003 Ali gave the welcome address at an event keynoted by former U.S. Congressman Paul Findley, who lamented what he characterized as a post-9/11 spike in bias crimes against Muslims in the United States. Alleging that America had responded to 9/11 by trampling on the civil liberties of Muslims, Ali asserted that many Muslims had begun “to question the phrase ‘Liberty and Justice’ which is a corner stone of this great society.” “Some of us [Muslims],” he added, “have become so disheartened by some of the [anti-Muslim] atrocities that have taken place, that they have returned to their homeland.”
In December 2005 Ali was appointed to the Broward County Diversity Advisory Council, which professes to promote unity among people of different cultural, religious and ethnic backgrounds.
In April 2007, while a jury was being selected for the upcoming trial of accused Islamic terrorist Jose Padilla, Ali called it a “travesty” that the defendant’s religion would be an issue raised in the courtroom. “When you put someone on trial, it’s not their religion on trial,” he said, explaining that Arabic words like “jihad” tended to viscerally evoke negative connotations that could prejudice jurors against Muslim defendants.
In May 2007 Ali reported that he had recently received an anonymous death threat. “We’ve seen acts against Muslims escalating,” he said. “It used to be that many of the complaints were about discrimination against Muslims, the wrongful firing of Muslim workers. Stones being thrown through the windows of mosques, vandalism. But in the past six months, we’ve seen a severe escalation.”
On March 1, 2008, Ali stood by his CAIR-Florida colleague, Jawhar “Joe” Badran, as the latter stated: “Hamas is not a terrorist organization.”
In January 2009, Ali defended a $60,000 advertising initiative — funded entirely by CAIR — which adorned 50 of Broward County’s 290 public buses with a large ad that read: “ISLAM: The Way of Life of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad.” Said Ali: “We owe it to our fellow Americans to let them know that Islam stands for peace. Muslims are here and Muslims are part and parcel of the United States.”
In addition to his work with CAIR, Ali also served variously as:
- a volunteer in the Florida Guardian Ad-Litem Program
- a board member of the South Florida Human Rights Council
- a board of directors member of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida
- a family services counselor/supervisor with the Florida Department of Children and Families
Ali parted ways with CAIR in 2009. He also left the United States that same year.
Further Reading: “Altaf Ali” (Honors.nova.edu, AmericansAgainstHate.org); “Bringing Islamic Extremists into Our Schools” (by Joe Kaufman, 4-17-2003); “Family Members Defend Man [A. Shukrijumah] Sought As ‘Imminent Threat’ by F.B.I.” (NY Times, 3-22-2003); “[Altaf Ali] CAIRing for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed” (Militant Islam Monitor, 3-15-2007); “Former Congressman [Findley] Calls on Muslims to Help Set America on Right Course” (Militant Islam Monitor, 8-2-2003); “Potential Padilla Jurors Questioned” (Los Angeles Times, 4-17-2007); “CAIR-FL: U.S. Muslims Increasingly Targets Of Hate” (CAIR.com, 5-6-2007); “Broward County, FL: Muslim Ads on County Buses Drive Jewish Group to Protest” (Vosizneias.com).