Seeds of interfaith awareness and good will were sown in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing, a group of local Muslim leaders said Friday.
That may be why many non-Muslim Oklahomans have not bought into the growing anti-Muslim bigotry sweeping the country in connection with a proposal to build an Islamic cultural center near the former World Trade Center site, Imad Enchassi, imam and president of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, said.
“There was a lot of interfaith grassroots work after 1995. It paid off,” Enchassi said.
He made the comments at a news conference hosted by the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations on Friday. The news conference, held at the Gold Dome Cultural Center, 1112 NW 23, was held to announce the launch of a public service announcement campaign featuring Muslim first responders to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York.
Razi Hashmi, executive director of the Oklahoma CAIR chapter, said the campaign is designed to challenge anti-Muslim bigotry generated by opposition to the Islamic cultural center being proposed near ground zero.
Hashmi said the campaign comes at a critical time as the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks approaches. He said besides the cultural center controversy, anti-Muslim sentiments have flowed freely around a Florida church’s plans to burn copies of the Quran and the fact that the Islamic festival of Eid ul-Fitr falls around the Sept. 11 anniversary.
“My hope is that people will remember that 9/11 happened to all of us … that terrorism has no religion,” Hashmi said.
Enchassi said some people incorrectly rushed to condemn Muslims and blame them for the Oklahoma City bombing. He said the Muslim faith community and various other faith groups joined together in the tragedy’s aftermath for interfaith awareness efforts.
Enchassi said these days, other faith groups have placed flowers, cakes and letters of support at the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City’s mosque at 3815 N St. Clair. He said some of the groups have offered their security personnel for the mosque.
Enchassi and Sheryl Siddiqui, spokeswoman for the Islamic Council of Oklahoma, said they hope Oklahomans’ good will will continue. Siddiqui, of Tulsa, said she would like to see people of good faith help stem the tide of anti-Muslim rhetoric and actions.
She said she personally has dealt with “cheap shots” — bigoted comments — in the workplace and there was a minor incident involving schoolchildren in the Tulsa area. She said overall, there has been a “low lull” of anti-Muslims sentiments locally but “it’s starting to uptick now.”
Hashmi said the public service announcements are being distributed to television stations and online media outlets.
He said many local Muslims plan to participate in community service efforts on the Sept. 11 anniversary as part of the Day of Remembrance and Service initiative. Hashmi said some mosques had planned blood drives on that date, but have moved the events to a later date because of Ramadan. He said Muslims are fasting from sunrise to sundown during the Islamic holy month, ending Sept. 10, and they have been advised that it might be unsafe to give blood so soon after a fast.