About 100 Muslims participated in the 2018 “Muslim Day at the Capitol” on Monday and they were met with fewer protesters than in previous years.
The event, sponsored by the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), was designed to bring Muslims together with their state legislators to discuss issues of importance to the Muslim community.
The probability of more interactions between Muslims and their legislators increased substantially on Monday as compared to previous years because the event had been held on a Friday when the Legislature typically is not in session.
“We are a people, not a stereotype,” Lani Habrok, CAIR-OK’s government affairs director, told those gathered.
“In order to move forward, we must communicate. Years from now they may not be able to remember what you spoke about but they will remember your spirit. That’s how we fight bigotry.”
Monday afternoon, many Muslims sat in on a legislative session as their elected leaders discussed proposed legislation, while other participants visited legislators’ offices to meet with their representatives and senators.
At least one such interaction was described as positive by all parties involved, although they disagreed on at least one matter of significance.
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Abdullah Ashraf and Khalid Marakah, both sophomores at Mercy School, a private Islamic school near Edmond, said they appreciated State Rep. Kevin Calvey for welcoming their school group into his office Monday. They said Calvey’s repudiation of CAIR disheartened them but they saw the legislator’s overall friendliness as positive.
“One thing I was appreciative of was that he was respectful and he gave me a lot of time. Unfortunately, he said he likes Muslims but CAIR is a terrorist organization and I disagree with him about that,” Ashraf said.
Calvey, R-Oklahoma City, said he spent a year in Iraq defending the lives of Muslims, his physician is Muslim, he has sponsored a “Doctor of the Day” at the Capitol who is Muslim and he has sponsored a Muslim page. He said he cares about Muslims but he suggested to the school group and the adults with them that they would be taken more seriously if they were not tethered to CAIR.
Calvey said CAIR is an organization that was listed as an un-indicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation trial about funding terrorism in 2007.
“I’m glad there’s a Muslim Day at the Capitol, I just wish it didn’t have anything to do with CAIR,” he said.
Adam Soltani, executive director of CAIR-Oklahoma chapter, said that he and Calvey agreed to disagree on the facts surrounding CAIR.
“I appreciated the fact that he did open the doors and allow us to voice our concerns for Muslim Americans. That’s saying a lot,” Soltani said.
He said there were numerous groups listed as un-indicted co-conspirators in the trial that Calvey mentioned and CAIR was not indicted because there was no evidence for indictment.
“I say to him what I say to anyone and that is just look at our track record of the state organization and the national organization. That does not point to any wrongdoing or anything harmful to the state of Oklahoma,” Soltani said.
Meanwhile, he said he was encouraged that there were fewer protesters on Monday than in previous years — a sign of progress.
In 2017, about 10 people stood outside the Capitol with anti-Islam signage. In 2016, there were about eight protesters.
Two protesters, a husband-and-wife who only gave their names as “Ron” and “Tempest” of Moore, showed up about 10 minutes after the event started at 9 a.m. The Moore couple said they are not angry with Muslims but they think individuals who ascribe to the Islamic faith are trying to bring Sharia law to essentially make Oklahoma a Muslim state. Around 11 a.m., three more protesters joined the Moore couple.
“My initial thought is we have more resilience than they do,” Soltani said. “One protester or a dozen protesters is not going to keep us from our goal of engaging with our elected leaders and advocating for our rights.”
There was an incident that occurred as Soltani gave opening remarks before the crowd gathered on the second-floor rotunda. Someone on another floor yelled out as he talked. Soltani seemed to pause for a few seconds then, undeterred, continued with his remarks.
Afterward, Soltani and Noel Jacobs, a board member of the Interfaith Alliance of Oklahoma, said they heard someone yell “You all need to assimilate!”
As Muslims heard several lawmakers speak about advocacy in the first morning session, a group of people from the interfaith community wrote and delivered letters to Rep. Chuck Strohm’s office. Jacobs said the letters urged Strohm, R-Jenks, to turn over the House chaplain program to someone else so it would have a better chance of becoming inclusive to spiritual leaders of all faiths.
Interfaith leaders and several state legislators have criticized Strohm in recent weeks because of changes he made to the chaplain program. Those changes essentially will keep non-Christian spiritual leaders from participating in the chaplain program at the Capitol.