More than 200 people converged on the Oklahoma State Capitol Friday for the 2nd Annual Oklahoma Muslim Day at the Capitol in an effort to urge the community to become more engaged with elected leaders.
Although the guests were met with protests, the message was one of inclusiveness.
As Muslim attendees entered the capitol through a double line of supporters from various interfaith organizations, less than a dozen protesters also made their voices heard with signs and shouted words. For Saad Mohammed, board chairman of Council on American-Islamic Relations – Oklahoma, even the protesters offered a chance for dialogue about the misconceptions facing Oklahoma Muslims.
“As we come together on this occasion, let us remember that social change can only come as a result of civic engagement,” he said.
The Oklahoma Muslim Day at the Capitol is an event intended to teach Oklahoma Muslims how to work with elected leaders and become involved in the political and legislative process.
“We are here to get our community more civically engaged and politically engaged,” said Tariq Sattar, board member for CAIR. “Our people have never really tried to learn about civic engagement, and with the current political environment, they have to now step out of their comfort zone and learn what it takes to become more engaged.”
A day of learning
In addition to opening remarks, participants attended six break-out sessions at the capitol, ranging in topics from the public education crisis, Oklahoma’s religious laws, youth panels, religious profiling and the role of social media in achieving change.
“We must teach our youth how to be more engaged in the process,” said Sattar. “My own daughter will be shadowing Rep. Anastasia Pittman over spring break. It’s a slow process, but more and more people from our community are becoming more engaged. The acceptance we have from the elected officials has been tremendous.”
Adam Soltani, executive director of CAIR-OK, urged those in attendance to help educate others about the Muslim community and to even accept and love those who shouted hate during a protest outside the Capitol.
“We are here simply to lay the foundation to learn more about our own government and to learn more about how to engage with people who lead us,” Soltani said. “I see a group of brave and concerned people of all ages that will not allow a small group of hateful people to define us. We have the chance to overcome the fear and engage everyone.”
A mixed reaction
As Imam Dr. Imad Enchassi walked into the Oklahoma State Capitol Friday morning, a 4-year-old girl approached him.
“This beautiful young lady hands me this,” he said, holding up a hand-written note that says “I love you!” “But we are also here to look at our brothers from another mother who are protesting. We are a people who repeal hate with love. May God console their hearts and may they see us as equal citizens.”
Outside the Capitol, hundreds of supporters created a human wall called “the Gauntlet of Love” to help shield Muslims against demonstrators. This year, 41 metro area houses of worship were present to show support, including leaders from churches, mosques, Hindu temples, Buddhist and Baha’I congregations.
“Very simply, God is manifest in all religions, and every person – religious or not – has the right to be here at the capitol, and I’m here to defend that right,” said Nathaniel Batchelder of Oklahoma City. “I stand in support of Muslims to be here today.”
Protesters came from throughout Oklahoma and out of state to demonstrate against the Muslim Day at the Capitol, though most were more upset with other Christians protecting those attending.
“We are here to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to them as they go by, but also rebuke the so-called Christians supporting them as they go to hell,” said Pastor David Grisham of Repent Amarillo. “We don’t want them to go to hell. The mission should be to convert them to Christianity and not just pat them on the back as they walk towards hell.”
Darnell Shanklin of Ardmore said he hoped to convince attendees to convert to Christianity.
“Honestly, I believe Islam is a false religion, and I’m surprised by our leaders to allow a Muslim day at the Capitol,” he said.
Inside rally, two protestors wearing shirts saying “Stop Sinning” and “Warning! Jesus is Coming – Turn or Burn” talked with leaders of the Muslim community, sharing concerns and their point of view.
For Ra’Jaa Fatihah of Tulsa, who is the plaintiff in a lawsuit against an Oklahoma gun shop that advertised itself as a “Muslim-free” business, the confrontation was positive.
“I’m glad they came, and I give them credit for coming and asking questions,” Fatihah said. “I don’t see animosity. They are raising questions about common stereotypes, and if they ask, I am obligated before God to answer.”
He added that even conversations between those who express fear and hate can be helpful in changing the views of Muslims in Oklahoma.
“We need more dialogue,” he said. “Our objective is to be more engaged.”