Normally, when people are asked to publicly sign something, they hesitate, especially if someone is there asking questions and taking photos like Red Dirt Report was Thursday, October 16th.
But there was none of the usual caution and hesitancy at Oklahoma City University. Students, faculty, and even the university’s President, Robert Henry, boldly signed a document and a big poster declaring their solidarity with Muslims in Oklahoma before putting on the bright green button that said “Friend to our Muslim neighbors. Salaam, Peace.”
The OCU Women’s Interfaith Action Committee members were handing out the buttons at a table in the Student Center Thursday in a spot where many students walk by on the way into the main dining hall.
These actions might surprise people who have only been depending on the mainstream media in Oklahoma for information about what Oklahomans think about Muslims.
For the last five weeks Oklahoma media has been dominated by hostile statements from state legislators and the Oklahoma Republican Party, and even so-called “Patriot Pastors” of Christian-identified congregations in Oklahoma.
But, it was hardly a thought process for student Sophia Hackney who didn’t even move one step away from the table before pinning on her button after signing. The Cell and Molecular Biology major said that she grew up in a fairly conservative Christian identified family, but once dated a Muslim for one and one-half years. During that time when she went anywhere with him, she saw a side of life and society that many non-Muslims just don’t see.
She said that her friend’s parents were Muslim, but actually more liberal than her own Christian parents, which she believes would be a shock to many here in Oklahoma since there are so many harsh stereotypes of Muslims.
When Hackney was asked what she thought the response would be to her wearing the button, she said, “I think here at OCU a lot of us are super supportive. I think being a liberal arts school, we are a little more positive and open-minded.
But once beyond the campus, she isn’t so sure about the response.
“From being on Facebook and seeing how people are responding to various media things, it could be viewed in a very negative way,” Hackney said.
She does plan on posting a selfie of her wearing the button and hash-tagging it to promote the cause.
Ben Patterson, another OCU student, struggled to pin his button to the tough material of his backpack strap, but eventually made it work. He said that he intended to keep it there as long at it lasted. The native of Oklahoma City graduated from Bishop McGuinness High School before entering OCU. He said that he was wearing it because he believes that there are many good Muslims and all are not extremists.
The coordinator for this event was student Hannah Lampi who has had some deep feelings for the Muslims in Oklahoma who have been grouped together with terrorists in other countries when they are just as loyal to the U.S. as anyone else.
Growing up in Jenks, a suburb of Tulsa, she said that there were many different people from different cultures in her community, especially Muslims.
Even though she has always been within the Christian faith, Lampi said, “This whole Islamaphobia business hit me hard because I grew up in a pretty diverse community. I had Muslim friends and Muslim classmates and it was never anything weird. I never thought of them as a different kind of person.”
Referring to the hateful comments some public figures have made, she said, “It just makes me so angry. I want to tell people that’s not the experience that I’ve had knowing and being friends with Muslim people.”
Lampi went on to say, “I want people to know that Islam is not a force or scary. They’re not like a scary people.”
When asked specifically if this event was being sponsored by any group like CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) or its local Executive Director Adam Soltani, she said, “No. I was already very concerned about what I was seeing on the news and hearing from some people. Then I got an email from one Religion professor here, Dr. Lisa Wolfe, who was concerned about it as well. Her email invited a broad group of people to meet and discuss ways that they could provide some response to the extremism and hate that some were promoting in the state against Muslims. “
An hour later, in a separate interview, Soltani confirmed that the idea did not start with him, even though the group eventually invited later input from him and from Dr. Imam Imad Enchassi, Chair of Islamic Studies at OCU.
Dr. Wolfe happened by and said that she was not really a faculty sponsor as much as “a concerned citizen.” She said that even though her concern was partly due to Dr. Enchassi’s being a colleague, it was just as much personal.
“My five-year-old’s best friend at school is a little Muslim girl who lives only a block away,” Wolfe said.
She said that after seeing and hearing the strident rhetoric over the last several weeks, she came to the conclusion that her friends and colleagues and even her daughter’s friends should not be the target of the hate speech.
The OCU Women’s Interfaith Action Committee is not finished yet, though. Their next event is on October 24th, when they will stand in solidarity with Muslims as they exit their Mosque in Oklahoma City on that Friday.