As many of you know, in the wake of 9/11, the Bush administration began a systematic targeting of American Muslim organizations and especially charities. The government closed charities, deported thousands and arrested many others, often with little or no due process. Specifically, the government filed a case against one such charity called Holy Land Foundation (HLF) back in 2004, for allegedly providing material support to a terrorist organization, namely Hamas. As part of that case, the government listed nearly 250 Muslims and Muslim organizations as “unindicted co-conspirators.” Along with ISNA and CAIR, NAIT was listed as an “unindicted co-conspirator.” The purpose of that designation was NOT because NAIT or any of these organizations committed a crime or were criminally responsible. Rather, it was a prosecutorial tactic to avoid the evidentiary rule known as HEARSAY.
What does hearsay mean? Generally speaking, a defendant at trial cannot testify about what another person said about a particular issue outside of court. This is known as hearsay. For example, person A, who is testifying, cannot repeat what he heard person B says at a private meeting. But there are several exceptions to this rule. Once such exception exists if the person or entity is a co-conspirator, involved in the criminal conspiracy, then its statements can be used in court. So, if person B is a co-conspirator (in furtherance of the criminal conspiracy) then his statements can be repeated by person A, who is testifying in court. Federal prosecutors have wide discretion to name anyone as an unindicted co-conspirator. But the US Federal Prosecutors Manual discourages this use without justification.
In this case, although listed as an “unindicted co-conspirator”, NAIT was never charged with any crime or indicted by the HLF Prosecutor or any government authority. In fact, the United States Attorney who brought the terrorism case against the HLF, specifically told NAIT’s lawyers on June 27, 2007 that including NAIT on the list of unindicted co-conspirators was never meant to imply that NAIT was part of a criminal conspiracy or that it acted with criminal intent. Moreover, after NAIT filed a motion in the case to have its name removed from the list of unindicted co-conspirators, the District Court in the Northern District of Texas, Judge Jorge Solis, held that the government violated NAIT’s Constitutional rights by including its name on the list of “unindicted co-conspirators” without any legitimate governmental reason. However, the decision by Judge Solis declaring that the government violated NAIT’s Constitutional 5th Amendment right, was sealed by the Court without public access and without any explanation, thereby prohibiting NAIT and others to disseminate this information to the public.
NAIT appealed the sealing of Judge Solis’ decision and again won. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held that Judge Solis should not have sealed his decision that the government had violated NAIT’s constitutional rights. The Court of Appeals honored the right of the US Attorney to name anyone, including NAIT, as unindicted co-conspirators, but declared that any statements made in passing by the District Court regarding NAIT’s connection to the HLF were irrelevant to the entire case and had no basis. It further ruled that the District Court never “made a judicial determination that evaluated NAIT’s connection to the case.” In other words, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals essentially said that the HLF case did not demonstrate that NAIT had any connection to the case. Indeed, the Fifth Circuit went further and reminded everyone that the “Government never labeled NAIT a criminal co-conspirator.” So, no US Court, or government agency has ever ruled that NAIT was criminally or unlawfully involved with the HLF defendants. Indeed, no US Court or US government agency has ever accused, or charged NAIT for any crimes, wrongdoing, or any unlawful activities.
Despite these facts and this reality, Islamophobic organizations, right-wing websites, and pundits, along with a handful of attention-seeking public officials continue to tarnish and malign NAIT by false attribution and fear mongering. In effect, these bigots and fear mongers seek to undermine the American Muslim community by unfairly targeting Muslim institutions such as NAIT and other Americans for merely being Muslim. But NAIT will not be deterred and will continue to forge ahead and serve the Muslim community as trustee for mosques, Islamic centers, and schools.
It has never been easy for people of faith. The world challenges believers constantly. People of faith often face financial, political, and social challenges to their religious beliefs and way of life. But fortunately, God has endowed us with wahy (revelation) and aql (reason) to fulfill His Will and to promote peace within our selves and justice in society. Through the shield of revelation and the sword of reason, human beings can transcend the whisperings of the devil, the temptations of the nafs (self), and the nefarious acts of people.
History is replete with examples of people overcoming tremendous odds to victory. The most famous historical example is Prophet Dawood (David) and the Israelites defeating the powerful army of Jalut (Goliath) and the philistines. Indeed, the Quran reminds us of this example, "How many a small company has overcome a large company by permission of Allah . And Allah is with the patient." (2:249).
Closer to home, American society overcame the pernicious legacy of slavery and Jim Crow with the passage of Civil Rights legislation, according equal treatment to African-Americans. While much work remains to be done, particularly with the current killings of un-armed African-American young men by some members of law enforcement, patient resolve and determination for justice, led to legal and political emancipation. For American Muslims, history can serve as an important guide for our own struggle against prejudice and bigotry. Once again, America is facing the challenges of welcoming & integrating those that are religiously and culturally different from the majority population of Americans. Our communities, masajid, and young people are under tremendous stress. Our Muslim organizations are routinely maligned for challenging the political status quo, and for standing for justice and the underdog.
After 9/11, pillar organizations such as ISNA, NAIT, CAIR, and others came under government scrutiny, not because of any unlawful activities, but mostly for political reasons that were driven by overzealous bureaucrats in the so-called “war on terror”, or unwise foreign policy motivations. Despite these challenges, Muslim organizations have persevered because of the common good they promote. For over 30 years, NAIT has provided the Muslim community with protection of their masjid and Islamic centers and schools. It has arbitrated and mediated inter-community disputes. It provides financial products consistent with Islamic values of finance. NAIT will continue to provide positive and essential services to Muslim communities and to American society, inshallah.
NAIT truly appreciates your confidence and support in its efforts to build and enhance the Muslim community in the United States.