In our “Where Are They Now?” series, we introduce you to previous CAIR Oklahoma interns. You will get a better sense of what they did, where they are now, and what they gained from interning with CAIR Oklahoma.
Date of Internship: I was a civil liberties intern during the summer of my first year of law school, that would have been the summer of 2009. Razi Hashmi and Tariq Ahmad were running the show back then.
Graduation Date and Major/Minor: I got my BA in Political Science from the University of Miami (FL) in 2007 and I received a JD and an MA in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Michigan in 2011.
Current Employer: In October I became a refugee attorney with the International Refugee Assistance Project. IRAP is based in New York City (we also have offices in Amman and Beirut), but I’m based in Washington DC. I spent the three years prior to that working as a criminal justice and civil liberties policy analyst at the Cato Institute, also in DC.
Tell us about your internship at CAIR Oklahoma. How long did you intern with us? What were some of the projects you worked on? I was part-time intern over the summer (I split my week between CAIR-OK and the Oklahoma County Public Defender’s Office). Most of my work focused on the civil liberties issues facing Oklahoma’s Muslim community. Back in 2009 was the height of the “Sharia ban” push in Oklahoma, so I spent a lot of time writing and talking to people about “Sharia bans” and why they were unconstitutional and discriminatory.
Eventually that ban went all the way to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals and the ban was overturned. I was happy to see that a piece I wrote during my CAIR internship actually made it into the 10th Circuit case as evidence of the effect the ban would have.
What was your favorite part about your internship? Getting better acquainted with the Muslim community in Oklahoma. I’m not Muslim, and I didn’t meet many Muslims while growing up in Oklahoma, so it was my first real introduction to a warm and welcoming community, and I made a lot of friends both in CAIR and in the community that I keep to this day, almost a decade later (I’m getting old).
It also gave me a chance to work on issues that I was passionate about. I have a big libertarian streak and the efforts to which people were going to infringe on the rights of Oklahoma Muslims and make the state unwelcoming toward them really bothered me. Working at CAIR allowed me to do more than just be angry, but to contribute.
What was the most challenging part of your internship? Doing civil liberties work in America (or Oklahoma) means accepting setbacks; you’re probably going to lose a lot more battles than you win. It was a challenging political environment in Oklahoma, with all the anti-Sharia hysteria, but that’s what we signed up for. The work wouldn’t be so important if the challenges weren’t so great.
What are you doing now? I’ve been with IRAP since the end of October. After the Muslim Ban came down last January I decided I wanted to change careers.
At IRAP we provide direct legal assistance and engage in systemic advocacy on behalf of refugees, mostly from the Middle East and North Africa. I could talk about this all day, but if people are interested in our work they can find more here: https://refugeerights.org
I am a policy counsel at IRAP. So while I do have clients that I’m assisting through the refugee process, my job mostly focuses on public and government advocacy to protect and expand the United States’ historical commitment to people seeking refuge.
The United States prides itself on being a beacon to the world’s “tired, poor, and huddled masses,” and I work to hold the government to that promise. The U.S. government’s openness to refugees is reaching historic lows even while the global refugee crises is at its worst point in generations. That’s not acceptable.
How did your internship with CAIR Oklahoma help you grow professionally? It was my first real exposure to the political process. Having to figure out how the legislature worked and where we could impact it from the outside, first through grassroots advocacy and ultimately through the courts. I also made lifelong connections with my coworkers and supervisors that have benefited me ever since. In fact former executive director Razi served as a reference for me when I was applying for my current job all these years later.
What would you say to other students that are considering an internship with CAIR Oklahoma? I would say go for it. Obviously a lot of the personnel has changed since my day, but I know Adam Soltani well and I know that CAIR-OK is still providing the same faithful and desperately needed service to Oklahoma and its Muslim community.
You will be working on important projects as soon as you walk through the door, which is a lot more responsibility than most internships will give you, and you’ll build professional and personal connections that will serve you well into your future.