After years of allowing its branches to collaborate with leftists on issues related to sexuality, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is standing with conservative parents in Maryland to rally for the right to opt their children out of "LGBT" teachings they deem objectionable.
This latest development reflects a more general trend in U.S. Islamism, in which there is an increasing tendency for Islamists to partner with conservatives — Islamists now pretending to support traditional family values. CAIR leaders and other Islamists are moving away from the previous tendency to pander to leftist and "progressive" opinion for tactical reasons. Yet, as may be seen below, the situation remains in flux with some elements at the local level continuing the trend of pandering to local progressives, even as CAIR's national leadership appears to be more openly advocating Islamist positions regarding the "LGBT" issue.
Over the years, CAIR has played both sides of the "LGBT" debate, with some of its branches taking up the mantle of promoting "LGBT" claims, while others have opposed them. While CAIR-Maryland is leading the charge for CAIR in the Maryland school fight, CAIR National seems to have taken a particular interest in the issue—signaling a shift from its previous years of allowing its branches to pander to the left when it is politically advantageous to do so.
A longtime critic of the organization warns that CAIR's state chapters may engage in window dressing to mollify local progressives, but CAIR's national leaders who founded the organization remain opposed to "LGBT" ideology.
"CAIR's leaders are deep-down draconian Islamists who only tailor (dissimulate) their outward interpretations of faith to align with the priorities of their local political movements and machinations across America," Zuhdi Jasser, founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy told Focus on Western Islamism.
CAIR leaders started showing up at protests in June after parents in Montgomery County sued the county's board of education for the right to prevent their pre-K and elementary school children from being exposed to materials "that promote one-sided transgender ideology, encourage gender transitioning, and focus excessively on romantic infatuation...."
CAIR activists joined with these parents at rallies, and on July 25, CAIR's Maryland Director, Zainab Chaudry, testified before the Maryland school board in support of parents' ability to opt out. To further demonstrate its opposition to the policy, CAIR-MD hosted a press conference in opposition to the school board's policy on Aug. 11 at which CAIR National's Director of Government Affairs, Robert McCaw, spoke.
CAIR's presence in the Montgomery County school fight aligns with CAIR National's Islamist history on sexuality—choosing to promote individuals who promote concubinage, Sharia-sanctioned rape, sex slavery, stoning adulterers, and the death penalty for homosexuals.
Nevertheless, some local CAIR branches have taken "progressive" positions on sexuality. In 2019, for example, CAIR-Oklahoma signed onto an amicus brief in Bostock v. Clayton, arguing that the civil rights legal definition of "sex" includes "sexual orientation" and "gender identity." Adopting this definition of "sex" put CAIR-Oklahoma in the camp of supporting all-inclusive bathrooms—as happens to be law for public bathrooms in Montgomery County, Maryland. CAIR-MD expressed its objections to the policy in a public statement in 2023.
Ismail Royer, director of the Islam and Religious Freedom Action Team for the Religious Freedom Institute, told Focus on Western Islamism that, "The brief CAIR-OK signed on to in Bostock certainly is ideologically inconsistent with CAIR-MD's position."
"There are many factors in how it came to be that CAIR-OK would endorse such a terrible brief. One is that they almost certainly did not run this by CAIR headquarters before they signed on. I am assuming that there is no way they would have approved this," he added.
Daniel Haqiqatjou, an Islamist who runs the Islamist website Muslim Skeptic, condemned CAIR-OK for supporting "LGBT" activism. In November 2020, he wrote on his Facebook page referring to CAIR-OK, "You might be surprised that a 'non-binary' 'gender queer' turban hijabi would also profess to being 'Muslim.' But you will be even more surprised to learn that she was endorsed by CAIR (Council of American ISLAMIC Relations). Not only that, she (he?) was actually a BOARD MEMBER for CAIR."
CAIR-OK's support for "LGBT" activism was not a one off, however. Earlier this year, CAIR leaders in Florida published a survey that appeared to endorse "LGBT" gender terminology. The survey provoked a response from CAIR National's Deputy Director, Edward Ahmed Mitchell, who advised Facebook readers that they had reprimanded CAIR-Florida. "Insha Allah, CAIR Florida is going to release a clarifying statement and change some of the language in the survey to avoid any impression that they were endorsing, accepting or validating concepts or conduct that do not align with Islam," he wrote.
CAIR's California chapter has also come under fire for promoting "LGBT" rights. For example, in 2020 Haqiqatjou condemned two directors of CAIR-California's participation in a "kufr (faithless) ritual." He posted a picture of an event where they participated, writing, "At the top left is Zahra Billoo, one of CAIR's executive directors who is often featured in US media as a 'Muslim leader,' he wrote, adding, "She is receiving an oil "blessing" from an LGBT priestess" named Reverend Traci Blackmon." (Blackmon is a high-ranking staffer affiliated in the United Church of Christ, a denomination whose General Synod approved same-sex marriage in 2005.) "As you can see, she is quite moved by this kufr ritual," Haqigatjou wrote.
In the same post, Haqiqatjou decried another of CAIR-CA's directors Hussam Ayloush: "There is also Hussam Ayloush, another CAIR director, taking a selfie with an LGBT priestess. His big smile speaks volumes."
CAIR's national leaders working out of Washington, D.C., appeared to enlist in the pro-LGBT movement in the aftermath of the "Islamist terrorist attack" on Pulse, Orlando's gay nightclub, in 2016. To disassociate their group from the attack, CAIR leaders rushed to express support and solidarity with the "LGBT" community. "Homophobia, transphobia and Islamophobia are interconnected systems of oppression. And we cannot dismantle one without dismantling the others," said CAIR's Executive Director, Nihad Awad.
AIFD leader Jasser warns against putting too much stock in gestures like this. "Look to their endorsement or silence thereof related to Islamist movements where they are a majority (like Turkey, Iran, Qatar, Pakistan, or Egypt's MB)," he said.
"This will help people "understand how Islamists and their legacy groups around the world like CAIR would implement sharia law and its attendant Islamism when they are in power," Jasser said. "Short of that, when they are a minority in the West, their positions are simply utilitarian dissimulation in service of their greater political mission."
CAIR's response to the Pulse Nightclub attack lends credence to Jasser's assessment. Subsequent to the attack, Awad personally lauded Islamist Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who refers to "LGBTQ people" as "deviants." Erdoğan's interior minister, Süleyman Soylu, said, "You know, when they say LGBT+Q, it also includes the marriage of animals and humans." Meanwhile, Transgender Europe claims sixty-two "most or almost all cases" of "transphobic hate crime" murders of trans individuals in Turkey from 2008-2022.
CAIR also has a close relationship with Qatar, which has given CAIR hundreds of thousands in funding. Qatar criminalizes same-sex activity with up to seven-year prison sentences, with reports of severe beatings and forced conversion therapy sessions.
CAIR's national leaders have a history of harsh statements towards "LGBT" Americans and maintain close relationships with those who call for violence—advocating the burning of "LGBT" friendly mosques and the death penalty for homosexuals in Muslim countries.
"Don't let CAIR's varied, incompatible, and incoherent positions on the recent gender and LGBT debate convince you to believe that they are somehow of diverse ideology," Jasser said "Actually, quite the contrary. It only proves that their political alignments in America and the West are simply fabricated window dressing for a Western audience. Islamism gives them the room to dissimulate publicly, and for those who don't they pretend to take the contrarian side in American politics."
Susannah Johnston is Focus on Western Islamism's investigative reporter.