Islamic State-inspired terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernadino, California, and a proposal by presidential hopeful Donald Trump to ban all Muslims from entering the United States, have Oklahoma Muslims on edge.
Trump’s proposal Monday to halt Muslim travel to the U.S. “until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on” set off a global firestorm of condemnation from all corners of the political arena, including a petition that Trump be banned from entering the United Kingdom.
Oklahoma Muslims and their supporters joined the condemnation.
The Rev. William Tabbernee, executive director of the Oklahoma Conference of Churches, said the conference is “strongly opposed to what Mr. Trump is proposing, not only on constitutional grounds, but also because it is un-Christian, in terms of hospitality.”
“We don’t want to go down the road of what has happened in the past, with Jews in Europe or Japanese-Americans in detention centers,” he said.
Sheryl Siddiqui, spokeswoman for the Islamic Council of Oklahoma, said Muslims in the state are “sensitive right now.”
“It’s like when you already have a bruise and everyone who knows you comes in and taps on that bruise. Some people pound on it.
“We know we didn’t do anything wrong. We know this is against our religion. We’re tired of condemning it. It has nothing to do with us. And yet the heartache everybody else is going through, we’re also feeling.”
She said she found the response to Trump’s proposal gratifying.
“I was very pleased to see all the Republicans who responded to him in very American terms.”
Tabbernee said he thinks American Muslims are experiencing “a great deal of apprehension and fear” because of the level of national anti-Muslim rhetoric and are experiencing a sense that it is unfair that they are being viewed as “potential terrorists, which is all untrue.”
He said Muslims also are feeling frustrated that their constant statements condemning the radical Islamists do not seem to penetrate the larger community.
He said Muslims are getting anti-Islamic hateful emails telling them to go home.
“In some cases, Oklahoma has been home to them for more than a generation,” Tabbernee said. “It seems to me that both the Islamic community and other faith communities need to be united against the atrocities of terrorism that are motivated by a misunderstanding of what Islam is really all about.”
Tabbernee, who has participated in public forums on the Muslim issue for more than a year, said he will continue to do so.
“It’s more needed now,” he said.
Mujeeb Cheema, recently retired from the North American Islamic Trust, said Muslims are handling the current situation in different ways.
“But in general, the people that I run across feel shocked that a potential candidate to the American presidency could have such views,” he said. “Some are alarmed not with what he said, but that such a large number of Republicans, and some non-Republicans, continue to view him as an appropriate person to be president.
“That is more alarming than one individual who has his own views of humanity,” Cheema said. “If some people are attributing bigotry to Mr. Trump, then people wonder if that negative quality has permeated such a large number of our fellow Americans.”
Houssam Soueissi, owner of Bill & Ruth’s Restaurant, 32nd Street and Memorial Drive, said: “There’s no fear in the Muslim community. There’s some concern about a man like this being president of the United States. To us, he doesn’t represent America. His thoughts and ideas, this is not the America we know.
“He doesn’t know the makeup of the people who live in the U.S. We have people in the fire department, people in the police department, doctors, engineers, businessmen.
“We’d be the first to report (terrorism) and let the authorities know about it. Anybody who would make Islam look bad is hurting us.”
Soueissi said he tells his wife and daughters, who wear a head scarf: “You are American citizens, born and raised here. You feel free to live your life normally. Don’t be concerned. If somebody harasses you, ignore them and call the police.
“But nothing like this has happened in our community yet,” Soueissi said. “Tulsa has been really good for Muslims. We have no problems. People are very understanding, educated and tolerant.”