Muslim rights group to open West Virginia office

The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports that the Council on American-Islamic Relations is looking for an executive director to lead the West Virginia branch.

National chapter director Lori Saroya says the Washington, D.C.-based organization hopes to open the West Virginia office in the next few months. The group has not announced a location yet. The office would be the organization’s fifth to open in 2017. It currently operates more than 30 offices.

CAIR works to get Muslim Americans included in society through media relations, lobbying, legal assistance, advocacy, education and coalition building.

CAIR spokesman, Ibrahim Hooper, said that previously, the group largely drew support from the American Muslim community. The new office, he said, is “a reflection of the support we’ve received, not only from American Muslims, but also from the larger society.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which collected reports of hateful incidents and harassment of minority populations after the 2016 election, told the Gazette-Mail in late November they had tracked five instances here, although they said one occurred in East Lansing, which is not in West Virginia. None were anti-Muslim.

Dr. Badshah Wazir, president of the Islamic Association of West Virginia, said he has not been informed of any anti-Muslim vandalism, hate crimes or similar incidents since the election, although he did mention an anti-Muslim book passed out at a school before parents made the principal aware of the situation.

“Nothing major — it is more the fear factor that something will go wrong,” he said.

So, he isn’t sure how much legal advocacy work there will be to do. But the Islamic Association encouraged CAIR to come to the state, Wazir said. He appreciates that there will be more people dedicated to “interfaith dialogue,” and that the resource will be available if any Muslim West Virginians do report instances of discrimination.

“It is good for us,” he said. “It is good for the local community.”

And while he hasn’t heard of any anti-Muslim incidents, he believes there is room for education. He mentioned the terrorist attack, in Manchester, that killed 22 people and injured 116 on Monday evening.

“People associated Muslims with that incident,” he said. “They don’t have any idea that half of southern West Virginia is treated by Muslim physicians.”

Wazir estimated the Islamic association has about 300 members in Charleston and surrounding areas.

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