A small yellow school bus from a local Muslim school pulled up on the south side of the Oklahoma capitol. The children inside pressed their faces against the window to get a better look at the crowd gathered outside that was ready to shout down any Muslims attempting to pass through the entrance.
A volunteer with a group that had come to make sure Muslims attending Friday’s events at the capitol had safe passage told the bus driver to pull around to an entrance on the east side. She then turned to give instructions to other volunteers with her group.
“Some of you walk through the crowd and act like you are escorting people,” she said.
While the bus headed for another entrance, the volunteers walked through the crowd with shouts and taunts thrown their way. Despite the vitriol, a few of the volunteers had small smiles on their face knowing they were taking the abuse and a dozen children wouldn’t.
“They have every right to be here as any citizen of Oklahoma,” said Anne Murray, a member of First Unitarian Church in Oklahoma City that was at the statehouse to welcome those attending the first ever Muslim Day at the Capitol. “We are here to help shield them from this.”
A human tunnel helped separate Muslim attendees from signs and angry faces, but the shouts were harder to block.
“Allah is a pedophile.”
“You’re going to ge bent over the barrel.”
“What right do you have to hold that American flag?”
“The Muslims won’t exist in the end.”
Inside the capitol, a few hundred members of Oklahoma’s Muslim community gathered in a building that has, at times, been hostile toward their faith. Despite the protests that greeted those attendees, Adam Soltani, director of the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relation, walked up to a microphone and expressed his excitement for the event.
“Today is a beautiful day,” Soltani told the crowd. “You saw what you saw when you walked up to the south side of the capitol today. You saw something that, as we are here sending a message of peace, love and compassion, you saw messages of hate, misunderstanding and ignorance.
“But through those messages of hate you saw something that is very very beautiful. And I think it’s a perfect sign of what our state truly represents. You saw more than 50 or 60 of our friends from the interfaith community, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist and so on standing to protect each and every Muslim attendee today.”
The day’s events included meetings with lawmakers, seminars on becoming more involved in the democratic process, and an attempt to highlight the Muslim community that calls Oklahoma home.
“We need to have a day every year in which we renew and refresh our desire and commitment to be more civically engaged and be more involved in the democratic process,” Soltani said.
Back outside the protesters and supporters began to thin out, but a few Muslim citizens continued to file in.
“Go home,” one protester shouted.
A young man stopped, turned towards the shouts and said, “I am home, and I love my home.”