Member Spotlight: Selaedin Maksut, Executive Director, CAIR-NJ

It's a blessing to be a part of a social movement that stands on the frontlines. We proudly and humbly stand on the shoulders of those that came before us, and the legacies of those who did tenfold of what we are doing today. Championing these causes and being a voice for the voiceless is a huge honor and blessing."
- Selaedin Maksut, Executive Director, CAIR-NJ

We had the honor of interviewing Selaedin Maksut, the Executive Director of CAIR-New Jersey, a state chapter of the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR). CAIR is the largest and oldest civil rights organization, with 25 chapters nationwide, advocating for the rights of Muslims in the United States. We sat down with Selaedin to learn more about himself, the work CAIR-NJ is committed to, and the current effort to designate January as Muslim Awareness and Appreciation Month in New Jersey.

Selaedin explains the work that CAIR-NJ is committed to…

CAIR provides free legal services to community members facing discrimination on the basis of race and/or religion. The cases that we see range from hate crimes, employment discrimination, land use discrimination, government surveillance, and initimdation when traveling. The National office is leading efforts to fight the federal government’s “watch-list”, a long arbitrary list of American Muslim who are routinely detained while traveling in and out of the United States.

Other components of our work include educational programing like Know-Your-Rights (KYR) trainings, cultural competency trainings, and education around civic engagement and advocacy. With the KYR trainings, we make sure that community members know their rights and how to advocate for themselves. The cultural competency trainings educate employers on making workplaces/spaces more inclusive and welcoming of their Muslim employees. For example, for the holy month of Ramadan, employers can ensure that their Muslim employees feel comfortable practicing their faith during the work day. We have seen cases where Muslim employees, especially Muslim women who wear the headscarf, have been threatened or made to feel unwelcomed. We work hard to prevent that. Lastly, from the state legislature to local municipalities, we pursue advocacy efforts that champion the conserns of the American Muslim community. We work on issues as local as providing Halal food in public schools, to state legislation that highlights Muslim contributions to the state. 

CAIR-NJ is currently advocating for January to be Muslim Awareness and Appreciation Month in New Jersey. In his own words, Selaedin shares why it is important to have a month to celebrate the contributions made by the Muslim community… 

CAIR-NJ is leading efforts in New Jersey to make it the third state in the country to designate January as Muslim Awareness and Appreciation Month. The month would celebrate the contributions made by the Muslim community to New Jersey. This is really important to us because our state has the largest Muslim population per capita in the country: approximately 3% of the population is Muslim. We want to highlight the magnificent contributions that they have made to the state, and celebrate the richness of our diverse community, so other New Jerseyans can be more understanding and welcoming of their Muslim neighbors. 

For me personally, New Jersey is home. Growing up after 9/11, it was difficult to see my faith and community be vilified in the media and by politicians. Now 20 years later, we are better positioned to combat islamophobia, and having Muslim Awareness and Appreciation Month would help introduce a more positive representation of our community and faith.

CAIR-NJ’s recent wins and successes…

Our organization wants to be able to bring Halal food to all New Jersey schools, especially those school districts with high populations of Muslim youth. In 2021, CAIR-NJ was able to get confirmation from the Atlantic City Public School system to provide Halal food to children. This was a major win for our organization and our community! Another recent success was CAIR-NJ’s conversation with New Jersey State Senator-Elect Edward Durr, where we were able to confirm his commitment to stand against Islamophobia. In the past, the Senator had made problematic tweets about the Muslim community and we thought that the best way to address our concerns with him was to have a conversation. This is a person elected to a high political office in our state, and now has the power to draft legislation that impacts all of his constituents, including Muslims. Such hateful speech coming from a legislator fosters an environment that is hostile to Muslims and other marginalized groups. During our conversation, the Senator recognized the responsibility he now has—to ensure the safety of his constituents and make New Jersey a more welcoming state. Senator Durr disavowed Islamophobia, made a commitment to not use such negative rhetoric moving forward, as well as support our advocacy efforts concerning the Muslim community.

Selaedin shares his thoughts on the social justice movement…

The work is fulfilling because it's faith-based work that seeks to ensure everyone has equal opportunity, their civil rights are respected, and is treated with dignity. Once you are in the field, you see the impact right away and the change that can be made. It's a blessing to be a part of a social movement that  stands on the frontlines. We proudly and humbly stand on the shoulders of those that came before us, and the legacies of those who did tenfold of what we are doing today. We are carrying the torch that people have passed down to us. Championing these causes and being a voice for the voiceless is a huge honor and blessing for me. 

We asked Selaedin who he would choose as a mentor. He responded…

If I had the opportunity to choose anyone as my mentor, it would be Malcolm X – a man who was so successful in his work that even the United States government felt threatened by his existence. I refer back to his life story often. The courage and strength he had was like no other. He was well ahead of his time. His Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca and coming back as a changed man is an especially inspirational part of his life for me. He changed his entire approach to his civil rights work when he encountered the Islamic tradition and the Muslim world. I take so much inspiration from that part of Malcolm X’s life, and his overall legacy that he left behind for us all. 

Check out CAIR-NJ’s website!

Get involved with CAIR-NJ!
Volunteer and internship opportunities are available!

New Year, New Team, New Session | Same Fight for Justice

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January Newsletter

Archived 2017 picture of NJAIJ rally against the Muslim Ban.

Friends, I'm writing with a personal message this month.
January marks one year since I joined NJAIJ and one year since we grew our team to include our Movement Building Coordinator, a role that has transformed how we empower immigrant communities all across the New Jersey. In my twelve months in coalition with you, I feel both grateful and galvanized.
In that year, New Jersey also
became the first state on the East Coast to ban ICE detention agreements. We became the 15th state to enact a status-neutral drivers' license program, and fought for a first-of-its-kind direct cash benefit program, the Excluded New Jerseyans Fund, to provide relief for households excluded from federal stimulus. We made history together, and I'm humbled by and in awe of your fight.
It's January again and we are pleased to announce that we are growing our team again, too!
I am thrilled to be joined in this work by advocates who have an unwavering dedication to social, racial, and economic justice. Please join me in welcoming:

Michelle Ancil, she/her, Communications Coordinator. Laura Bustamante, she/her, Policy & Campaigns Manager. Aidee Pascual, she/her, Administrative Assistant. Kat Phan, she/her, 2022 Intern.

Click to read more about our team.

January is a time of renewal and reflection.
This month, we highlight Selaedin Maksut, Executive Director of the New Jersey chapter of Council for American Islamic Relations (CAIR-NJ). CAIR-NJ is at the fore of the fight to designate January as Muslim Awareness and Appreciation month. Selaedin reminds us about the importance of reflecting on the legacies and movements that came before us and celebrating the richness of our diversity.

In Solidarity and Community,
Amy Torres

 

Member Spotlight

 It's a blessing to be a part of a social movement that stands on the frontlines. We proudly and humbly stand on the shoulders of those that came before us, and the legacies of those who did tenfold of what we are doing today. Championing these causes and being a voice for the voiceless is a huge honor and blessing," says Selaedin Maksut, Executive Director, CAIR-NJ

 
A header image with the words

THE VALUES ACT IS HERE!

The Values Act was re-introduced in the Assembly and Senate as A1986/S512. The Values Act would provide critical protections that allow New Jerseyans to seek support from state and local agencies without fear of deportation. Tell your legislator you expect to see their support!

 

NILC Features NJ's Anti-Detention Law

National Immigration Law Center

The incredible campaign behind the bill that banned new ICE detention agreements, renewals, and expansions was featured in the National Immigration Law Center's annual report on Winning in the States.

The report celebrates New Jersey's win by acknowledging the many fronts of the battle: "The anti-detention fight in New Jersey has been a decades-long movement...but with closure announcements and the ban on new and renewed contracts, New Jersey will not have any ICE detention centers after 2023."
 

Excluded NJ Fund Falls Short

In the midst of the news that major parts of the Excluded New Jerseyans Fund had been diverted and then quickly restored, New Jersey Policy Perspective released a report.

NJPP's analysis finds, "[e]ven if the Excluded New Jerseyans Fund were kept at its original funding level, it does not match the aid provided to others facing financial hardship due to COVID-19." The report goes on to say, "not only do payments...fall far short of the cost of living in New Jersey, but the size of the fund is also too small to reach all excluded workers."
 

Fair Legislative Districts

Legislative redistricting is still underway but time is running out! Your voice is needed to make sure maps are fair, racially just, and representative of your community. 

NJAIJ is a proud member of the Fair Districts coalition. 
Research shows that public testimony at redistricting hearings is effective when it offers specific instructions to mapmakers, focuses on small-scale changes (like keeping a neighborhood together), and effectively defines a community and its needs for representation. You are the expert on your community. Get involved!
 

Ready to act? Spread the word:

New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice


P.O. Box, 200492,  | Newark, New Jersey  07102| [email protected]

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