Highland Park must protect police officers from bigotry and abuse

Highland park must protect police officers from bigotry and abuse | opinion

A mosaic.nj.com article.

Published December 08, 2023 | By Ayah Moshet 

In a gross display of negligence and disregard for employee wellbeing, Highland Park postponed Sgt. Mohab Hannout’s hearing for the fourth time. The latest postponement — which pushed his hearing to December 18, 2023 — came just hours before the sergeant was scheduled to take the stand on Thursday, November 30.

Hannout, who was suspended on Aug. 15, 2022, has been without a paycheck for 15 months, adding to his emotional distress and financial strife at the hands of his employer. The reason for his suspension? Hannout would go home during his lunch break, an apparent infraction that is not spelled out in department policy and is a regular occurrence among other officers of the department, according to court documents.

From patterns of over scrutinizing to a series of faith-based harassment, Hannout’s case reeks of anti-Muslim bigotry. But his story is not unique and is a lens into the environment that Highland Park police foster and perhaps even encourage, as substantiated by the police department’s pastor, Gregory T. McLendon.

Hannout’s story began long before he was suspended in August 2022.

For over a decade, members of Highland Park’s police department harassed and discriminated against Hannout, court documents show. Officers hurled racial and ethnic slurs at him, calling him a “camel jockey,” “terrorist,” and “sand ni**er,” among other derogatory and anti-Muslim and anti-Arab terms.

In one incident, an officer evoked Hannout’s ethnic background while responding to a call, according to court documents. In another, Hannout was physically assaulted by another officer on the force. Since filing a complaint against the latter incident, Hannout says that the department has operated like a fraternity against him.

The sergeant says he enlisted in the police force to show a “different side” of Muslims, but much to his dismay, his time with the Highland Park Police Department has been tainted with racial and faith-based aggressions and hostilities.

“It made me feel like I don’t belong there,” Hannout told CAIR-NJ. “It made me feel that if, God forbid, one day I am screaming on the radio for help, nobody’s going to come and get me back up because of their prejudices.”

Still, however, Hannout was keen on maintaining his job and serving his community.

“I stayed and I toughed it out and I endured all the discrimination, and eventually, I was able to get promoted,” Hannout said.

What came afterward — in the immediate aftermath of his promotion — felt like a “slap in the face,” according to Hannout.

During his promotion ceremony, he was given an old and scratched-up badge, whereas his colleague, who was also promoted alongside him, was given a new badge. The department did not exchange his badge until he wrote to the police chief, offering to pay for a new one out of pocket.

These incidents, some of which show explicit bias while others show implicit bias, are a window into Highland Park Police. Over the last three years, five officers of color resigned from Highland Park police, making Hannout and two other officers the only officers of color in Highland Park, a township that is nearly 40% people of color.

Hannout’s attorney — who also happens to be a former Boston police officer — Peter Paris of Beckett and Paris Firm, told CAIR-NJ that while Highland Park is “one of the most liberal, inclusive, diverse towns in Middlesex County, [it] has this island of white male domination in its police department. The internal culture is the issue.”

The NAACP investigated the Highland Park Police Department and found that a Black person was 11 times more likely to be a subject of the police force in Highland Park. The township’s former mayor, Gayle Brill-Mittler, held a town hall meeting in 2019 to discuss the department’s habitual racial profiling that has been prevalent in the community for years, according to The Force Report.

Highland Park police maintains a two-tiered disciplinary system, one for white officers and the other for officers of color, according to Paris.

“Multiple people were reported sleeping on the job and were not fired,” Paris said.

Another officer at the department had left Highland Park entirely during his shift and drove several miles away, according to Paris, and was not penalized in the same manner. In his advocacy for Hannout, Paris is asking for a fair modicum of discipline and for the department to abandon its over scrutiny of officers of color and, specifically, Hannout.

While the police department’s pastor, Gregory T. McLendon, substantiated Hannout’s claims of racism and bigotry within the Highland Park Police Department, Mayor Elsie Foster denied being aware of any bigoted incidents in a meeting with CAIR-NJ. The mayor also ducked her responsibility to serve as the hearing officer.

Mayor Foster’s silence in the face of claims of bigotry and abuse happening right under her nose — abuse so severe that it has inflicted emotional distress and financial strife on the only Muslim officer in Highland Park — makes her complicit in the racism and bigotry gripping her own police department. 

Until the mayor takes concrete action to protect her officers of color from bigotry and abuse, her calls to diversify the Highland Park Police Department can only ring hollow. 


Ayah Moshet is the editorial writing and legal research intern at CAIR-NJ.

It’s time to pass same-day voter registration laws in New Jersey

It’s time to pass same-day voter registration laws in New Jersey | Opinion

A nj.com com exclusive article.

y 26, 2023 | By Maryam Ali

The New Jersey primary is just around the corner, but many New Jerseyans may not be able to vote due to barriers such as language access, disability, registration deadlines and more.

Advocates across the state have been calling on state legislators to pass a bill that makes voting more accessible by reducing the standard voter registration deadline and allowing voter registration at polling places.

If passed, the bill could increase turnout by up to 5 percent, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“This legislation is more reflective of who we are as a country and in what direction people would like to see this country going when more people can participate,” said Assatta Mann, the senior organizer at the League of Women Voters of New Jersey.

As voter registration laws in New Jersey now stand, voters must register for mail-in ballots and in-person early voting 21 days ahead of an election. Voters who recently moved to New Jersey must also live at their address for a prescribed period of 30 days in order to be considered a resident.

“Currently, you have to be living in a certain location for 30 days to be considered a resident of that area and eligible to vote for the candidates that are going to affect you in the immediate future,” Mann said.

This 30-day waiting period precludes new residents from being able to vote — even if they’ll live in the area for the next several years — as well as college students, which could be a likely contributor to the underrepresentation of young voters in turnout, according to Micauri Vargas, the associate counsel at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice.

“A lot of times, students move out to different towns and different counties, and they might not be registered in that location,” Vargas said.

With current voting deadlines, students and residents “fall through the cracks,” according to Vargas. Same-day voter registration could help and encourage such groups to turn out to the polls and make their voices heard, because, in states where there is same-day voter registration, youth turnout in presidential elections increases by approximately 14 percentage points, according to Project Vote, a national nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that worked to mobilize marginalized and under-represented voters.

New Jersey residents of color — including immigrants, who make up 23 percent of the state population — register and vote at lower rates than their white counterparts, primarily due to language, deadline and application barriers

Studies show that states, where there is same-day voter registration, have seen anywhere between a 2 to 17 percentage point increase in Black and Latino voter turnout. In New Jersey, specifically, that could mean a significant jump in overall voter turnout, given that approximately 48 percent of the state’s population are people of color, according to 2022 Census data.

Lengthy voting requirements with constricted deadlines also hinder people with disabilities, who may need assistance accessing voting registration documents, ballot boxes, or filling out absentee ballots.

Overall, same-day voter registration simplifies the voting process for Americans who do not have access to reliable, digestible information by removing the added stressors of facing a tall list of voting barriers in a constrained amount of time.

“Generally, there are 22 states and the District of Columbia that have already implemented same-day voter registration,” Mann said. “I think we want to follow in the footsteps of all of those states to be able to implement it in the same way they do to have somewhat of a similar success that they’ve had in terms of increasing voter turnout.”

Same-day voter registration is a “common sense solution,” according to Vargas.

“It promotes democracy and makes it possible to register on the same day and cast the ballot, all in a single day and uses existing election infrastructure. It would be at no cost, really, because it can be done through provisional ballots.”

Over 90 organizations have been working tirelessly to push the same-day voter registration bill through to legislators. The bill has even garnered the support of New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who said that it “protects the sacred right to vote.” But within the state legislature, the bill is being challenged by Senate President Nicholas Scutari (LD-22), who has said that it will not ease voting processes, despite research proving otherwise, and that it will instead cause people to question the validity of elections.

Without same-day voter registration, a significant number of New Jersey residents will continue to face barriers to voting, putting the state of our democracy at stake. A democracy is only as good as its participation is, and passing the same-day voter registration bill will empower New Jersey residents and communities of color to let their voices be heard.

Maryam Ali is a legal research and editorial writing intern at CAIR-NJ.

International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Muzzles Critics of Israel

International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance muzzles critics of Israel | opinion

A nj.com com exclusive article.

In a country that prides itself on freedom of speech, the right to criticize Israel’s apartheid system and illegal occupation of Palestinian territories would seem to be a given. But in New Jersey, that right hangs by a thread.

Earlier this year, New Jersey Senators Andrew Zwicker and Greenstein introduced a resolution calling on the state to define antisemitism.

The resolution, which is cosponsored by Senators Beach and Codey, seeks to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA)working definition of antisemitism.

Antisemitism is generally defined as prejudice against or hatred of Jews, but the IHRA working definition of antisemitism expands antisemitism to also include condemnations or criticisms of Israel as a nation, its occupation of Palestine, the establishment of an apartheid state, and its ongoing blockade of Gaza that amounts to collective punishment and violates international law.

While the UN moves to mark the 75th anniversary of the Nakba for the first time ever, Speaker Kevin McCarthy attempted to block Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib’s educational community event at the Capitol Visitor Center last week on grounds of “antisemitism.”

The event, which was held nonetheless, sought to uplift Palestinian voices and educate members of Congress and their staff about the ongoing Nakba — the “catastrophe,” in reference to the founding of the state of Israel in 1948 and the resulting destruction and displacement of Palestinian society.

Such incidents are not uncommon, and civil rights advocates have long warned about the dangerous precedent that equating antisemitism with criticisms of Israel sets.

Conflating protests of Israeli apartheid with antisemitism will “muzzle and silence advocates for Palestine, certainly for a positive regard [of Israel],” Wassim Kanaan, the Vice Chair of American Muslims for Palestine said.

Not only does this silence debate and criticism of Israeli apartheid, but it also yields a glaring inaccuracy and injustice to Judaism as a religion and Jews as a religious group, Kanaan said.

“Judaism is a religion,” Kanaan said. “Equating state policy and the policy of a country with the teachings of a religion is inherently wrong because they are two completely different things, it’s important to allow people who share a religious identity to be able to differ on political topics, and still maintain their identity of who they are.”

David Letwin, the cofounder of Jews for Palestinian Right of Return, believes that the IHRA definition of antisemitism is a false definition and that adopting it will be harmful not just to critics of Israel, but also to Jews as a whole.

“It will just contribute to the ongoing campaign of enablers of the Israeli regime to silence people who stand up for Palestinian Liberation,” Letwin said.

Letwin also said that by defining any criticism of the Israeli government as antisemitic, it then becomes standard that all Jews, regardless of their political beliefs, are supportive of the Israeli regime and complicit in its crimes, just by virtue of identifying as Jewish.

“It follows logically, that if [criticism of Israel] has nothing to do with Judaism or Jewish identity, then opposing the racist settler colonial political ideology of [Israel] has nothing to do with anti-Jewish discrimination, or violence or stereotypes,” Letwin said.

Civil rights advocates and ordinary citizens are unable to criticize Israeli apartheid without fear of repercussion or retaliation, Letwin said.

“All it has to do is put fear into people, that they could lose their jobs, that they could be subject to public pressure,” Letwin said. “Could their homes be attacked? Could they be attacked personally? It creates an environment in which people become frightened to speak out because they don’t want to be slandered and smeared as an anti-Semite. So then they say to themselves, well, maybe I better not say that or what will be the consequences? If I speak up? Could I lose my job?”

What is necessary, then, is not an erasure of the idea to define antisemitism, but a clear distinction between antisemitism and criticisms of Israel — something which the IHRA definition does not do.

For Kanaan and Letwin, the adoption of a definition of antisemitism must protect the rights of Jewish people from white supremacy, while also not infringing on Palestinians’ or any other group’s basic civil rights.

“It’s not that we need to have a definition of antisemitism that protects Palestinians. We need a definition that doesn’t vilify Palestinians,” Kanaan said.

“We see the white supremacist movements in this country. The right constantly vilifies people of the Jewish faith,” Kanaan said, “and so we need to make sure that they’re protected, but not at the expense of vilifying Palestinians.”

Dina Sayedahmed is the communications manager and Maryam Ali is a legal intern at CAIR-NJ.

Anti-boycott laws are a dystopian nightmare

Anti-boycott laws are a dystopian nightmare

The right to boycott was once enshrined by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1982, but the recent passing of anti-BDS laws in several U.S. states shows how fragile basic civil rights have become.

A Mondoweiss Exclusive Article

Published October 4th, 2022 | By Hamzah Khan

Few things have as much bipartisan support in the U.S. as unconditional support for Israel. Ironically, while criticisms of the U.S. government are protected by the First Amendment, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have made it nearly impossible to criticize Israel without facing tangible consequences like public smearing, and even financial loss. Across the U.S., 34 states — from “blue” states like California and New York to “red” states like Texas and South Carolina — have passed some form of legislation that makes it illegal for the state to contract with businesses and individuals who participate in Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS), a grassroots movement founded by Palestinian civil society that seeks to pressure Israel to abide by international law.

Boycotting now carries a price

Under the various iterations of anti-boycott laws across the U.S., individuals and businesses that do partake in the BDS movement risk financial retaliation, like Unilever did in New Jersey, or public smear campaigns and accusations of antisemitism. Proponents of the anti-boycott law claim that it combats antisemitism, but most of the laws explicitly target the BDS movement, which condemns antisemitism. These anti-BDS laws have been wielded to disastrous effect, with state governments targeting individuals and companies alike who seek to exercise their right to boycott an apartheid state. By punishing boycotts of Israel, U.S. legislators encroach on Americans’ First Amendment rights.

Many of the state anti-BDS laws require anyone contracting with the state or any federal employees to sign a non-boycott pledge. Just weeks ago, in June, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an anti-BDS law in Arkansas, the first and most senior court to do so thus far.

A local newspaper, The Arkansas Times, was required to sign a pledge not to boycott Israel in order to run ads with the University of Arkansas, a state-funded public university. The newspaper refused to sign the pledge on grounds that it violated free speech. Initially, The Arkansas Times won their case in the district court. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, however, reversed the decision and upheld the law. If the Supreme Court agrees to hear the Arkansas case or even a similar one in the next few years, there is a high probability that the conservative majority will concur with the conservative Eighth Circuit’s opinion and uphold these laws, permanently crippling free speech in this country.

In Georgia, just a few states east of Arkansas, journalist Abby Martin was required to sign a non-boycott pledge in order to speak at a public university, which she refused. And in Arizona, Dr. Hatem Bazian and the American Muslims for Palestine, a grassroots advocacy group dedicated to educating the American public on Palestine, were required to sign a non-boycott pledge in order to hold an event at Arizona State University. The Council on American Islamic Relations filed separate lawsuits on behalf of both plaintiffs. In both cases, the courts struck down the anti-BDS laws on free speech grounds.

In Kansas and Texas, individuals contracting with public schools were also required to sign the pledge.

One Kansas woman, Esther Koontz, sued Kansas Commissioner of Education Randall Watson after she was required to sign a pledge to not participate in boycotts of Israel. The state refused to contract with her when she did not sign the pledge.

In Texas, victims of Hurricane Harvey were required to sign the anti-BDS pledge in order to receive aid from the government. Phil King, the Republican lawmaker who sponsored the bill, later apologized for the way the law was implemented, calling it a “misunderstanding.” But just about a year later, Bahia Amawi, a child language pathologist, lost her job after nine years of employment when she refused to sign a new contract that included an addendum that would prohibit her from boycotting Israel.

Both Kansas and Texas later amended their laws: in Kansas, the anti-boycott certification requirement no longer applies to individuals or sole proprietors — now only applying to companies if they conduct more than $100,000 worth of business with the state.

However, companies that conduct more than said amount of business with the state are required to sign a certification stating that they are “not engaged in a boycott of goods or services from Israel that constitute an integral part of business conducted or sought to be conducted with the state.” Similarly in Texas, the anti-boycott law now excludes companies with nine or fewer full-time employees and contracts under $100,000. Both CAIR and its Houston chapter sued the state of Texas last year to expand the definition of a “company” to “between a governmental entity and a company with 10 or more full-time employees, and has a value of $100,000 or more that is to be paid wholly or partly from public funds of the governmental entity.” The state has appealed the temporary injunction granted, and it is now up to the Fifth Circuit this November.

Many states have also passed laws that pose financial burdens on organizations that allegedly boycott Israel through the creation of blacklists, pension fund divestments, and prohibition of business contracts. Most of the laws target companies that states deem to be engaged in a boycott of Israel, regardless of whether they actually are. In Illinois, the state created blacklists of companies, not only for boycotting Israel on political grounds, but for even refusing to do business with Israel for commercial reasons. Many of the companies on the list were perplexed as to why they could no longer contract with the state as they held no political positions against Israel.

In New Jersey and New York, both states divested state pension funds from Ben & Jerry’s parent company, Unilever, after the ice cream maker announced that it would no longer operate in illegal Israeli settlements. Interestingly, this action was considered a boycott of Israel despite the fact that Ben & Jerry’s continued to operate in the rest of the country.

In Houston, the Council on American Islamic Relations sued the city and Texas Attorney General, Ken Paxton, on behalf of A&R Engineering, a firm that frequently contracted with the city but refused to sign the anti-BDS pledge. The suit was successful, and they won an injunction against the city to waive the requirement. The fact that this clear political act was punished by so many states shows that the government can use the full force of the state to stifle political dissent and find applause within both parties. The majority of anti-BDS laws prohibit states from investing in companies that boycott Israel, significantly hindering the ability of activists to pressure companies to support human rights.

The fact that so many U.S. states have decided to fall on the side of apartheid is a dystopian foreshadowing of the ease with which fundamental rights can be taken away.

While most of the anti-BDS laws have been struck down in court when challenged, the latest ruling from the Eighth Circuit may represent a disturbing shift towards stricter government enforcement against movements that support Palestinian rights. Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton recently introduced an anti-BDS law in Congress that would make it easier for states to implement stricter anti-BDS laws.

Seeing that anti-BDS laws have broad bipartisan support, the likelihood of this bill becoming law is very high.

The right to boycott was protected by the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark case NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co in 1982, in which the court upheld the right of the NAACP to boycott primarily white institutions that segregated between whites and people of color.

Boycotts have long been instrumental to political movements from the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. to the anti-apartheid boycotts of South Africa. The fact that so many U.S. states have decided to fall on the side of apartheid is a dystopian foreshadowing of the ease with which fundamental rights can be taken away.

US Hindu nationalist groups: What could this mean for Muslims and minorities?

US Hindu nationalist groups: What could this mean for Muslims and minorities?

A The New Arab Exclusive Article.

Published September 27th, 2022 | By Dina Sayedahmed and Hamzah Khan

As millions of Muslims in India face the threat of genocide under Modi’s government, Dina Sayedahmed and Hamzah Khan warn about the dangerous impact of affiliated Hindu nationalist groups on minorities in New Jersey, US.

With pockets of Middlesex County in New Jersey dubbed “Little India,” the area has long boasted of a thriving Indian American population. As a whole, New Jersey is home to at least 10% of US migrants from India, according to a study by Migration Policy. Middlesex County, specifically, is among the top four counties where immigrants from India have resettled, second only to Santa Clara County in California.

Not only has the Indian American diaspora brought forth a rich diversity to the region’s cultural and business centres, but schools in the area also rank in the top percentages in the state of New Jersey. Real estate networks sell Edison as a town with a booming economy, progressing from being a manufacturing city to one that offers technological and innovation-based business ventures.

More recently, however, the area’s politics and cultural hubs have been overtaken by Hindutva groups — a political ideology that refers to the predominant form of Hindu nationalism in India. This has deepened a rift between Middlesex County’s Indian American diaspora, and yielded a less optimistic future, from cultural and heritage celebrations in the area to local elections.

 ”Hindu nationalist groups hosted then-Republican nominee Donald Trump in Edison for a charity event in the weeks before the 2016 election. At the event, he praised India for helping fight terrorism, a phrase that has become code for institutionalizing Islamophobia through crackdowns on Muslims.”

Following Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s election in 2014, Hindutva has steadily risen to prominence in India. His ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), stokes hatred of Muslims and other minority groups in India through its policies and rhetoric.

One of the BJP’s former social media heads, Arun Yadav, had likened one of Islam’s holiest sites, the Kaabah in Makkah, to an ice cube in a glass of whiskey. Another former BJP leader, Nupur Sharma, who was a spokesperson for the party, made anti-Islamic remarks on a televised debate that triggered demonstrations across the globe. Though both BJP leaders were consequently suspended, the comments themselves are a window into the prevailing culture within the BJP, which has traveled to and infiltrated some pockets of the Indian American diaspora through groups like the Hindu American Political Action Committee (HAPAC), the Overseas Friends of the BJP (OSFBJP), the Indian Businesses Association in NJ (IBA), and the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS).

One group in particular, the IBA, has been especially active in New Jersey’s Middlesex County. During the India Independence Day parade, an annual event organised in the area – which is normally a celebration of Indian culture and heritage – the IBA decided to include a bulldozer decorated with images of known Hindu nationalists and BJP leaders, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. What may seem like an awkward but otherwise unproblematic place for a construction vehicle, bulldozers carry different implications in the context of India.

Over the past few months especially, bulldozers have become a vehicle of injustice in India and a symbol of anti-Muslim animus. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, specifically, is infamous for ruthlessly implementing “bulldozer justice,” a term coined by Amnesty International that refers to India’s unlawful demolitions of minority groups’ homes. His supporters refer to him as “Baba Bulldozer.”

In the wake of the parade, and after mounting pressure from advocacy groups including CAIR-NJ, both NJ senators, Bob Menendez and Cory Booker, condemned the IBA’s actions. However, Edison council member Ajay Patil — who is also a Vice President of the IBA — dismissed the anti-Muslim animus behind the use of the bulldozer.

While the inclusion of a bulldozer at the India Independence Day parade sounded alarms across the state, the infiltration of Hindutva into local NJ communities long predates this event. The OFBJP and HSS have a history of operating in New Jersey and funding Hindutva groups in India. A report by the South Asia Citizen Web detailed the financial information and expenditures of 24 Hindu nationalist-affiliated groups. The report found that seven Sangh-affiliated charitable groups spent nearly $160 million on their programming, which includes sending funds to Hindu nationalist groups in India.

Just weeks ago, the New Jersey chapter of Param Shakti Peeth of America, a charitable non-profit, organised a fundraiser at a Ridgewood church featuring Hindu nationalist ideologue Sadhvi Rithambara. The church reverend, Robert Miller, cancelled the event just days in advance after learning of Rithambara’s background. Last year, New Jersey legislators went as far as honoring the World Hindu Council/Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHP), a group that has continually tried to downplay its links to Hindu nationalists in India despite organising — and then cancelling after facing pressure — a series of events hosting known Hindu nationalists.

In 2020, the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office opened an investigation into Indian IT firm, Nityo Infotech, following a recruiter’s email specifying to not recruit Muslims. Local school board races have also seen Hindutva influence: Two Hindu-American locals and a New Jersey board of education member, Nitang Patel, signed onto anti-Muslim flyers that were later distributed to Gujarati households in Piscataway, a suburb of Middlesex County, in the lead up to the town’s 2019 Democratic primary. A School Ethics Commission later found that Patel should be censured for violating multiple provisions of the School Ethics Act.

In another instance, Audrey Trushcke, a professor of South Asian history at Rutgers University in New Jersey, came under fire for pointing out that Hindutva groups in NJ were inspired by fascists and Nazis.

Hindu nationalist groups also hosted then-Republican nominee Donald Trump in Edison for a charity event in the weeks before the 2016 election. At the event, he praised India for helping fight terrorism, a phrase that has become code for institutionalizing Islamophobia through crackdowns on Muslims. The Pennsylvania chapter of the VHP hosted a “Modi Victory Celebration Dinner” in 2014, a sharp contrast to its claims of being a benign group with no political leanings.

“We must prepare to either kill or be killed,” Hindu nationalist and religious leader Swami Prabodhananda Giri said last year at a conference in New Delhi, prompting an investigation by India’s Supreme Court — a court that is predominantly occupied by Hindu judges. Muslims and other minority groups in India have faced existential threats since Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi consolidated power with his reelection in 2014, and Genocide Watch has warned of an impending genocide of Muslims in India.

At its core the Hindutva movement, which has been broiling since the colonial partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, is both a Hindu nationalist as well as an anti-Muslim movement that goes largely unchallenged by democracies around the world. In the US, elected officials wine and dine with Hindutva-affiliated groups like the Hindu American Political Action Committee (HPAC), and in New Jersey, specifically, elected officials like Frank Pallone march and shake hands with Hindutva-leaning groups like the IBA.

If democracies around the world continue to ignore the rising threats of Hindutva, India’s 204 million Muslims could face ethnic cleansing. As its influence grows among New Jersey’s Indian diaspora, communities that once boasted of success risk creating a hostile environment and an increase in anti-Muslim attacks and harassment.

Dina Sayedahmed is the Communications Manager at CAIR-NJ, America’s largest Muslim civil liberties organisation.

Hamzah Khan is the legal research intern at CAIR-NJ and a student of international relations at Seton Hall University School of Diplomacy and International Relations.

Anti-boycott laws are an affront to free speech. They also don’t address antisemitism

Anti-boycott laws are an affront to free speech.     They also don’t address antisemitism.

A NorthJersey.com exclusive article.

Published July 26th, 2022 | By Hamzah Khan

In a world where there are hundreds of companies manufacturing and selling the same product, the freedom to choose a brand is, under ordinary circumstances, basic. But in New Jersey, legislators have taken that right away.

For years, the New Jersey Legislature has wielded undue influence over political discourse regarding boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS), a grassroots movement launched by Palestinian civil society to pressure Israel to comply with international law. In 2016, the state Assembly approved an anti-boycott bill, after it passed unanimously in the Senate, requiring the state to divest its pension funds from any company involved in a boycott of the state of Israel. Critics at the time warned of the violations to free speech that this posed for New Jersey residents, but then-Gov. Chris Christie nevertheless signed it into law.

Six years later, this law has been used multiple times to punish companies that choose to boycott Israel due to humanitarian concerns, with Unilever being one of the most recent cases. After a two-year campaign by multiple advocacy groups, Unilever’s subsidiary, Ben & Jerry’s, announced last year that it would no longer sell its ice cream in the illegally occupied Palestinian Territories, including Israeli settlements in the West Bank, saying that it was inconsistent with the company’s values to have its ice cream sold in Occupied Palestine.

After the announcement, New Jersey officials moved quickly: Within two months, they announced that the state would divest its pension fund from Ben & Jerry’s Englewood Cliffs-based parent company, Unilever. By December, New Jersey officials began to divest nearly $182 million in Unilever stocks and bonds. Fearing significant financial loss, Unilever changed course last month and sold its Ben & Jerry’s brand and trademark rights in Israel so that the company can continue to sell ice cream in Occupied Palestine, in direct contradiction to what the original ice cream company founders, Bennett Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, wanted.

In 2018, the same anti-BDS law was also used against Danske Bank, the largest bank in Denmark, which held around $44 million of New Jersey’s state pension fund. The Danish bank refused to do business with two Israeli military contractors, Elbit Systems and Aryt Industries, because of their operations in Israeli settlements, which violated the company’s social policies. Danske Bank stated that they were not boycotting Israel as a whole, but only those two companies. As was the case with Unilever, even though Danske Bank argued that it was not boycotting the state of Israel, the generality of the New Jersey anti-boycott law still allowed the state to punish the bank.

New Jersey is one of more than 30 states that passed anti-BDS laws. Defenders of these laws say they are meant to stop antisemitism, but advocacy groups, including Anne Frank House, differentiate between criticisms of the Israeli government and antisemitism, with the former being political and human rights-focused and the latter being condemnable. Others have warned that conflating the two — criticisms of Israel and antisemitism — is an encroachment on free speech and an attempt to stifle political debate and advocacy for Palestinian human rights. In adopting an anti-boycott law, New Jersey is blatantly attempting to flag any criticism of Israel as unacceptable, even if it goes against the U.S. government’s own classification of the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

The New Jersey Legislature should do more to stop actual antisemitic hate crimes rather than target a nonviolent grassroots political movement aiming to pressure a foreign government to end its human rights abuses. The reality is that these laws prohibit criticisms of Israeli government policies. In an ironic turn of events, New Jerseyans can criticize their own government, but not the Israeli government.

Boycotts have been instrumental in human rights campaigns both within the U.S. and around the world. Boycotts played a prominent role in ending segregation in the U.S. during the civil rights movement and were even protected by the United States Supreme Court. Supporters of the BDS movement, which was started by Palestinian activists, note that it is modeled after the boycott movements against South Africa, which helped end the apartheid regime in that country.

The state of New Jersey is employing a glaringly obvious double standard when it engages in sanctions against Iran and Russia on the grounds of human rights abuses, yet continues to support Israel even though reputable human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, find the country guilty of crimes against humanity. The state recently invested $20 million in Israel bonds as an “affirmation” of its confidence in the state of Israel and its economy, Gov. Phil Murphy said at the time.

At the end of the day, the right to boycott is essential to free speech, and the state’s hypocrisy only serves to strengthen human rights abusers abroad while diminishing freedoms at home.

Hamzah Khan is a legal intern at the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ New Jersey Chapter.

Civic Engagement and Coalition Building in the American-Muslim Community: Lessons from the Establishment of Hilf al-Fudul

Mohamed D. Elshekh 

Civic Engagement and Coalition Building in the  American-Muslim Community: Lessons from the  Establishment of Hilf al-Fudul 

The Story of Hilf al-Fudul 

The economic and social formations of pre-Islamic Arabia accentuate a community  that, although thriving monetarily, lacked any moral code from which they could foster a  stable society. Sixth-century Arabia’s political instability stemmed from incessant warfare  between varying clans and empires across the peninsula; abetted by their traditional tribal  

code of ethics, in which every individual from within the tribe was provided with  unrelenting support during an altercation, even if he or she was guilty of an injustice.1 The Arab tribes, particularly the tribe of Quraysh, were accustomed to conventional pre-Islamic  principles that demanded blood money compensations, ritual sacrifices, and intertribal  killings.The betrayal of oaths and the abandonment of religious traditions (such as the  cessation of fighting during the sacred months) were negligible offenses for the majority of  people in that society.2 The successful implementation of their trade-route schemes to  Yemen, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Abyssinia, ultimately leading to their unprecedented  economic growth, meant that they were in no need of moral, legal, or political restraints.3 Their honor and pride were found in their geographical location as a cosmopolitan hub for  religious groups throughout Arabia, as well as their strength economically across the  peninsula. It was not until a group of nobles from among the Quraysh traveled to the  neighboring lands of Abyssinia and Syria that they were confronted with a system of justice they saw as superior to the traditional laws of the desert.4 

The Arab tribes before the advent of Islam were engaged in constant intertribal warfare.  The ceaseless fighting and killing in Mecca slowly gave rise to widespread discontent for  the tribal law. The calls for social justice and political reformations were exacerbated, particularly after one incident between a Yemeni merchant and an elite of one of the Arab  tribes in the city of Mecca. The merchant, being a foreigner in Mecca with no immediate  tribal affiliations, took part in a normal exchange of goods with one of the noblemen of the  city. After which the nobleman, recognizing the merchant’s lack of protection in the area,  refused to pay him after being given the goods. This prompted the merchant to call out to  the Arab tribes of Mecca, demanding that they help him seek justice in this matter. The  issue highlights a systemic problem with the social formations of pre-Islamic society – if  

1 Martin Lings, Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources, (Islamic Texts Society, 1991), 31.  2 Ibid., 31.  

3 Mahmood Ibrahim, Social and Economic Conditions of Pre-Islamic Mecca, (Cambridge University Press, 1982),  347.  

4 Lings, Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources, 31.

you did not have tribal protection within the city, you were left to fend for yourself. Foreigners and outsiders were offered no defense and could not possibly pit themselves  against an entire clan. 

However, in this situation, the response from the Quraysh was immediate. Unlike like  countless individuals who were previously wronged as a result of the traditional tribal code,  the Quraysh decided that this particular event would serve as a turning point for their  society. Several clans from within the tribe of Quraysh banded together to form a pact in  which they pledged to stand together against any form of oppression in Mecca – even if it  was against a fellow clansman. The clans met in the house of ‘Abd Allah ibn Jud’an, one of  the wealthiest men in the city, and discussed how they could transform their moral, social,  and political systems. They vowed to eradicate any form of injustice within their city in  hopes of reversing the ethical deterioration which had weakened the Qurayshi society for  generations.5 The clans concluded their meeting with a symbolic pre-Islamic ritual at the  Ka’ba. Water was poured over the Black Stone and into a vessel which each individual  drank from to symbolize their newfound unity. Hilf al-Fudul, (the Alliance of the Virtuous) as the pact was known amongst the tribes of sixth-century Mecca, represents one of the  most profound pre-Islamic allegiances in the midst of an ‘Age-of-Empires’ civilization.6 

While it is true that the new pact was transformative for the sixth-century Arab living in  the harsh desert environment, there is one factor which magnifies the importance of this  event for the average Muslim living in the modern world. Muhammad (pbuh) was directly  involved in the formalization of this covenant even before his designation as a Prophet,  and, when recalling the incident, is quoted to have said, “I was present in the house of  ‘Abd Allah ibn Jud’an at so excellent a pact that I would not exchange my part in it for a  herd of red camels; and if now, in Islam, I were summoned unto it, I would gladly  respond.”7 

Lessons for the American-Muslim Community 

What relevance does a medieval pact between Bedouin tribes in the desert have on the  life of an average twenty-first century American-Muslim? How can their moral concerns  regarding justice and political involvement, which grew out of the anarchic law of the  desert, supplement our contemporary standards of righteousness in a modern society? Muhammad’s (pbuh) involvement in the pact provides an epistemological foundation for  the importance of civic engagement and social justice across the Muslim ummah. Remember, this event took place even before Muhammad (pbuh) received any revelation from the Divine. His decision to take part in the moral and political formations of Hilf al Fudul, even before prophethood, indicate that the desire to bring justice to society is not  only a matter outlined in scripture, but an affair codified in the fitra of every person. The  enjoinment of good and forbiddance of evil are principles which exist in the essence of the  

5 Ibid., 31-32.  

6 Ibrahim, Social and Economic Conditions of Pre-Islamic Mecca, 355. 

7 Lings, Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources, 32.

human spirit and require immediate action by the community.8 Combatting systemic injustices inflicted on different communities, regardless of their tribe, nationality, class,  race, or religion is the cardinal lesson which is to be derived from the story of Hilf al-Fudul

There seems to be considerable overlaps between the pre-Islamic society of Mecca and  the socio-political problems which characterize the United States, today. Sixth century  Arabia, as previously mentioned, was an economic juggernaut due to the highly effective  trade dealings which were instituted by the Qurayshi elders. Unfortunately, the sixth century Arab communities also suffered from a lack of accepted moral principles from  which they could grow together as one united community. This description, many could  argue, is representative of the modern United States. Despite being the most powerful  country in the modern world, the notion of the U.S. being a global force for good has yet  to be completely accepted by communities both foreign and domestic. Hilf al-Fudul was the  ingredient which led to the slow, moral reformation among the pre-Islamic Arabs.  Similarly, it must be the American-Muslim community, with the help of the wider  American population, which initiates the political and moral change desired in the United  States. 

Current polling in the United States indicates that, by and large, the civic engagement of the American-Muslim community has been steadily rising, especially in recent years.9 The  American-Muslim community has gradually internalized the moral teachings of Hilf al Fudul – and this is especially clear when the social leanings of American-Muslims are  considered. Muslims in the United States overwhelmingly support the political  empowerment of minority groups and have increasingly expressed support for various  disenfranchised communities.10 This social and political solidarity is likely a byproduct of  the uptick in Islamophobic cases against American-Muslims since the early-2000s – and  particularly as of late.11 Similar to the common purpose embraced by the signatories of Hilf  al-Fudul, (to abolish societal and political injustices wherever they may arise in Mecca) the  countless minority groups in America have, in like manner, established an informal  amalgamation of communities focused on combatting bigotry. However, standing against  discrimination and inequality should not arise out of political convenience. Like the tribes  of sixth-century Arabia showed, it should emerge out of a human desire to put an end to all  forms of evil regardless of the victim’s identity. Like the Yemeni merchant in the story of  Hilf al-Fudul who suffered as a result of his foreign identity, American-Muslims, among  other minority groups, are mistreated because their identity is viewed as alien. The systemic  inequalities American-Muslims experience in the United States range from FBI surveillance  

8 Abdullah Yusuf Ali, The Meaning of the Holy Qur’an, (Amana Publications, 2006), 471. – (9:112).  9 “Breaking: Emgage Announces Historic Muslim Voter Turnout in 2018 Midterm Election”,  Emgageusa.org, May 20, 2019, https://www.emgageusa.org/breaking-emgage-announces-historic-muslim voter-turnout-in-2018-midterm-elections/ 

10 “American Muslims’ Political and Social Views”, PewForum.org, Pew Research Center Religion and Public  Life, July 26, 2017, https://www.pewforum.org/2017/07/26/political-and-social-views/ 11 “Katayoun Kishi, “Assaults Against American Muslims in U.S. Surpass 2001 Level” pewresearch.org, Fact  Tank: News in Numbers, November 15, 2017, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact tank/2017/11/15/assaults-against-muslims-in-u-s-surpass-2001-level/

of mosques and Islamic schools12 to the development of Islamophobic legislation in states  across the country.13 Similar forms of systemic oppression are experienced by countless  minority groups in the United States. What Hilf al-Fudul teaches us is that systemic reform,  as the pre-Islamic Arabs of the sixth century showed, can only be achieved through  community cooperation. Thus, American-Muslims should want to engage civically not  because they wish to simply put an end to their own problems, but because they have a  deep commitment to opposing all forms of oppression. 

Strengthening our Institutions and Building Coalitions 

In the United States, mosques and civil rights groups have long been at the heart of  political mobilization and civic engagement for American-Muslims. Especially within  particular ethnic communities, the mosques and civil rights organizations serve as the  center for civic outreach and political project planning.14 This reality is not exclusive to the  Muslim community. For example, studies within the Christian community have shown that increased church involvement has led to more civic engagement among churchgoers.15 The  church’s (and by extension the mosque’s) ability to foster “a group consciousness that  empowers political participation”, should be an indicator of the importance these  institutions have on American public life.16 American-Muslims, as they are still a growing  minority within the United States, must invest in strengthening these institutions if they  wish to transform the civic and political discourse for the better. Prioritizing the  development of local mosques and Muslim civil rights groups is a crucial element in the  discussion of civic engagement in Muslim communities. America-Muslims should then aim  to build coalitions with other institutions that represent disenfranchised communities. In  sixth-century Arabia, it was the conglomeration of clans which facilitated the establishment  of Hilf al-Fudul. Likewise, in twenty-first century America, it must be community  cooperation, coalition building, and political participation that, like Hilf al-Fudul, fight for a  moral, tolerant, and united community. 

The theological justifications for Muslim engagement within the community are  numerous, but one particular hadith accurately grasps the importance of civic engagement,  especially in contemporary America. Muhammad (pbuh), while addressing the public  concerning the significance of social justice said:  

People! You may have had claims against me. If I have whipped anybody’s back, let  him retaliate on this, my back. If I have condemned or censured anybody’s honor, here  

12 Sabrina Alimahomed-Wilson, When the FBI Knocks: Racialized State Surveillance of Muslims, (Critical Sociology,  2019), 871.  

13 Southern Poverty Law Center, Tracking Anti-Muslim Legislation Across the U.S. – Tracking Anti-Muslim  Legislation Across the U.S. | Southern Poverty Law Center (splcenter.org) 

14 Amaney Jamal, The Political Participation and Engagement of Muslim Americans: Mosque Involvement and Group  Consciousness, (American Politics Research, 2005), 537.  

15 Ibid., 522. 

16 Ibid., 522. 

is my honor to take revenge upon. If I have taken anybody’s property, here is my  property, let him take it. In fact, dearest to me is the one who take his claim from me  if he has a right thereto or forgives me.17 

Muhammad, in complete harmony with the lessons promoted in the pact of Hilf al-Fudul, stresses the importance of holding those in power responsible for their actions. The  Prophet even goes as far as to authorize retaliation against himself if someone feels he (pbuh) has transgressed their rights. In the story of Hilf al-Fudul, it was a powerful  nobleman of the city who instigated the injustice which led to the formalization of the  pact. Similarly, in the United States, social and political transformations can only take  shape when the community hold those in power, whether they be individuals or groups, responsible for their actions. That means continuously participating at every level of the  American political system and strengthening the faith-based institutions which advocate  on our behalf. How can the ummah, expect change domestically (or even globally), if their political and social participations are lacking? How can the moral principles of Hilf al Fudul be fulfilled if the very community to whom the pact addresses theologically is absent politically? 

The aim of this paper is to not only unravel the moral transformation of the pre Islamic Arabs, but, in similar fashion, inspire the American-Muslim community to  continue strengthening their presence in the political sphere in hopes of shaping the  social, political, and moral discourse in the United States. Understanding the society of  Mecca before the advent of the Islamic tradition can help demonstrate the necessary steps  American-Muslims in the modern world should take if they wish to transform their own  situation similar to the transformation experienced by the Quraysh. Positive  transformation begins only when, as the Qur’an explains, the community looks within  themselves and takes the first steps toward progress. As Allah teaches in the Qur’an: 

“Verily, never will Allah change the condition of a people until they change what is within  themselves.”18 

17 Afzal Iqbal, The Prophet’s Diplomacy: The Art of Negotiation as Conceived and Developed by the Prophet of Islam, (Claude Stark & Co., 1975), 54.  

18 Yusuf Ali, The Holy Qur’an, 589. – (13:11).