Baltimore Insider

Rabia Chaudry fights for Muslims — and Adnan

Rabia Chaudry teaches law enforcement officers about the Muslim faith, fights radical extremism and serves as a national security expert.

But for fans of "Serial," she's best known as the person who planted the seed for the hit podcast with producer Sarah Koenig — and discusses the case in-depth on her blog.


"People think I'm obnoxious. They think I'm aggressive," said Chaudry, a lawyer and Greenbelt resident. "That goes against the grain of stereotypes of Muslim women."

Chaudry contacted "This American Life" producer Koenig with the story of Adnan Syed, her younger brother's best friend, who is serving life plus 30 years for the killing in 1999 of his former girlfriend, Hae Min Lee.


Koenig, struck by the intricacies of the case, launched a yearlong investigation at the heart of the podcast, which wraps up Thursday with the release of its 12th and final episode.

The two speak often about the case, and the conversation can spark conflict.

"We've certainly had our differences, and they've gotten pretty hot sometimes, but I always have had a great deal of respect for her," Koenig said. "She is relentless and she is forceful and she is an amazing person."

Chaudry embraces her role as a firebrand who, as she recently tweeted, is "shattering stereotypes" of veiled Muslim women. Buzzfeed named her this week to a list of "21 Kick-Ass Muslims Who Changed the Narrative in 2014."

Chaudry, 40, has been posting a response to each episode of "Serial" on her blog, as well as conducting a weekly video chat about the podcast. She is a fierce advocate for Syed, who she believes is innocent of the murder of Lee, who was a fellow honor student at Woodlawn High School.

In one entry, Chaudry described her reaction when Koenig presented her with a document prosecutors had commissioned from a consultant who discussed Islam, honor killings and sexism.

"I think I cursed a lot," Chaudry wrote. "But I felt my face get hot and angry and was hopping around in my chair, gobsmacked and horrified."

Chaudry addressed the end of her post to the consultant.


"Pakistan, dear consultant, is not exactly what you think it is," she wrote. "I take personal exception to your characterization because it just so happens that [I] was born there."

She goes on to embed videos that depict aspects of Pakistani culture, with commentary like "Stylish, and look women who forgot their burkas" and "Brace yourself — Pakistani women read and write."

Chaudry said she plans to release documents related to the case on her website including forensic reports, police logs and portions of trial transcripts. She hopes to launch a fundraising campaign for Syed's legal defense and a petition or letter-writing campaign.

Chaudry's family became friends with the Syeds through their mosque, The Islamic Society of Baltimore. Both Syed's parents and her own are Pakistani natives who settled in Maryland.

An offhand comment that Syed made after his conviction — that a fellow Woodlawn student said she could provide an alibi, but had never been contacted by Syed's defense attorney — launched Chaudry's crusade. She has stuck by him through several appeals, providing informal legal support and guidance for Syed and his parents.

She wrote in her first blog post about "Serial" that she lugged around his case files for years, sometimes carrying them in the trunk of her car. She contacted Koenig because, in 2001, when Koenig was a Baltimore Sun reporter, she had written about the disbarment of Syed's defense attorney.


"She was the only person I contacted," said Chaudry. "It was serendipity."

Chaudry is accustomed to being involved in high-profile — and contentious — issues. She has led efforts to dispel negative stereotypes of Muslims among law enforcement officers while also working to combat violent extremism within the Muslim community.

"Not a lot of community people are willing to put their reputation on the line and say the messages coming out of ISIS and al-Qaida are not messages that represent the Muslim community," said Haris Tarin, who as director of the Washington office of the Muslim Public Affairs Council works closely with Chaudry. "She's been willing to take that fight on."

A graduate of University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the George Mason University School of Law, Chaudry became involved in national security issues while working as an immigration attorney in Connecticut. She heard complaints from Muslim clients, including an imam, that FBI agents were trying to force them to spy on others in their community.

Chaudry moved back to the Washington area with her husband and two daughters and became a fellow in a program for emerging Muslim leaders.

She founded an organization, The Safe Nation Collaborative, that provides training on the Islamic faith and countering violent extremism and fosters dialogue between law enforcement and Muslim communities. She is a national security fellow with the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank.


Tarin said Chaudry's warmth, persistence and openness help her tackle sensitive topics.

"She's willing to listen and she's willing to hear people out," he said.

Koenig said she marvels at Chaudry's enormous energy — juggling demanding work, family life and advocacy for Syed.

"She's a force," she said. "She's one of those people who you wonder how she does it."

Chaudry has put off some work projects to devote herself to Syed's case since "Serial" began.

She said Koenig has done "a tremendous job" on the podcast.


Chaudry said she keeps in touch with Syed through occasional prison phone calls. He reads transcripts of the podcast but has been unable to listen to it.

She plans to go see him this week to discuss, among other things, the last episode of "Serial."