Interfaith rally greets Muslims as neighbors

Muslims leaving a Friday afternoon prayer service at the Al-Salam mosque were greeted by dozens of smiling people carrying signs that read, “Standing in solidarity,” “You are a great part of our community” and “Howdy neighbor.”

They mingled with the people who had come out to show support for their beleaguered community, shaking hands and thanking them.

“Oklahoma Muslims have been under some pretty heavy scrutiny and fire lately, from elected officials and others,” said the Rev. Chris Moore of Fellowship Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, who spearheaded the event.

“Our point was to show them support from this community in a tangible way and to express our desire for them to understand that we consider them neighbors.”

Moore said he borrowed the idea from a similar event held several weeks ago in Oklahoma City, where he was an associate pastor until coming to Tulsa last year.

“I floated the idea to OCCJ (Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice) and Phillips Theological Seminary, and they ran with it,” he said.

Moises Echeverria, OCCJ program coordinator, carried a sign that read, “Oklahoma is more beautiful because of you.”

“I think it’s important to show the community that there is a different narrative involving Oklahoma Muslims than has been expressed by some government officials,” he said before the rally.

“We value diversity, and we think Oklahoma is better because of Muslims.

“We want to let them know that we are here for them. We are here to express solidarity with those who have come for their prayers,” Echeverria said.

Masood Kasim, chairman of Islamic Society of Tulsa, said: “This is great. Once people know the true Islam, they will find the truth, not what they hear on the media. We have worked so hard to build that bridge.”

Dr. Ashraf Mohamed, a pediatric oncologist at Saint Francis Hospital who moved here from Egypt, appreciated the show of support.

“I’m so thrilled to see it. It’s really great,” he said. “It makes me more and more proud to be in the States and to be one of the members of this community.”

He said Tulsa Muslims experienced the acceptance of the Tulsa community after 9/11 and are now experiencing it again.

“They feel the pain that we are going through and the hard time that we’re going through,” he said.

Drew Diamond, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Tulsa, said: “We’ve been wanting to do this for some time. These are our neighbors, these are our friends. … This is about community.”

Several events this fall have created difficult circumstances for Muslims in Oklahoma. State Rep. John Bennett, R-Sallisaw, has held forums in Sallisaw and Muskogee in which he said Muslims are a danger to the state; an Edmond pastor recently held a similar seminar; a man who identified himself as a Muslim was accused of beheading a woman in Moore; and the Islamic State, a radical army that says it is seeking to establish a global Islamic caliphate, has overrun large chunks of northern Iraq and Syria.

“If people only respond to the 24-hour news cycle, they have a lot of misinformation, designed to make us afraid of one another and to make us respond to that fear,” Moore said.

“When we give people a chance to engage with their neighbors, we find they’re not that different from us.”