Hassan Shibly, the 34-year-old former executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ (CAIR) Florida chapter, faces a barrage of sexual harassment and assault claims, which he has denied while trying to play the victim. Many of the women who have spoken out against Shibly also charge CAIR with negligence when it comes to sexual assault claims and claim the organization is biased against women.
While Shibly resigned after some of the allegations came forward, accusers say CAIR did not investigate complaints against him and let him off easy. Jinan Shbat, a woman who worked in the CAIR National office in Washington, D.C., for three years through the beginning of January 2020, claimed the Shibley affair underscores CAIR’s hostile approach toward women.
“Hassan got to leave on his own terms, looking good in a specific way, and CAIR just let it happen,” Shbat told NPR. “The standard for them was just to not believe the women and to believe him first, you know. And it’s just on-brand.”
NPR interviewed six Shibly accusers and reviewed internal CAIR documents, social media posts, and emails. “Together, the accounts portray Shibly as a man who used his position to seduce women and bully critics with impunity,” NPR’s Leila Fadel reported.
Imane Sadrati, Shibly’s estranged wife and the mother of his three children, accused her husband of physical assault. She also claimed he cut her off financially. Meanwhile, other women have come forward, saying Shibly married them in secret and forced them to have sex with him. Shibly and Sadrati are going through legal divorce proceedings.
Shibly denied these claims and cast himself as the victim. He presented NPR with pictures that he says prove Sadrati abused him, not the other way around. He also claimed that the woman in one of his side marriages made violent threats against him, but that he settled the issue out of court with a confidentiality agreement.
Much of the claims boil down to the classic “he said, she said,” but even the romantic entanglements Shibly admits paint a damning picture.
The former CAIR Florida head admitted that he entered into religious marriage contracts with women outside his legal marriage when he and his wife were separated and even prior to their separation, with her permission when he thought their marriage was essentially over. He denied that any of the relationships were secret or abusive and he described them as “courtships.”
Kyla McRoberts claimed Shibly used his stature as a Muslim leader and her naiveté as a recent convert to Islam to “trick” her into a “secret marriage” behind his wife’s back in 2016.
“He definitely uses his reputation,” McRoberts told NPR. “I was very naive and fell into it blindly. I was a new convert. He promised to teach me Islam and help me strengthen my faith.”
McRoberts said Shibly found her on Snapchat and told her he was getting divorced. She said they entered into a religious marriage over the phone, with only a friend of his on the line as a witness. While she said she found the whole situation strange, Shibly assured her it was religiously sanctioned.
McRoberts claimed Shibly would only see her on business trips or stopovers on his way back from those trips, and so she realized Shibly’s wife Sadrati didn’t know about her. She gave NPR screenshots of texts in which she told Sadrati about the secret marriage.
McRoberts also claimed that Shibly cut off her ponytail one night as she slept. She said the CAIR leader was angry that she had posted a picture of herself online without her headscarf. She refused to have sex with him, but he told her that, as his wife, she couldn’t refuse.
“He stole my self-worth,” McRoberts said in an interview. “I just don’t want him breaking another person so bad that they have no self-worth and contemplate suicide daily because of his lies and manipulation.”
McRoberts said Shibly paid her to take down the Facebook post. Shibly denied paying her to take down the post and denied ever abusing her. He said the claims were “utterly ridiculous and shamefully false.”
“I did not give in to her attempts at extortion, and she has unfortunately communicated lies against me to the media as she hinted she would if she was not paid,” Shibly told NPR.
In 2016, another woman took to social media to accuse Shibly of manipulating her into a “love affair” and a religious marriage behind his wife’s back. She tagged CAIR in her posts. CAIR Florida spokesman Wilfredo Ruiz said CAIR National alerted his chapter’s board of the “conceding social media posts,” but claimed “this was a personal legal matter being addressed in court.”
Shibly acknowledged he was religiously married to the woman but claimed it was not secret. He said the woman made violent threats against him, so he got a restraining order before settling out of court with a confidentiality agreement.
The woman behind the allegation said she was too afraid to speak due to a confidentiality agreement, but a friend she confided in at the time, Lulu Al-Zahrani, confirmed her story. Al-Zahrani said Shibly emotionally abused the woman and made up accusations to get the protective order after she went public about the relationship.
Laila Abdelaziz, a former CAIR Florida staffer who worked with Shibly, accused him of making moves on her after she joined the chapter in 2014. She said she resigned in 2016, partially because Shibly had sexually harassed her.
Abdelaziz said she discovered that Shibly had taken lurid photos of flight attendants in short skirts on a trip to Moscow in 2015. The colleague that showed her the photos anonymously confirmed her account to NPR
“It was just very explicitly uncomfortable to know that my supervisor was essentially taking secret pictures of women while I was on an international trip with him,” Abdelaziz said.
Shibly denied ever having taken such pictures. “That’s disrespectful and humiliating, and I would never do that,” he said.
Abdelaziz also claimed that, weeks after the Moscow trip, Shibly walked into her office, closed the door, leaned in close, and said, “I love you.”
“I looked at him in shock and disdain, and there were several seconds of eye contact,” Abdelaziz said, recounting the alleged incident. Then he backtracked. “I love you, like, I love my sister,” she recalled him saying.
“I consider that harassment,” she said. “It’s a very difficult position to be put in.”
Shibly denied the claim. “It’s absolutely false. It never happened,” he said.
Abdelaziz said that when she and others flagged issues to the CAIR Florida board, the board responded, “Hassan’s the executive director. He has all the relationships with donors.”
Ruiz said the allegations regarding the photos and the harassment were never brought to the board. “CAIR Florida has very clear and strict policies against workplace harassment of any kind and takes appropriate disciplinary action in cases brought to our attention,” he said.
CAIR National told NPR that it has hired an outside investigator to delve into claims regarding two local chapters. “So far, the firm’s investigator has not been able to substantiate any of the claims due to a lack of cooperation from the mostly anonymous individuals posting these claims online,” board Chairwoman Roula Allouch wrote.
Religious scholar Aslam Abdullah told NPR that women do not trust CAIR to handle their claims seriously. He said many women have come to him with what he regards as credible allegations of harassment, sexual misconduct, or unfair treatment against senior men within CAIR or CAIR affiliates. The women say they do not trust that CAIR National’s investigation will be fair. He says they have refused to cooperate with the investigation.
Muslim women founded Facing Abuse in Community Environments (FACE) to investigate abuse in the Muslim community. In January, FACE announced that it was investigating multiple allegations against Shibly. Alia Salem, FACE’s executive director, is a former CAIR chapter leader, and Shibly claimed she has a personal animosity against him. She said there are no conflicts of interest in the case.
CAIR chapters have faced lawsuits alleging gender and religious discrimination against women and Shiite Muslims. Eighteen former employees at CAIR National and other prominent chapters told NPR that “there was a general lack of accountability when it came to perceived gender bias, religious bias or mismanagement.” Former employees cited complaints regarding a gender pay gap, the exclusion of women from closed-door meetings, and a prioritization of men’s careers over those of women.
CAIR National denied these claims. Allouch, the board chairwoman, pointed to top jobs filled by women. “Our civil rights organization absolutely does not tolerate gender discrimination, religious bigotry, sexual harassment, or a retaliatory work environment,” she said.
Yet Janin Shbat, a former CAIR staffer, launched an Instagram account to share the stories of women who allegedly faced abuse while working at CAIR.
She said many women tell her, “I used to work for CAIR. Thank you so much for finally doing this and speaking out.”
“So many women have basically told us that they experienced a lot of the same sexism and misogyny,” Shbat explained.
NPR reported that Shibly’s accusers described a “culture of silence, rooted partly in Muslim taboos about discussing personal scandals and partly out of fear that the fallout would fuel vicious anti-Muslim hostility.”
Yet CAIR follows the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) lead in branding mainstream conservative organizations “anti-Muslim hate groups” and attempting to get these organizations cut off from polite society. CAIR uses trumped-up claims of “Islamophobia” to try to silence its critics.
Tragically, Islam has a tortured history when it comes to women’s rights, and even a tortured present in many Middle Eastern countries, and it is not Islamophobic to say so.
Back in 2019, the SPLC fired its co-founder, Morris Dees, over claims of sexual harassment and racial discrimination that traced back decades. (I cover that story in detail in my book Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center.) The SPLC promised an internal review, but it has yet to publish the results.
It seems Shibly may have abused his power in the same way Morris Dees did.