Several elected leaders joined Oklahoma Muslims for a recent event focusing on Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting.
Hosted by the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the annual “Ramadan Iftar With Elected Leaders” featured guest speakers, awards and prayer at the Oklahoma History Center, 800 Nazih Zuhdi Drive. About 200 guests also were treated to an iftar meal, which Muslims traditionally eat at sundown to break the Ramadan fast.
Ramadan is one of the five pillars, or obligations, of Islam. Observant Muslims around the world abstain from food, drink and sensual pleasures from dawn to sunset during the month, which commemorates the divine revelation of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad. Muslims also place emphasis on acts of charity and kindness during the holy month.
Imad Enchassi, senior imam of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, shared information about Ramadan with the interfaith crowd on Friday evening.
“The whole idea of fasting is to bring us closer to God,” he said
Elected leaders also addressed the crowd. Rep. Julia Kirt, D-Oklahoma City, and Ward 2 Oklahoma City Councilman James Cooper shared remarks along with Sen. George Young, D-Oklahoma City, who served as keynote speaker. Other legislators in attendance included Rep. Andy Fugate, D-Del City; Rep. Regina Goodwin, D-Tulsa; and Sen. Carrie Hicks, D-Oklahoma City. Goodwin and Hicks were each honored with awards. Oklahoma County Commissioner Carrie Blumert was also among the crowd.
One elected official, Gov. Kevin Stitt, was noticeably absent, but Adam Soltani, CAIR-OK’s executive director, explained his absence.
Soltani said the governor had accepted an event invitation, but his staff sent word just prior to the start that the governor might not be able to attend due to the wildfires raging in multiples areas on Friday across the state. About midway through the event, Soltani told the crowd that the wildfires had kept the governor from attending, and the Muslim leader read Stitt’s statement expressing his regrets.
“Happy Ramadan to my Muslim-American friends,” Stitt said in his statement. “This celebration is a reminder of the values that make our State and our Nation great, especially our belief in freedom and religious liberty for all. We believe that every individual has the right to practice their faith without fear of discrimination or persecution. In Oklahoma, we are proud to honor and respect the religious diversity of our communities. I understand the importance of unity, faith and discipline. These values during the month of Ramadan remind us of the power of coming together in community. Thank you for your investment and presence in Oklahoma. God bless you all, and Happy Ramadan.”
In 2022, Stitt, who has been open about his Christian faith, came under fire for saying that he claimed “every square inch” of Oklahoma for Jesus. He made the statement as he gave a prayer that was videotaped and subsequently became the focus of a viral social media video. Several months after that controversy, Stitt met with a group of Jewish leaders from across the state who asked to meet with him to express their concerns about his statement.
The recent Ramadan iftar would have been another opportunity for the governor to show goodwill to a non-Christian faith group. Soltani told the crowd that the governor indicated he would try to join in a future event hosted by the Muslim faith community.
Soltani also told those gathered about the Republican governor surprising him and other Muslim leaders when Stitt briefly welcomed attendees at the 2019 Muslim Day at the Capitol activities. CAIR-OK’s annual event, which recently marked 10 years, brings Oklahoma Muslims to the State Capitol to learn about the importance of advocacy and meeting with their elected leaders.
Soltani said Muslim leaders tried unsuccessfully for years to engage with Stitt’s predecessor, Gov. Mary Fallin, also a Republican. Thus, Stitt’s brief appearance at the Muslim Day activities had been a welcome surprise.
“I was taken aback, because for years prior to that, we fought not to meet with legislators, not to advocate for particular things ― we fought just to be as accountable and to exist as Muslims,” Soltani said.
“We thank Gov. Stitt for his positive message, and we will continue to communicate with him and his staff. Maybe we can get him to be one of the first governors in a long time to visit a mosque in Oklahoma — that will be a wonderful thing we will continue to work on.”