Council on American Islamic Relations Minnesota

For Nausheena Hussain working with the Council on American Islamic Relation Minnesota (CAIR MN) evoked an unparalleled sense of purpose within her. Successful activism resonates on a personal level and, as Hussain describes it, leaves one “praying that their social change is successful.” This is precisely what CAIR MN offered her.

In response to the tide of Islamophobia that has consistently dominated the airways, CAIR MN arose with a staunch commitment to eradicating the misunderstandings that fuel prejudice. As evidenced by a hate crime committed against a local mosque in 2007, the Twin Cities were not immune to the wave of discrimination gripping the American public. CAIR MN subsequently sprung to action, quickly becoming a trusted organization within local communities. CAIR fiercely protects the civil liberties of the Islamic community by challenging negative media representations, addressing labor conflicts, and responding to overt cases of racism.

Yet the journey is more difficult, and perhaps more spiritual, because CAIR MN principle goal is to challenge systems. Changing the public’s imagination of the Islamic community requires disentangling misrepresentations of Islam. As Hussain notes, being a Muslim women who wears the hijab often signifies ignorance and feebleness to those unfamiliar with the Islamic tradition.  CAIR MN defies these stereotypes even within its’ own office where many employees, including those in top positions, are women. Consequently, CAIR MN provides a forum and space for recasting stereotypes and works diligently to spread this message. In line with these efforts, CAIR MN offers a variety of training sessions for employers and organizations to create a better understanding of Islamic practices and traditions. But the work doesn’t stop there either.

Nausheena speaks with conviction about the complicated situation they face when combating Islamophobia. The issues, as she outlines it, lie not only in overtly racist actions, like the defacement of the mosque, but also in the subtle biases that go unregistered by many. To combat these prejudices, CAIR MN hosts conversations meant to unearth participant’s biases.  “Through these sessions, participants realize that their actions can be manifestations of unconscious biases” says Nausheena. “It’s really eye-opening because many people don’t realize the ramifications of their actions.”

With ambitious goals, CAIR MN is hopeful. As recent recipients of a 2012 Social Change Fund grant, CAIR MN now hopes to align itself with organizations who similarly envision a welcoming Minnesota for people of all ethnicities, backgrounds and religious identities.  As Nausheena reflected “It’s very motivating to see everyone else’s work…that’s we’re not in this fight alone.”