Born to parents of Egyptian descent in Walnut, California, in April 1965, Shereef Akeel earned a BA in economics from the University of Michigan in 1987, an MBA from Wayne State University in 1992, and a JD from the Michigan State University (MSU) College of Law in 1996. Since completing his formal education, he has been a partner in two Michigan-based law firms: (a) Melamed, Dailey & Akeel (from 1996-2004), and (b) Akeel & Valentine (2004-present). His legal practice consists entirely of litigation in the areas of employment discrimination, personal injury, and civil rights. “There is nothing more gratifying than bringing to justice a powerful party who has violated a weaker party’s civil rights,” says Akeel. “To be a voice for the voiceless in need is so awe-inspiring.”
During his career as an attorney, Akeel has represented mostly Detroit-area Arab and Muslim Americans, many of whom filed post-9/11 lawsuits claiming various forms of discrimination. He also has filed class action suits challenging the legitimacy of the so-called “no-fly list” by which the federal Terrorist Screening Center identifies people who are considered too dangerous to be permitted to travel by plane within, into, or out of the United States.
In 2004, Akeel gained national recognition when he initiated a federal class action lawsuit on behalf of a number of Iraqi prisoners-of-war who claimed that they had been abused or tortured by American personnel at the Abu Ghraib detention facility in Iraq. On June 9 of that year, Akeel and a team of lawyers affiliated with the Center for Constitutional Rights filed their suit against CACI International and the Titan Corporation, a pair of U.S.-based private contractors who had been hired by the American government to provide interrogation and translation services at Abu Ghraib. Akeel argued that because the translators had communicated abusive orders from the U.S. soldiers to the prisoners, the translators themselves were complicit in whatever wrongdoing may have occurred.
Akeel also served as legal counsel for a small charity called the Islamic-American Relief Agency (IARA) after: (a) agents from the FBI and the Treasury Department, suspecting that IARA was involved in some type of terrorism-supporting activities, raided the organization’s Columbia, Missouri offices in October 2004, seizing computers and written records; and (b) the Treasury Department froze several hundred thousand dollars in funds that had been donated to IARA and effectively shut down the organization under a USA PATRIOT Act provision allowing such measures during terrorism-related investigations. “The government has not presented one shred of evidence linking IARA to funding for terror,” said Akeel, “but by seizing their funds and interviewing their donors, they have effectively destroyed the charity and created a chilling effect in the Muslim community in Columbia.”
Three years later, Akeel represented those affected by a September 16, 2007 incident where employees of Blackwater Security Consulting, a private American military company, had shot and killed 14 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad’s Nisour Square while escorting a U.S. embassy convoy.
On September 11, 2007, Akeel spoke at an MSU conference titled “Hope Not Hate: The Future of U.S.-Muslim World Relations.” Co-sponsored by the University’s Muslim Students Association and Americans for Informed Democracy, this event aimed to develop “a comprehensive strategy towards more positive relations between the United States and the Muslim World, instead of relations based on fear and misunderstanding.” Other guest speakers included Rosina Hassoun and Mohammed Ayoob.
In August 2011, Akeel filed a discrimination lawsuit on behalf of 56-year-old Ali Aboubaker, a Muslim American man from Tunisia, who in 2008 had been fired for insubordination, after having been disciplined for that same offense on five previous occasions. Aboubaker claimed that during his 17 years (1991-2008) as a public-sector employee of Washtenaw County, Michigan, where he had worked at such jobs as bus driver and maintenance technician, he: (a) had been repeatedly subjected to racial and ethnic taunts in the workplace because of his religion, race, and appearance — particularly, his long beard; and (b) had been passed over for a promotion which was allegedly given to a less-qualified job candidate. When Aboubaker’s case finally went to trial in February 2014, he won a nearly $1.2 million judgment. In post-trial remarks to the media, Akeel recalled that in his closing statement to the jurors, he had said: “Look at him. First of all, his name is Ali Aboubaker. That’s one strike. Look at his beard. That’s two strikes. He’s from Tunisia — an African American — that’s another strike. Can you give this man a fair shake? Look at him, please.” “And you know what?” Akeel told the reporters. “The jury gave him that fair shake. They saw past his beard, past his name, past his race, past his religion. They saw a man who was terribly wronged.”
In December 2017, Akeel filed a lawsuit against U.S. President Donald 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,” Akeel challenged an executive order by which Trump was seeking to temporarily suspend all travel visas to the United States for people hailing from six Muslim-majority countries that were hotbeds of Islamic terrorism. By Akeel’s telling, “Muslim citizens” were being “stigmatized” by the message “that Islam is dangerous and Muslims must be treated differently.” The plaintiffs in this case included such notables as Linda Sarsour, Rashida Tlaib, Nihad Awad, and Dawud Walid.
Aside from his career as a litigator, Akeel has also served as deputy associate counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union; outside counsel for the Council on American-Islamic Relations; member of the American Association for Justice; and advisory board member with the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and the Michigan NAACP.
Further Reading: “Shereef Akeel” (LinkedIn.com, AkeelValentine.com, ShereefAkeel.blogspot.com); “Before Sunset: A Broad Coalition Is Pushing Congress to Rein in the Patriot Act” (In These Times, 5-27-2005, re: the IARA case); “Muslim [Ali Aboubaker] Wins $1.2 Million in Job Discrimination Case Because of His Long Beard” (by Robert Spencer, Jihad Watch, 3-2-2014).