OKLAHOMA CITY — They come from all walks of life.
They’re teachers, principals, physical therapists, devoted Oklahoma State University fans, Thunder lovers and parents.
But they have at least two things in common.
They’re all Muslims living in Oklahoma. And, they’re being highlighted in the newly launched social media campaign called #TheMuslimNextDoor.
Soon some of their stories and contributions to Oklahoma may start appearing on billboards in communities across the state, said Adam Soltani, executive director of the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR.
“We want them to show what they’re passionate about,” he said.
Once it’s fully funded and launched later this year, the campaign will feature videos, billboards, public forums and hundreds of photos of Muslims. The idea is to help give Oklahomans a personal look into the everyday lives of some of the 30,000 to 40,000 Muslims who call Oklahoma home, Soltani said.
In a matter of weeks, members of Soltani’s group have raised close to $1,400 of their $25,000 goal to pay for #TheMuslimNextDoor campaign. He’s optimistic they’ll be able to reach their fundraising goal, which will allow the organization to push its message to all corners of the state.
Soltani said he hopes the campaign will help “dispel misunderstandings about Muslims” in Oklahoma. The state, like many parts of the country, has weathered an increase in Islamophobia and anti-Muslim rhetoric, he said. Such stereotypes are often perpetuated on social media platforms, he said.
“There’s been a lot of misinformation and propagation of stereotypes over the last (few) years,” he said. “It’s a national trend, but I think in a place like Oklahoma the challenge we have is Muslims are concentrated in mostly metro areas.”
Outside the Tulsa and Oklahoma City metropolitan areas, Soltani said there are pockets of Muslims living in Ada, Stillwater, Weatherford, Lawton and Ardmore, but there are few — if any — living in other communities.
Statewide, Oklahoma Muslims make up less than a percentage of the population.
“That reduces the opportunity to know Muslims personally,” Soltani said.
Typically, once people get to know their Muslim neighbors, their perceptions of the group are altered and their hatred and animosity reduced, he said.
In just three years of holding an annual Muslim legislative day at the Capitol, Soltani said a growing number of lawmakers — from both sides of the aisle — have opened their doors and reached out to participants.
The growing acceptance from Republican lawmakers, in particular, has surprised many Muslim participants, he said, in part because of anti-Muslim rhetoric that has come from some GOP lawmakers locally and nationally, he said.
Many Muslim Capitol visitors were initially skeptical about approaching members of the state’s majority party, but recently have found tolerance — if not acceptance and welcome.
Soltani said it just goes to show that it’s a mistake to stereotype any Oklahoman solely on their religious or political beliefs.
To learn more about the campaign, visit https://www.launchgood.com/project/themuslimnextdoor#/
Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.