A Matter of Life and Death (Literally, Not Figuratively)

On September 14, 2012, I wrote a letter in support of a Philadelphia man awaiting execution here in Pennsylvania in my capacity as Civil Rights Director and Staff Attorney of CAIR-Philadelphia. However, my letter is not an example of legal advocacy. Instead, my letter is based entirely upon religious argument – something I have never done in my entire legal career.

The man whose life I seek to save is named Terrance “Terry” Williams. To learn more about Terry, his case, and those who seek to save his life (including his victim’s widow), you are encouraged to visit the website established in support of Terry.

As previously mentioned, the letter I wrote is based upon a religious, rather than a legal, argument. This is highly unusual for me. But a man’s life hangs in the balance. I may not have the power to save his life. But my faith in God, and my duty to my fellow man, compel me to do whatever I can.

Undoubtedly, many of you (both Muslim and non-Muslim) will wonder why I chose to write this letter. CAIR-Philadelphia was under no legal obligation to get involved. Furthermore, both Islamic scholars and ordinary Muslims diverge widely on the ethical use of the death penalty in the criminal justice system. To learn more about why I chose to get involved and see an explanation of CAIR-Philadelphia’s letter in the larger context of Terry’s clemency petition, see the documents linked below:

In the end, CAIR-Philadelphia has offered our support of Terry Williams because we feel morally compelled to do so. Terry’s case is outside our typical case priorities, and there is no reason to believe that Terry is a member of the Muslim community. But we are motivated by our faith, and so we submitted our letter in support of Terry, and we have written an anticipatory response to our critics.

In closing, I leave you with two farewells, common in the Muslim world, the true meaning of which are significant in relation to the case which I discuss here with you today. To each of you (regardless of your faith tradition, or lack thereof):

Peace be upon you (As-Salaam Alaikum),
May God keep you (Khuda hafiz),


Amara S. Chaudhry, Esq.
CAIR-Philadelphia Civil Rights Director and Staff Attorney