‘Muslim Day’ scheduled at Oklahoma Capitol later this month

THE Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations has announced it will hold its first ever “Muslim Day” at the state Capitol on Feb. 27. The event is an opportunity for all citizens to live up to the Oklahoma Standard by showing grace to those whose religious beliefs aren’t shared by the majority, but whose citizenship rights are the same as those of any other Oklahoman.

Adam Soltani, executive director of the Oklahoma chapter of CAIR, anticipates around 100 people will attend the event. It’s estimated that about 30,000 Muslims live in Oklahoma, making them a distinct minority in a state with a population of more than 3.8 million.

Participants will learn about the legislative process and join panel discussions on issues important to the Muslim community. Soltani hopes the event will lead Oklahoma Muslims to be civically engaged and communicate with lawmakers.

That’s a positive goal. We’ve long advocated for all Oklahomans to be politically educated and involved. Those who belong to minority groups often stand to benefit the most from civic and political engagement.

Consider Oklahoma’s homeschooling community. Families who homeschool remain a minority in Oklahoma, but the advocacy efforts of homeschoolers — including an annual legislative day — have helped inform legislators and protect this successful education alternative. The annual homeschooling event at the Legislature has helped dispel stereotypes and rebut unfounded claims about homeschooling families. A serious, thoughtful Muslim Day could similarly reduce misperceptions for that community.

One of the most common complaints critics raise against local Muslim groups is that their members supposedly don’t condemn acts of terrorism carried out by Islamic extremists. That’s not necessarily true. Local groups have condemned terrorist acts. But the forum provided by a Muslim Day at the state Capitol is an opportunity for local Muslims to make clear their opposition to violence while educating others on their beliefs and practices.

Many Oklahomans are discomfited by Islam due to the barbaric actions of groups such as ISIS, or Alton Nolen’s apparently jihadist-inspired killing of a co-worker in Moore. Those fears are understandable and are not a reflection of rank bigotry. But Oklahomans shouldn’t allow legitimate concern to facilitate blind intolerance.

The failure to defend minority rights today can lead to other groups being wrongly treated tomorrow, as Oklahoma’s own history shows. At statehood, officials adopted a “Blaine amendment” to the Oklahoma Constitution that was designed to prevent Catholic schools from educating children. That measure originally sprang from anti-Catholic bigotry, but today is being used by some to justify a reduction in educational opportunity for children with special needs, such as autism.

When a Muslim Day was held at the Texas state Capitol in January, participants were met by protesters. KVUE, an ABC affiliate, reports that Muslims visiting the Texas Capitol faced jeers, such as “go back to Baghdad.” Protesters reportedly tried to shout down speakers or even commandeer the podium.

We hope similar actions don’t occur in Oklahoma on Feb. 27. The United States is known across the globe as a land of opportunity, particularly for those who face religious persecution elsewhere. This has always been the case. Those who wish to preserve constitutional religious freedom for all must be willing to defend the rights of small, law-abiding groups whose beliefs differ, sometimes dramatically, from their own.