Celebrating the theme, "Defining our Faith, Defending our Rights," several hundred attended the annual banquet of the Columbus Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, held on the campus of Ohio State University June 5.
Corey Saylor, CAIR National Government Affairs Director, described the group as being at the forefront of the defense of civil liberties for all Americans.
"What we want to do is not just for American Muslims but for all Americans," he said. "We want this to be a better country. We want this to be a stronger country. We want this to be a country where people of all faiths get along, cooperate, work together on common goals, live in peace and harmony... We're trying to build understanding about Islam, build understanding within our community, and bring people together."
CAIR's contributions to the community were recognized in proclamations from U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, the Ohio House of Representatives and from representatives of the mayor and City Council of Columbus.
Speakers and a video about CAIR's activities stressed the importance of educating the public about Islam. Less than two-fifths of Americans are personally acquainted with any Muslim, and right-wing forces cynically exploit this lack of first-hand knowledge about Islam to press their own political agendas.
This includes the so-called "anti-Sharia" laws introduced in more than twenty states and passed in Oklahoma. These laws ostensibly outlaw Islamic or "foreign" practices in U.S. courts, creating problems for people who might want to get married abroad or enter into a business contract with a company overseas. Under a proposed Tennessee law, organizations accused of promoting Islamic laws may have their assets frozen, and Islam is defined as contrary to the U.S. Constitution.
Roman Iqbal, CAIR-Ohio staff attorney, provided updates on challenges CAIR faces, including organized opposition to building mosques, not only near New York's Ground Zero, but also in California, Texas, and even in Cleveland. He also discussed the recent ruling in CAIR's favor to have the anti-Sharia law in Oklahoma declared unconstitutional and promised that if such legislation is proposed in Ohio, "We will go out, we will protest, we will lobby, we will call our state legislators, and we will make sure that they do not pass this bill in our state."
CAIR-Ohio, he said, has successfully represented Muslims facing discrimination against such corporate giants as General Electric and Liberty Mutual.
Mohammed "Mo" Amer, who has toured with the "Allah Made Me Funny" comedy tour, pointed to some of the ironies of life as a Muslim-American. Despite learning the Queen's English at a British school in Kuwait, he was automatically put in an English as a Second Language track when he first enrolled in public school in Texas. He also said that, despite the fact that "Mohammed" is the world's most popular name, Disneyworld still doesn't sell a "Mohammed" keychain.