Hundreds of community members of all ethnicities, backgrounds and creeds packed McFarlin UMC’s Fenn Hall Monday morning to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day with an interfaith service.
The Mayor’s Interfaith Breakfast has been part of Norman’s MLK Day celebrations for a decade, ever since former Norman Mayor Cindy Rosenthal started the event. Mayor Lynne Miller kicked off the ceremony, and said the event “raises us up to another level.”
“It celebrates our diversity, but it also celebrates how we’re one as a community,” she said. “I believe in the power of the local community to drive change. Your spiritual beliefs are important, and too often they’re private.”
Oklahoma City-based Imam Imad Enchassi, who was born in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon before emigrating to the United States as a teenager, was the keynote speaker. He pointed out that, regardless of religious creed, all humanity can understand and support social justice.
“We may have tags of Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu or Buddhist, but there is one thing that is common to all of us: we’re human,” he said. “How about one human civilization, and a creed that we can all live by, that we call justice?”
Enchassi recounted the story of the Prophet Muhammad sending his followers to find shelter in the Christian Kingdom of Aksum in Abyssinia, now modern day Ethiopia. The king there, known as Negus in Islam, judicially protected the Muslim refugees, refusing to send them back to Mecca and the controlling Quraysh tribe. Enchassi touched on themes of justice, and a common religious heritage during the story.
He also spoke about his and his family’s ethnicity and the persecution they have faced in the United States, remarking on some of the similarities between the injustice Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement strived against. Enchassi has Egyptian and Palestinian heritage and married a Hispanic and Native American woman.
“I’m often asked to go back home, which is the most hurtful thing you can say to anyone,” he said. “When you tell someone to go back home, you’re telling them they don’t have a seat at the table.”
Enchassi closed with a reminder that, despite anti-Muslim rhetoric and continued civil rights and social justice issues, there is hope for the future.
“As our nation passes through these coming years, it’s important to remember a message of hope,” he said. “That things happen for a reason. We are a people of faith; everything happens for a reason.”
The event also featured a variety of prayers, a chant and a moment of silence. The following individuals spoke: McFarlin UMC Senior Pastor Linda Harker, Norman Human Rights Commission Chair Kay Ham, First Christian Church of Norman Senior Minister Rev. David Spain, St. Stephen’s UMC Senior Minister Rev. Jeannie Himes, Community Missionary Baptist Church Senior Pastor Richard Gaines, First American UMC Rev. Dr. Justine Smith, representatives from Soka Gakkai International, Northhaven Church Rev. Dr. Mitch Randall and Dr. Alan Leveson, director of the Schusterman Center for Judaic and Israel Studies at OU. A representative of the Norman Society of Friends led the audience in a moment of silence. Shirley Franklin of Goodrich Memorial UMC led the audience in singing “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.”