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 Muslims from around the world were flocking there to wage jihad. Awad had previously written admiringly of the Bosnian Army soldiers who, by his telling, “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 group 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 or not 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 Awad and Rafeeq Jaber 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—a post he held until 2009 — 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 $5,000 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, D.C.
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 those four defendants, said Awad: “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 arrest 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 President Bill Clinton‘s 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 joint 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.”
At a May 2003 forum at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies where Awad was a guest participant, an audience member noted that “the Department of Justice had released reams of evidence showing that these organizations, including the Holy Land Foundation and Benevolence International [another charity whose assets were frozen], have direct connections and in fact their leadership was the leadership of Al Qaeda and Hamas.” To that, Awad replied: “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…”
When testifying before the the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology, and Homeland Security in September 2003, Awad was given an opportunity to distance himself from IAP. Instead, he chose to speak in the organization’s defense: “The Islamic Association of Palestine (IAP) is a grassroots organization which continues to function legally and has only been ‘linked’ through allusion and no charge of criminality has been brought against the organization.”
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 [with] 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.”
Shortly after U.S. Army psychiatrist Nidal Malik Hasan went on a murderous shooting rampage while shouting “Allahu Akbar!” (“God is Great!”) inside the Army Post at Fort Hood, Texas on November 5, 2009, Awad said: “This is an isolated incident.” In fact, however, the Fort Hood massacre came on the heels of some 70 arrests of Muslims involved in homegrown terrorism over the previous 12 months.
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.”
In July 2014, Awad tweeted: “People of conscience: Declare Israel as a terrorist state for the war crimes it has been committing against civilians.”
Awad reiterated his contempt for Israel the following month, 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 (National Security Agency), 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.”
Drawing a connection between blacks and Muslims as groups allegedly oppressed by American society, Awad told attendees at the 14th annual Muslim American Society–Islamic Circle of North America Convention in December 2015: “Black Lives Matter is our matter. Black Lives Matter is our campaign.”
On July 14, 2016, an Islamic State-affiliated terrorist in Nice, France deliberately drove a large cargo truck into crowds of people, killing more than 80 and injuring over 450. After French President Francois Hollande subsequently said that “all of France is under the threat of Islamic terrorism,” Awad tweeted: “French President #Hollande is pouring oil on the fire by describing the #Nice crime as Islamic terrorism and subjects France’s Muslims to danger. What is Islamic about this crime?”
Awad vehemently opposed a January 2017 executive order by which President Donald Trump attempted to place a temporary moratorium on the issuance of visas for people seeking to travel to the United States from seven majority-Muslim nations that were known to be hotbeds of Islamic terrorism. That same month, Awad and 26 fellow Muslim activists filed suit against Trump, alleging that the travel ban violated the U.S. Constitution’s religious freedom protections. “Donald Trump’s executive order is not based on national security, it is based on fear-mongering,” said Awad. “This is not a Muslim ban, it is a Muslim exclusion order.”
In December 2017, Awad was a plaintiff in a separate lawsuit that attorney Shereef Akeel filed against President Trump and two members of his cabinet. Condemning “the Trump Administration’s regular and vulgar attacks against Islam and Muslims,” and its “multipronged attempt to demonize Islam and marginalize Muslims in the United States,” the suit again challenged Trump’s temporary travel ban. Other plaintiffs in the case included such notables as Linda Sarsour, Rashida Tlaib, and Dawud Walid.
Awad defended U.S. congresswoman Ilhan Omar for tweeting, in February 2019: (a) her opinion that the pro-Israel lobby organization AIPAC — an American entity that receives much funding from American Jews but no funding from the state of Israel — was guilty of paying U.S. politicians to take positions favorable to Israel; and (b) “It’s all about the Benjamins [$100 bills], baby,” quoting a 1997 song by rapper Puff Daddy. On March 4, Awad joined Linda Sarsour and other Muslim activists in a rally, held at the steps of the Supreme Court, expressing “unequivocal solidarity” with Omar and her recent remarks. Awad claimed that Omar was simply stating the obvious — “that Israel and the AIPAC have undue influence in our Congress and on our foreign policy.”
After a white supremacist carried out two mass shootings that killed more than 50 people at a pair of mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand on March 15, 2019, Awad claimed that President Trump was responsible for the massacre. Awad cited, as evidence, the fact that the murderer, in his “manifesto,” had asked himself: “Were/are you a supporter of Donald Trump?,” and answered: “As a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose? Sure. As a policy maker and leader? Dear god no.” Awad and the media focused entirely on the part that described Trump as a “symbol of renewed white identity.” But in his manifesto, the killer never said that he had been incited to violence by Trump; in fact he never said anything at all about Trump and his relationship with Muslims. Awad, for his part, failed to mention that the killer’s manifesto had quoted Barack Obama, John F. Kennedy, Charles Darwin, and a host of others. Nor did Awad note that the killer claimed that his own violent impulses had been inspired by al-Qaeda.
In October 2019, Awad was one of approximately a dozen open-borders activists who gathered at the steps of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., wearing orange life jackets and chanting “No ban, no wall, sanctuary for all.” Their rally was dedicated to supporting the Guaranteed Refugee Admissions Ceiling Enhancement Act, which called for requiring the U.S. to admit at least 95,000 foreign refugees each year.
In November 2019, Awad said at a CAIR national fundraising banquet: “A strong CAIR equals a strong community. A strong community will produce a strong, and confident and successful Muslim … We are as strong as your support for CAIR…. So I’m telling you tonight we are going to work in the next years, Inshallah [God willing], to elect at least 30 Muslims in the Congress. This number is equivalent to our size and our potential as American Muslims. Including at least two [U.S.] senator Muslims.” Such political engagement, he said, was “the formula” for increasing Muslims’ influence in society.
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. For details, click here.
By The Investigative Project on Terrorism
Nihad Awad, Co-founder of CAIR, Unplugged: Portrait of an Anti-Semite
By Steve Emerson
April 5, 2011
CAIR Exec’s Telling Interview
By The Investigative Project on Terrorism
September 17, 2008
CAIR’s Hamas Co-Conspirator Associates
By Joe Kaufman
February 15, 2010