February 27, 2015.
I remember that day as if it had just unraveled before me. Each and every occurrence of that day deeply is etched in the memories of my heart and mind. A day of hope and despair. A day of excitement and caution. A day of calmness and anxiety.
You see, that Friday in February, amidst frigid temperatures and threats of both protests and a snow storm, CAIR Oklahoma hosted our first ever Oklahoma Muslim Day at the Capitol. After years of attending the Oklahoma Conference of Churches Day at the Legislature, we were inspired to host a similar event for the Muslim Community. One in which we could learn more about the Legislative process, engage with those elected to lead us, and provide an opportunity for our Legislators to interact directly with the Oklahoma Muslim Community.
Our goal was to have 50 attendees at our inaugural event. The news of protests in advance of our event boosted attendance to more than 150, along with the interfaith community that came out in strong numbers to show their support and to escort members of the Muslim Community past the protesters into the Capitol.
As we entered the Capitol for the first time as a collective group, people looked at us with the eye of suspicion. They wondered why we were there, what ulterior motive we had, and what business exactly did Muslims have coming to our state’s Capitol building. Security was heightened that day, the likes of which we had never seen before at the people’s house. It felt more like a scene from a movie than a simple gathering of individuals celebrating the very things that define what it means to be American: The right to speak freely, the right to associate with those with whom we have much in common, the right to petition our government, and the right to worship according to our conscience without fear of persecution.
Nevertheless, we persisted. We showed our state and country what we already knew: that not only were we part of the fabric of Oklahoma, but more importantly, we were a vital organ to the body of our state.
After years of being targeted by anti-Muslim legislation, after years of being attacked by former Rep. John Bennett, we found the confidence to claim our rightful place in the process of advocating for better legislation, dialogue, and understanding of Islam and Muslims in Oklahoma.
March 4, 2019.
As I stood in front of the crowd of 150 Muslim and interfaith attendees at our 5th Annual Oklahoma Muslim Day at the Capitol, I saw something quite spectacular. On one of the most frigid mornings Oklahoma had seen in years, a group of dedicated individuals braved the far below freezing temperatures to show up and put their stamp on history.
Standing on that stage, I told the crowd what I observed when I walked into the Capitol this year compared to that day in 2015.
Gone were the dozens and dozens of protesters with their efforts to dissuade us from being at the Capitol. Gone was the fear and apprehension we had upon entering the Capitol for the first time, now replaced with positivity and excitement. Gone was the resentment and revulsion we faced from some misguided legislators, replaced instead with the love and support of more than a dozen legislators from both parties coming to find us and welcome us, as a Muslim community, to the building we always belonged in.
With conviction, I proclaimed that love and peace will win over hate and animosity – but only if we continue this tradition. Only if we show up with pride and confidence in our hearts and the commitment to advocate for the good of all Oklahomans, to advocate against that which will bring harm, even if it is to one individual. After all, our efforts are following in the footsteps of our Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him) in engaging with society and taking action where it matters.
“Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then [let him change it] with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart — and that is the weakest of faith.” (Hadith Collection of Sahih Muslim)
And on this day we witnessed true change. Whereas in years past there was a black cloud hanging over our heads in the form of a bigoted legislator barring Muslims from his office, or an imprudent legislator banning an Imam from leading prayer on the House floor, or a protester attempting to interrupt our prayer, this year we saw a huge shift.
Peaceful dialogue filled the air, Oklahoma Muslims were able to walk the halls of our Capitol building with our heads held high, and we were welcomed with open arms by everyone. From security to legislative and executive assistants to Legislators to even the Governor – something that had not occurred in the four years prior – people went out of their way to make us feel comfortable, proud, and safe in the halls of our state’s leadership.
In all of this, a wonderful thing occurred to me: our efforts are paying off sooner than we ever dreamed they would.
Our conviction has impacted our state in a positive way, and our legacy will be everlasting on the place we are proud to call home.