Muhammad Ali’s funeral was on Friday, June 10, 2016. Many of us remember seeing the incredibly moving funeral procession with so many people showing their love and support for this prominent Muslim fighter. I remember the khutba that day. The imam talked about Ali’s faith and acts of service: “When we are of service to others, we are with God.”

Something was shifting in the public vibe. People were starting to open their hearts to Islam, remembering this beautiful human example. I could feel it in the air. It felt hopeful.

Two days later, on June 12, 2016, the Orlando nightclub shooting was all over the news, and that hopeful feeling seemed miles away. It seemed like violence was the default association, and it would be enforced at all costs. I was at an all-day retreat, sitting silently for hours, no cell phones or distractions. Yet this piece of news still made it through our media blackout and shook us all up.

Noor salman

For Noor Salman, wife of the shooter Omar Mateen, the nightmare was just beginning. You can hear in the video how scared this young mother was when the police stormed her house, guns pointed at her. How all she could think about was her scared 4-year-old child in the next room.

As it turned out, her only crime was being the wife of someone who committed a horrible crime. Perhaps she asked herself privately if there was anything she could have done, as would any of us in the same situation. The answer is, not much. Omar Mateen was responsible for his actions, and he was shot the same day. It is not a crime to be related to a criminal.

“The Supreme Court has declared guilt by association ‘alien to the traditions of a free society and the First Amendment itself.’ … It violates both the Fifth Amendment, which requires that guilt must be personal and the First Amendment, which guarantees the right of association.”

Nevertheless, the FBI interrogated Noor for more than 12 hours until they obtained a “confession” that she was with her husband when he “cased” the nightclub days before the attack. “After more than a thousand hours of investigations and with the assistance of forensic experts, at trial The Constitutional Law Center for Muslims in America (CLCMA, funded by MLFA) used cell phone data and other evidence to prove that neither Mateen nor Salman had ever been to the Pulse nightclub before the attack. Mateen had not visited Pulse’s website the night before the attack or on any other night, and Mateen had actually chosen the Pulse at random. CLCMA further proved that Salman was telling the truth when she told the investigators that Mateen had told her was going out with a friend and she was unaware of his actual plans.”

Here’s the twist – it came out in the trial, through the persistence of our lawyers, that one of the motives for targeting Noor was not what you’d expect. “When CLCMA announced its intention to call Mateen’s father, Seddique Mateen, the government was forced to admit Seddique was an FBI informant. Rather than protecting the community, the only thing Seddique had protected was his son. In turn, rather than telling the community the truth about what happened and why, the FBI and the US Attorney’s Office for the Central District of Florida chose to scapegoat a young mother.”

The jury returned with a verdict of not guilty on all charges. This is amazing because unfortunately, with cases related to terrorism charges, an acquittal is hard to come by. Although the criminal justice system generally operates with the assumption of innocent until proven guilty, since the PATRIOT Act was passed in 2001, this has been inversed for charges of terrorism. Defendants have been assumed guilty, with the burden of proving their innocence, which is much, much harder to do. “To say that this win was historic is an understatement. In 184 terrorism cases that had gone to a jury since 9/11, there have been only three acquittals, and only one in an ISIS case, that of Noor Salman.”

How many people may have found themselves in similar situations, both in the U.S. and abroad, without any recourse? MLFA and CLCMA were able to change this story. Let’s show up for them and give our support so that they can change the outcomes for many, many more.

Works Cited

Internal legal documents by Charles Swift