No demonstrators showed up on Monday to protest the sixth annual “Muslim Day at the Capitol.”
Instead, Muslim Oklahomans were greeted only by groups of friends with the Interfaith Alliance of Oklahoma who welcomed them as they walked into the state Capitol.
The absence of detractors was applauded more than once and became a central theme throughout much of the daylong program that drew about 200 people.
“We have been coming to this building for six years in a row and for the first year ever, we have no haters outside,” Veronica Laizure, civil rights director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Oklahoma chapter, told the crowd.
“We are welcomed only with love and positive energy so I want you to take a moment and remind yourself that each year, we have persisted, persevered and we have proven that we will assert our civil rights and protect our civil liberties and the haters can get tired and go home.”
Adam Soltani, CAIR-OK executive director, said consistency was the key to their success as a minority community wanting to engage with their elected officials and have their voices heard.
“When we showed up six years ago for our first ‘Muslim Day at the Capitol,’ we never envisioned there would be people here to protest us and to be hateful towards the Muslim community, but it didn’t stop us,” he said. “It reminds me of something Imam (Imad) Enchassi always says — love will overcome hate every single time and I think that is proving itself here today. We keep showing up and the haters, they eventually stop.”
The event, sponsored by CAIR-OK, was designed to bring Muslims together with their state legislators to discuss issues of importance to the Muslim community.
Throughout the day, participants heard from several speakers including Kyle Lawson, Senior Field Organizer for the Oklahoma Policy Institute; State Sen. George Young, D-Oklahoma City; and Norman Mayor Breea Clark, who gave the keynote address. Participants eventually divided into smaller groups to visit the offices of elected leaders. At one point, some members of the group watched the Senate vote on a measure.
Students from Peace Academy, an Islamic school in Tulsa, and Mercy School, an Islamic school in the Edmond area, participated in the program.
“I liked seeing how the Senate worked, and I liked being accepted by everyone,” said Salah Ishwait, a Peace Academy 11th grader.
For the first time, Mercy School fifth- and eighth-grade students joined the civic effort.
The students studied the merits of various bills being considered by the Legislature and came prepared to speak to their elected leaders about them. Rep. Jacob Rosecrants, D-Norman, who taught eighth grade, said he was impressed with the students’ knowledge of the bill they discussed with him.
Mercy School Principal Buthiana Jwayyed said she and the school’s teachers felt the younger students were ready to become more involved.
“Usually we teach them about the process and we have our representatives visit Mercy School but we thought that we wanted them to come visit the House,” Jwayyed said. “We figured. let’s start when they’re young. We really wanted to plant the seed, and it’s amazing how interested they are.”