About Nihad Awad
Nihad Awad co-founded CAIR in 1994 and remains the only founder still formally involved with the organization, nearly 30 years later.
Nihad Awad is a Palestinian-American who grew up in a refugee camp in Jordan, coming to the US initially to study engineering in the 1980s. After working with the Islamic Association for Palestine, he had the vision to create CAIR. Awad has since cultivated the public image of a civil rights leader defending Muslims from discrimination and governmental abuse during the War on Terror and Muslim Ban. He was the target of spying by the US government from 2006-2008, and hostile outside investigators have repeatedly tried to penetrate his organization via undercover spies. Nonetheless, he has persevered – and is recognized as a powerful Washington insider and pioneering interfaith leader. Under Awad’s aegis, CAIR grew from a small nonprofit into a multimillion-dollar franchise with branch chapters throughout the United States and even Canada. In the process, CAIR became a national brand and Awad emerged as the most prominent American Muslim civic leader.
AWAD’S ABSOLUTE POWER: Awad is the only individual who has served on CAIR’s board throughout its existence, while simultaneously serving as CAIR’s Executive Director for its entire existence. This highly unusual arrangement has created an inherent conflict of interest, as Awad operates without any genuine oversight. This has resulted in a troubling pattern of misconduct:
SEXUAL HARASSMENT COVER-UP: In 2021, National Public Radio revealed that CAIR’s national leadership had been aware of rampant sexual harassment by a prominent CAIR leader in Florida – yet had failed to act. It has further come to light that some staff in CAIR’s national office tried vigorously to get Awad to take appropriate action, yet instead he covered for the abusive leader. Furthermore, a former senior staffer has alleged in court filings that Awad himself sexually harassed her.
INTERVENING TO FIRE NON-MUSLIM STAFF AT INDEPENDENT CAIR CHAPTERS: Awad directly intervened to block the hiring of a chapter leader solely based on her religious beliefs, and political opinions.
DISCRIMINATION AGAINST MUSLIMS OF MINORITY BACKGROUNDS: In addition to gender discrimination, Awad has also engaged in discrimination against Muslims from other sects.
BLOCKING STAFF EFFORTS TO UNIONIZE: Awad prevented his staffers from unionizing, thus denying them the ability to have bargaining power to obtain better salaries and working conditions.
DRIVING AWAY STAFF & BOARD MEMBERS: An inordinate number of CAIR’s former staff member erase their former affiliation with the group once they leave it.
MISAPPROPRIATING ZAKAT-RESTRICTED DONATIONS FOR NON-ZAKAT PURPOSES: Under Nihad Awad’s leadership, the CAIR-Foundation National office has refused to set clear written policies on Zakat donations despite repeated community requests. Zakat, one of the pillars of the Islam, is charity specifically provided to uplift the needy – in contrast the more general form of charity called sadaqah.
AWAD’S MULTIPLE IDENTITIES: Awad uses many different presentations and spellings of his name in legal documents, including using his middle name Hamad or Hammad as his last name. One of his nonprofits lists himself twice as a board member using different spellings (“Nihad Awad” and “Nehad Hammad”), leaving the false impression these are two different people in order to meet the legal minimum requirement for board members.
NIHAD AWAD INC.: Awad is deliberately deceiving American Muslims about the legal status of CAIR. In reality the name “CAIR” is a catch-all series of interlocking legal entities fully controlled by him.
LOSING TAX-EXEMPT STATUS FOR NOT FILING CAIR’S REQUIRED TAX-RETURNS FOR 5 YEARS: Awad violated the law governing nonprofit organizations by failing to meet the minimum standard of professionalism and ethical responsibility.