Dear friends and supporters of CAIR-Philadelphia,
Last month, after attending a janazah for Gaza action we helped organize with our allies, I came home to find my little one, Mehmet, asleep in bed. It had been a long week leading to a successful action supported by our statewide religious and civic leaders. As I admired Mehmet’s innocence, it was impossible to not think about little children in Gaza who had lost their parents, and parents who had lost their children.
In that moment, I realized with new clarity the significance of CAIR-Philadelphia’s role in serving our community. Can we count on you to help us remain the first line of defense and resources for Muslims in Pennsylvania?
Our work this year has filled me with a range of emotions. I feel so much joy and pride in our organization’s growth and successes. But since the start of the war in Gaza, my feelings have turned to anger and frustration. At the same time, I find hope in our community’s renewed determination to speak up for our rights and values.
The current Gaza War has caused an acute crisis for our community. Many of our community members have family members in dire circumstances, and our Muslim American community as a whole has been directly impacted by the sharp rise in Islamophobia. Our legal services have seen a 300% increase in contacts from community members whose civil rights, employment rights and even educational rights have been violated. We have also been inundated with people struggling with PTSD who require urgent counseling and others yet who have experienced violence.
I am proud to say that we have nearly doubled our budget and issue campaigns in the last five years. Our staff and board members have worked diligently to keep the pressure on elected officials and create opportunities to engage in activism. In September, we even welcomed a new staff member, Fareba Amani, who serves Central PA. Even so, our community’s needs are rapidly evolving in response to current events, and our team has been struggling to keep up.
Our work is vital and precious. It is also expensive. As a result of the Gaza War, we face a $50,000 gap in our budget. Will you help us continue our critical work against Islamophobia and the forces that seek to subdue our community?
Donate now to your local CAIR chapter’s work at pa.cair.com/donate. In the following paragraphs, I want to share a snapshot of our ongoing impact. On behalf of our staff members, Leena, Asiyah, Timothy, Iman, Jacob, Zeynep, and Fareba, I would like to thank you for your support!
May God accept from you and your family!
Ahmet Selim Tekelioglu, PhD,
CAIR-Philadelphia Executive Director
Legal Victories & Ongoing Civil Rights Work
In 2023, we won several legal victories for our community members in Pennsylvania and Delaware. We conducted legal work on behalf of employees, students, and consumers who faced Islamophobic discrimination. We held multiple Know Your Rights workshops across the region to educate over 200 community members. And we supported communities that faced vandalism and threats of violence and represented a number of community members facing travel and law enforcement hurdles. Our legal victories include:
- 3 settlements to resolve wrongful termination and/or workplace discrimination cases;
- 1 institutional remedy implemented by a food establishment that served pork to a community member despite their clear request for accommodation;
- 3 students unjustly brought before the criminal legal system had criminal charges brought against them withdrawn. This prevented the students from having to defend against these criminal charges in court and removed the possibility of them having a criminal record for unjust reasons;
- 6 school advocacy cases leading to protection of students’ rights and equity in content regarding Islam and Muslims.
In 2023 we increased our level of support for our legal clients who suffered from trauma by providing them with culturally sensitive mental health services at no additional cost to them. Our legal advocacy coupled with media outreach and organizing continues to show its impact; especially in the current context, we will keep up and increase our legal work going into 2024.
Muslim Youth Leadership Summits & Young Professionals Programming
In 2023 we continued our investments in building the next generation of community leaders. Led by Asiyah Jones and our board members Geeda Al-Haffar and Humna Rub, our team organized two Young Professionals programs to build greater intersections, which reached 89 young leaders in our communities.
We also organized two Muslim Youth Leadership Summits that reached 94 middle and high school students. Our MYLS workshops engaged students in:
- Building their confidence as Muslim Americans;
- Learning practical skills for community organizing;
- Enhancing their capacity to think critically about civil rights and activism;
- Developing media and organizing competency through interaction with expert presenters from within the Muslim community and allied organizations.
Civic Engagement & Advocacy
We are proud to be closing 2023 with a victory that emerged from Muslim Capitol Day. Every year, we bring dozens of Muslim leaders, community members, and students from around the state to Harrisburg to meet with their elected representatives and advocate for policy issues that are important to our community. This year, one of our core goals was to get Eid recognized as a statewide holiday. Together with our allies, we secured passage of a recognition bill in the State House. We are now working to ensure the State Senate adopts the same resolution.
Throughout the year, we continued to hold our elected officials accountable to our community’s needs. We sent a clear message that Muslims are now, and forever will be, full participants in our country’s political process and will not be satisfied with empty gestures and photo-ops. We praised our legislators when they advocated for our interests and called them out when they fell short of our expectations. Our civic engagement teams also promoted Muslim Americans’ participation in the 2023 primary and general elections. We ensured language access at the polls and achieved these important benchmarks in our community:
- Registered hundreds of new voters in Pennsylvania;
- Completed over 40,000 calls and 60,000 texts to Muslim voters;
- Knocked on over 4,200 doors;
- Engaged 47 lawmakers at the national, state, and city level.
In the last two months alone, together with allies from the faith based organizing collectives and advocacy organizations, we have shown the power of our community in the civic space through principled and effective meetings. 2024 will be a critical moment to further propel our communities to stand for their interests and become increasingly active in civic engagement.
Community Empowerment & Media Engagement
In 2023 we devoted more resources than ever to ensuring that our communities feel safe, seen, and valued. We provided workshops and events to enable community members to become knowledgeable about the issues that affect them; support for security at mosques, schools, and events; and media engagement calibrated to educate the broad public about the richness of Muslim religion culture. Highlights of our work include:
- Training over 70 schoolteachers on Muslim history in America and the concerns of our community in educational settings;
- Engaging over 400 community members directly in workshops around Palestine and our community’s concerns about violence at home and abroad;
- Organizing and supporting structured programs that facilitate conversations on gun violence and intra-communal racism;
- Supporting 23 mosque communities in applying for grants to fund their security needs and other programs;
- Providing mental health services to community members impacted by discrimination and hate crimes;
- Continuing our partnership with InterAct Theater to create an exciting production that showcases the rich history and current lived experience of African-American Muslims in Philadelphia.
This year, we also shifted our media engagement strategy away from a defensive posture. No longer satisfied with correcting misinformation – arguing what Muslims are not – we decided it was time to celebrate our culture more holistically and educate our fellow Pennsylvanians about the richness and variety that Islam brings to our communities. Our media outreach and advocacy for our community resulted in:
- 45 earned media stories in national and Pennsylvania media;
- Newspaper ads that reached thousands of Pennsylvania residents;
- A billboard campaign demanding a ceasefire in Gaza, created in collaboration with community leaders;
- Media engagement and direct advocacy support for our communities facing vandalism and othering.
Throughout its joys and tragedies, 2023 has been a remarkable year for CAIR-Philadelphia. We are immensely proud of our victories and are filled with energy and determination to achieve even more in 2024. Our staff and services are only possible thanks to the generous support of our communities. We look forward to your continuing support. Closing our $50,000 budget gap and starting 2024 strong could not be more critical and urgent in these trying times.
We love serving you and working together with you! Thank you for your support of CAIR-Philadelphia’s important work!