A Muslim leader said he was shocked on Friday to discover he had been listed as a member of an advisory group recommending that copies of the Ten Commandments be placed in public school classrooms across Oklahoma.
Masood Abdul-Haqq, of Oklahoma City, current board chairman of the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Oklahoma, said he didn’t want to be a “pawn” for the Oklahoma Advisory Committee on Founding Principles which publicly named him as a member during a meeting where the group’s recommendations were presented by state schools Superintendent Ryan Walters. The committee is being chaired by the Rev. Stephen Hamilton, pastor of St. Monica Catholic Church in Edmond.
“I want to very deferential and respectful to Reverend Hamilton because he was professional and he was forthcoming and I don’t have any issue with that,” Abdul-Haqq said. “I don’t like the idea of being used as a pawn, you know, in some political game.”
He said he saw social media posts on Friday where his purported membership on the advisory committee as a Muslim was being used to counter negative pushback regarding the recommendations touted by the group. Abdul-Haqq submitted his formal resignation from the advisory committee on Friday but said he never considered himself a part of it because he only attended one virtual “exploratory” meeting.
Walters discussed the council’s recommendations at Thursday’s Oklahoma State Board of Education meeting. The group’s members recommended that a “durable poster or framed copy” of the Ten Commandments be displayed in each public school classroom; and that a minute of silence be hold at the beginning of the school day with the following announcement: “We now pause for a minute of silence in which students and teachers may use this minute to reflect, meditate, pray or engage in any other silent activity.” The group also recommended that students be required to complete a “Western civilization” course for graduation “to strengthen the heritage which was integral to the nation’s founding and its western culture, as well as to foster gratitude and informed citizenship.”
In his resignation letter to Hamilton, Abdul-Haqq thanked the advisory committee for the opportunity to be involved. He told Hamilton that he had assumed he had been removed as a potential member because he thought his lack of participation in certain meetings would show his lack of interest.
“Please know my decision does not reflect the committee’s members,” he wrote. “I enjoyed the liveliness and vigor displayed by such a dedicated and passionate group of individuals in the meeting I attended in April.”
For their part, two members of the advisory committee said they had no ill will against Abdul-Haqq. Committee chairman Hamilton released a statement addressing the Muslim leader’s resignation.
“The Oklahoma Advisory Committee on Founding Principles (OACFP) gathered a diverse group of members, men, women, religious leaders, and other citizens who are active in our Oklahoma communities,” he said in the prepared statement.
“Masood Abdul-Haqq is certainly among those leaders and does great work in his many endeavors. He was a valued member of the OACFP and contributed impressively to our discussions. Like all diverse groups it can be difficult to keep everyone together with competing schedules and demands. I acknowledge his resignation, which he communicated to me today [June, 23, 2023]. Our committee wishes Masood the best and we are confident that he will continue to be of great service to the many people he serves and to the greater good of Oklahoma.”
The Rev. Wade Burleson, of Enid, a retired Southern Baptist pastor who is on the advisory committee, said no one was attempting to use Abdul-Haqq. He said he found the Muslim leader engaging.
“Listen, I have nothing but respect and appreciation for Masood, and any person has a right and the freedom to change their mind,” Burleson said. “You know, if there’s pressure from people to cause a resignation, only Masood can answer, but I can’t go to motive. All I can say is it was a robust dialogue and communication for two and a half months.”
Abdul-Haqq says he was invited to join, but decided not to be involved after part of one meeting
Meanwhile, Abdul-Haqq, 41, said a leader of the advisory committee had initially reached out to one of his mentors to ask if he could join the group. The mentor declined to be part of the group, but recommended that the group contact Abdul-Haqq to see if he would participate. Abdul-Haqq, who is congregational president of Majid Mu’min, a northeast Oklahoma City mosque, said he attended part of one virtual meeting held by the group and that was the extent of his involvement.
He said once he saw news reports of Thursday’s state board of education meeting, he knew he needed to make it clear to the advisory committee’s leaders and the public that he had decided that he didn’t want to be involved in the group after his initial online meeting with them. Abdul-Haqq said he was told that the group was going to draft some proposals for Walters’ consideration but they would assume he would not be participating any further if they didn’t hear from him and if he didn’t attend the next two meetings. He said he went on a trip to Africa and thought that his involvement with the advisory group was over.
“It’s a learning experience for me,” Abdul-Haqq said. “I did one Zoom meeting and I was part of a half of that meeting. I’m not trying to go to war with the group, but they should know that if they want to issue anything like that (recommendations) that’s controversial and that has somebody’s name on it, that person has a right and a responsibility to clarify their position.”
At the only virtual advisory committee meeting he did attend in April, Abdul-Haqq said he spent his time listening to the group discuss some of their ideas to recommend to Walters and asking them if they were prepared for a time when groups used their proposals to promote faith beliefs they didn’t agree with.
‘I just don’t think religion should be legislated’
Abdul-Haqq is a motivational speaker, business consultant and co-owner of a pediatric clinic with his wife, who is a medical doctor. He said he liked the idea of having a moment of silence in school, but disagreed with any notion of telling someone what to do with that moment of silence.
“I’m guided by that verse in the Quran that says ‘Unto you be your religion, unto me be mine,'” he said.
“I just don’t think that religion should be legislated. I think that it’s a lazy way to try to spread what you believe — to put it in legislation or to force people to do certain things. I think that your actions should speak louder, and it should pique people’s interest in you. So I don’t believe in that approach of forcing people to do anything.”
According to the materials distributed by the advisory committee, other members of the group include: Rev. Stephen Hamilton, pastor of St. Monica Catholic Church in Edmond; Jackson Lahmeyer, a Tulsa pastor and founder of “Pastors for Trump” whose 2022 bid for U.S. Senate was unsuccessful; Michelin Butler-Lopez; Derwin Romani; Howard Hatcher; Aiya Kelley; Bob Linn; Jesse Leon Rodgers; and Silvie Tacker.
Walters has said the committee is independent of the Oklahoma State Department of Education and he asked them to make recommendations.
Friday, Burleson pushed back on criticism that the group is trying to promote a Christian agenda by recommending the Ten Commandments be displayed in public school classrooms. He said Oklahoma law already allows for the display of the Ten Commandments on public property because it has been classified as a historical document and not as a religious document. He referred to a bill signed into law by Republican Gov. Mary Fallin. The measure classified the Ten Commandments, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Magna Carta, the U.S. Constitution and the Oklahoma constitution all as historical documents.