Muneer Awad has vivid memories of visiting a local bar where a debate about State Question 755 was being held.
The debate occurred on his first day as executive director of the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Within days of the discussion, he filed a lawsuit against the state, arguing the constitutionality of the measure that banned Sharia law in Oklahoma.
Awad, an attorney, shared his recollections during CAIR-OK’s recent 10th anniversary celebration. The festivities on April 2 drew 600 people to the Embassy Suites in Norman. The theme for the banquet was “Advancing Together: Celebrating a Decade of Civil Rights Advocacy.”
Oklahoma Muslim leaders and several from other states heaped praise on the organization for its work defending Muslim civil rights, whether it was needed on behalf of a woman denied employment because of her hajib or to confront a state legislator for making anti-Muslim remarks or to back a plan for a float representing Muslim veterans in a civic Veterans Day parade.
Along with Awad, the chapter’s first executive director, Razi Hashmi, and its current leader, Adam Soltani, said CAIR-OK has played a vital role since its inception 10 years ago, but only with the support of Muslim faith communities across Oklahoma.
Hashmi said anti-Muslim incidents occurred before a CAIR chapter was established in the state, but there was no organization uniquely prepared to deal with them.
“CAIR provided a vehicle for our community to confront those challenges courageously. We overcame challenges together,” Hashmi said.
‘We are home’
Soltani, who received a standing ovation, said CAIR has been needed more than ever in recent years. He said anti-Muslim rhetoric and incidents have increased over the years, “but nothing compared to the challenges that we as a Muslim community have faced in a post-9/11 world.”
Soltani said nothing is more hurtful than to be told to “go home” by a non-Muslim who dislikes Islam and its followers. But he said Muslims working together through CAIR are learning to meet this type of rhetoric head-on. “We have said we are not going anywhere, because we are home,” Soltani said.
“We are never going to allow anyone to take away from the fact that we are proud of being Americans.”
Awad, speaking about his tenure as CAIR-OK’s second executive director, said he was heartened by metro-area Muslims and CAIR board members who worked with him to advocate for Oklahoma Muslims.
He said CAIR-OK board member Saad Mohammad shared his views against State Question 755 during that debate in the bar in 2010. Awad said Mohammad patiently listened to the person who spoke in favor of the proposal then gave the crowd his own perspective, ending with the fact that he was a Navy veteran who had served his country and defended the U.S. Constitution. By the end of Mohammad’s presentation, the crowd was silent, and many thanked him for his service and for being there that day, Awad said.
Awad challenged State Question 755, saying the constitutional amendment passed by 70 percent of Oklahoma voters in November 2010 would stigmatize his religion. A federal judge ruled in Awad’s favor, prohibiting state officials from certifying the results of the election that approved the measure.
At the banquet, Awad said he gleaned much from Oklahoma Muslims in his time as CAIR’s director. He urged the Muslim faith community to continue to work with CAIR-OK’s leaders for the betterment of all. “I learned so much by the courage you displayed,” Awad told the crowd.
The anniversary event also served as an awards ceremony. Imad Enchassi, senior imam and founder of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, was presented the Lifetime Achievement Award. Aliye Shimi, outreach director for the Islamic Society of Tulsa and co-founder of the Tulsa-based Peace Project, was named Oklahoma Muslim of the Year.