In response to a state legislator’s questionnaire about their faith, a Muslim couple has coordinated a domestic violence awareness project that has become more successful than they ever hoped.

Monetary donations and hygiene items are pouring in for “Totes of Love,” an American Muslim Association of Oklahoma City initiative created by metro area doctors Basheer and Asiya Shakir.

The pair said the project was designed to raise awareness about domestic violence, plus provide tangible aid for women and children at the YWCA’s domestic violence shelter.

They said they wanted to combat hate with love and education after learning how State Rep. John Bennett greeted several Muslim students attending a March 2 “Muslim Day at the Capitol” event.

When the students visited Bennett’s office and asked to speak to him, Bennett ‘s office required them to fill out a questionnaire which the Shakirs described as “disingenuous and prejudiced.”

Among the questions regarding the Islamic faith, the questionnaire asked, “The Koran, the sunna of Mohammed and Sharia Law of all schools say that the husband can beat his wife. Do you beat your wife?”

Bennett, R-Sallisaw, told The Tulsa World that the questions were based on passages from the Quran and other Islamic texts, which some believe indicate it is allowable for a husband to strike his wife in some instances. He could not be reached for comment for this story.

Basheer Shakir, chief of neurosurgery at the VA Hospital in Oklahoma City, said he felt that Bennett was implying that domestic violence is a “Muslim problem” when, with a little research, he found that domestic violence is an issue that plagues many Oklahomans of different backgrounds.

He said Oklahoma ranks third in the nation for women killed by men in single victim-single offender homicides. In 2012, nearly 25 percent of homicides in Oklahoma were classified as domestic abuse murders.

And besides that, Basheer Shakir said he disliked the idea that the lawmaker would attempt to tell Muslims how to interpret their holy text.

“He’s telling Muslims what their scriptures say and giving his opinions about them,” Basheer Shakir said.

He said he knew that, nationally, there is a misconception that all Muslim women are oppressed, but Bennett’s approach was “filled with misinformation.”

Asiya Shakir agreed.

“For him to make it a ‘Muslim problem’ does a disservice to these victims,” she said. “What does that (the questionnaire) have to do with laws and improving the lives of Oklahomans?”

Meanwhile, Bennett’s questionnaire made national news, but Asiya Shakir said “Totes of Love,” has also attracted national attention, judging from the donations pouring in from around the state and the country.

She said the Grand Mosque, 3201 NW 48, which is operated by the American Muslim Association of Oklahoma City, is already serving as a storehouse for numerous donations of powdered baby formula, school supplies, hair brushes, hygiene products, sippy cups and other items for domestic violence survivors and their families.

Asiya Shakir, a pediatrician, said the initiative’s goal was to raise $2,500 but that was surpassed in the first 12 hours of the project’s launch. She said the initiative has currently raised almost $8,000 in monetary donations and about $4,000 worth of baby formula.

She said she’d like to see members of the community join the American Muslim Association-OKC on April 1 to put the “Totes of Love” together for the YWCA. She said volunteers will meet for about two hours in the association’s event center, which is adjacent to the Grand Mosque.

Asiya Shakir said she has been encouraged by the support for the project that is coming from non-Muslims in the community.

“I want to say thank you for addressing a real issue and not this bigotry in our community,” she said of supporters.

With such unity and a focus on the needs of their neighbors, community members can combat bigotry and hate, she said. “Totes of Love,” she added, and the unified support behind it, is one way to ensure that those aren’t the ideals that Oklahoma is most known for.

And that’s important for families like the Shakirs, who are raising two girls.

“We are a vital part of the fabric of this community and Mr. Bennett’s Islamophobia is unsubstantiated,” Asiya Shakir said.

“It really is about our daughters. My goal is to raise my daughters so that they never have to apologize for being Muslim.”

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