Founded in 2005 as a sister group to the National Association of Muslim Lawyers, Muslim Advocates (MA) describes itself as a national legal advocacy and educational organization that “works on the frontlines of civil rights” to: “guarantee freedom and justice for Americans of all faiths”; “counter anti-Muslim hate by challenging bigotry and hate crimes”; “empower communities by strengthening American Muslim charities and educating people about their legal rights”; and “fight discrimination with high impact lawsuits against those who wrongfully target American Muslims.”
Opposed to U.S. counter-terrorism strategies that make use of sting operations and informants, MA characterizes such tactics as forms of “entrapment” that are inherently discriminatory against Muslims. Moreover, the organization conducts recruitment and training sessions where lawyers are taught how to best assist individuals who are questioned by FBI agents in connection with terrorism investigations. The list of MA-trained attorneys currently consists of more than 130 names.
At a Muslim Public Affairs Council convention in December 2007, MA counsel Akil Vohra denied that Muslim charities such as the Holy Land Foundation had any connection to terrorism. By Vohra’s telling, the fact that such charities were being investigated at all, meant that “shared American values” were “under attack.”
In April 2009, MA, which seeks to “end racial and religious profiling,” published a report titled Unreasonable Intrusions, which called for “review and reform of … Customs and Border Patrol [CBP] policies and practices that target Muslim, Arab and South Asian Americans for their First Amendment protected activities, beliefs and associations; and … law enforcement and intelligence activities that impose disparate impacts on Muslim, Arab and South Asian communities.” The report also asked the Department of Homeland Security to prevent CBP agents from asking people about their political beliefs, religious practices, and contributions to “lawful” charities.
MA boasts that it played a key role in persuading the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to reverse a 2010 policy that had authorized – in the aftermath of the December 2009 “underwear bomber” plot to blow up a Detroit-bound jetliner in mid-flight – stricter screening measures on travelers from several predominantly Muslim countries where terrorist activity was widespread.
MA aggressively lobbied the Obama Administration to oppose the drawing of any links between terrorist acts and Islam. On October 19, 2011, MA executive director Fahana Khera sent to then-Deputy National Security Adviser for Counterterrorism John Brennan, a letter demanding that all training materials and curricula for intelligence and counterterrorism agents be stripped of any “antiquated and offensive documents about Muslims and Islam” — i.e., documents that made reference to “jihad” or “radical Islam.” The letter was signed by the leaders of 57 Muslim, Arab, and South Asian organizations in the United States, many of which had ties to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. Within two weeks, Brennan capitulated to the letter’s demand and called for a comprehensive purge of the offending items.
In June 2012, MA and the Center for Constitutional Rights filed suit in the case of Hassan v. City of New York, claiming that “in early 2002, the New York City Police Department began a secret spying program to infiltrate and monitor Muslim life in and around New York City.” On February 20, 2014, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey dismissed the case on grounds that “the motive for the Program was not solely to discriminate against Muslims, but rather to find Muslim terrorists hiding among ordinary, law-abiding Muslims.” In October 2015, however, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit overturned the New Jersey District Court’s dismissal of Hassan.
In the spring of 2016, MA conducted a campaign designed to pressure the Coca-Cola Company not to sponsor the Republican National Convention in Cleveland that summer. In a letter that was also signed by a number of other leftist organizations, MA and its co-signatories said: “Hate peddled [by Republicans] during this election cycle has been contributing to a disturbing rise in hate crimes. Corporations like Coca Cola have a responsibility to ensure their brand and resources are not used to fuel this hate and bigotry and divide our nation.”
When President-elect Donald Trump named retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Michael Flynn as his White House National Security Adviser in November 2016, MA complained that Flynn’s “role in the Trump administration signals support for anti-Muslim policies and sentiment that will undermine our nation’s security and exacerbate an already unsafe climate for Muslims and all Americans.” Specifically, MA complained that “Flynn has referred to Islam as ‘a cancer’ and has called Islam a ‘political ideology,’ and disputed whether the faith of over 1.6 billion people is a religion.”
On December 15, 2016, attorneys from MA and the Center for Constitutional Rights denounced “extremist Representative Peter King for his call to nationalize the fully discredited and unconstitutional NYPD Muslim surveillance program.” Said MA: “King, known for his far-right anti-Muslim statements, told reporters the U.S. needs to ‘lean forward’ in its fight against terrorism, presumably by targeting entire communities based on their religion.” Further, MA lamented “the ugly parallels between the targeting of Muslims in the post-9/11 era and the targeting of the Japanese in WWII, as well as other dangerous historical parallels.”
Farhana Khera has been MA’s executive director since the organization’s founding. Deputy director Naheed Qureshi previously worked for the Washington Legislative Office of the American Civil Liberties Union, where she worked on issues related to racial profiling, voting rights, the Patriot Act, and other post-9/11 civil-rights violations. Public advocacy director Scott Simpson formerly served as the director of media and campaigns for the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
Further Reading: “Muslim Advocates” (LinkedIn.com); “Farhana Khera & Muslim Advocates” (InvestigativeProject.org); “Farhana Khera” (InvestigativeProject.org, re: Akil Vohra quote); Unreasonable Intrusions (Muslim Advocates, April 2009); “Soros Money, Muslim Advocates Leader, Helped Weaken Homeland Security Policies [of TSA]” (InvestigativeProject.org, 10-7-2016); “What the Third Circuit Said in Hassan v. City of New York” (JustSecurity.org, 10-14-2015); “25 Diverse Civil Rights and Faith Groups Call on The Coca-Cola Company to Stop Supporting Bigoted Political Party Conventions” (MuslimAdvocates.org, 4-14-2016); “Muslim Advocates Statement on Selection of Michael Flynn as National Security Adviser” (MuslimAdvocates.org, 11-18-2016); “Civil Rights Attorneys Who Took NYPD to Court & Won Slam Rep. Peter King …” (MuslimAdvocates.org, 12-15-2016); “Naheed Qureshi” and “Scott Simpson” (MuslimAdvocates.org).