With much of the focus in recent days on the horrors of a Hamas terror attack on Israel, Oklahoma City metro area Muslims are hoping to highlight the urgent humanitarian crisis unfolding in Gaza.
The resulting violence also has local Muslim leaders worried about safety and cautious about raising awareness.
“It’s a very complex issue and it’s touchy, also, because of emotions and things like that,” said Adam Soltani, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Oklahoma chapter.
“That’s why we didn’t rush to do anything. We didn’t want to rush to say we’re going to have a rally, or we’re going to do this or that ― we wanted to see how things play out and make sure we address it in a way that’s meaningful for our Muslim community and also meaningful for people who are partners or allies.”
“Stories From Gaza and Prayers for Palestine: Uniting in Prayers for Peace and Justice” will be held at 7 p.m. Friday at the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City’s Mercy Mission building, 3840 N St. Clair, adjacent to the Islamic Society’s mosque.
CAIR is hosting the event along with the Islamic Society of Greater OKC, Masjid Mu’min and the University of Central Oklahoma’s Muslim Student Association.
Soltani said most of the focus across the United States has been on Israel since the terrorist group Hamas attacked Israelis on Oct. 7 and Israel subsequently declared war on Hamas, “but our push has been we need to see this as a human issue.”
“There’s been a lot of loss of human life,” Soltani said.
The Muslim leader said attendees will hear stories of people who are directly affected by the current state of affairs in Gaza, and Oklahomans who have friends and family in Gaza will also share their perspectives. He said community leaders will offer prayers and words of support.
‘Unprecedented’ Islamophobia across the nation
Amid plans for the prayer event, Soltani said he and other local Muslim leaders are concerned for the safety of Oklahoma Muslims in light of heightened tensions and anti-Muslim sentiments being expressed across the country. Most notably, he pointed to the slaying of a Chicago-area Palestinian-American boy that authorities have described as a violent response to the Israel-Hamas war, according to USA Today.
Wadea Al-Fayoume, 6, was stabbed at least 16 times and died, while his mother, who was also stabbed, survived, USA Today reported. Joseph Czuba, 71, of Plainfield Township, southwest of Chicago, has been charged with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and two counts of hate crime according to the Will County Sheriff’s Office, the news outlet said, and the U.S. Department of Justice has opened a federal hate crime investigation into the child’s death.
“I actually sent a message out to (Muslim) community leaders encouraging them to be as vigilant as possible, to take extra security precautions,” Soltani said.
For example, he said he spoke to the board leader of a local Islamic educational center, Mercy School, who wanted to make sure the school was doing everything to protect students and their families “because the reality is, we haven’t seen this level of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate in many, many years.”
Imad Enchassi, senior imam of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, said he is concerned about his family members living in Gaza and he, like Soltani, is also concerned for local Muslims’ safety.
Born in Beirut, Lebanon, to a Syrian mother and Palestinian father, Enchassi spent his teens living in the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camp. He said he was there in September 1982 when a group called the Lebanese Christian militiamen attacked the camp and killed hundreds of refugees. He emigrated to the United States in 1983.
“Unfortunately, every time something happens overseas, it seems like the Muslim community in the U.S. pays the price,” he said.
He said FBI and local police are “all on alert” particularly on Fridays when large numbers of Muslims congregate at local mosques for Jummah prayer.