Slideshow: Understanding more about Muslims in Oklahoma

Related story: Tulsa Muslims launch social media project to offset negative publicity

Several dozen Tulsans carrying signs of support greeted worshippers coming out of the Al-Salam mosque after Friday afternoon prayers.

The event, and a similar event at a mosque in Oklahoma City, was held to stand with the Muslim community in the wake of recent terrorist attacks in California and Paris.

Hundreds of Muslim worshippers shook hands with and greeted the visitors.

Their signs read: “Love your neighbor,” “You are part of what makes America great” and “We want a world that includes you.”

The Rev. Chris Moore, pastor of Fellowship Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, an organizer of the event, said it was needed because there has been a sharp rise in anti-Islamic rhetoric and hate crimes following the terrorist attacks, though not in Tulsa.

He said it was important for him to be there as a religious statement.

“I believe I’m called to do this because of my faith; love your neighbor is the number one commandment,” he said.

Moore said presidential candidate Donald Trump’s idea to temporarily halt all Muslim immigration to the United States is outrageous, impractical and un-American.

One Oklahoma legislator who has made national news with his criticism of Muslims said he agrees with Trump’s proposal.

State Rep. John Bennett, R-Sallisaw, chairman of the House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Public Safety, said in a Thursday news release that allowing Muslims into the country is “absolutely ridiculous in light of recent terrorism.”

Bennett also said Muslims should be the most vocal opponents of radical Islam.

“Why are the ‘moderate’ Muslims not leading the fight on Islamic terrorism? I call on them to stand up, be counted and call on a major reformation of Islam to stop Islamic terrorism,” Bennett said in his release. “When it comes to the question of ‘moderate’ Muslims versus ‘radical’ Muslims — which refugees to let in and which ones we don’t — I will put this into perspective. If someone gives you a bowl of 10,000 M&M’s and says that only 10 M&M’s contain poison, how many are you going to eat?”

Moore said at the event Friday that it’s critical for Americans to distinguish between “people who claim to follow a religion, and true adherents. And that’s easy to measure. If you are actively killing innocent people, you are not following any religion that is recognized.

“We have people saying this (terrorism) is because of Islam, and I say that it is despite Islam. Were they really following Islam, they would not be doing this.”

Imam John Ederer, spiritual leader of the Islamic Society of Tulsa, said he is planning a major event in March to counteract what he called the anti-Islamic movement. He spoke after the event Friday outside the Al-Salam mosque.

“It’s beautiful to see real Americans, good Christians and others, Jews, Buddhists, even atheists, come out because they believe in humanity, they believe in our commonalities, and the things we can learn from each other, and they are not going to accept a mission of hate and fear and turmoil. We’re not accepting that.”

The Rev. Todd Freeman, pastor of College Hill Presbyterian Church, said he came to the event Friday “because I believe that as a pastor, we are called to love all our neighbors, and our Muslim friends in Tulsa most certainly are our neighbors.”

Aliye Shimi, a spokeswoman for the mosque, said: “They wanted to come out and show their love for the Muslim community, and we love them so much for doing that for us. We can’t tell them how much we appreciate them.”

Dr. Muhammad Afzal, an internal medicine physician at the University of Oklahoma, said: “It’s great. We are so happy to have a lot of supporters in the community.”

Babar Saeed, from Pakistan, an engineer and businessman, said, “It really gives you great feelings, that you’re not alone, that there are citizens that actually feel what you feel and stand with you in solidarity.”

Ilahi B. Malik, retired forestry professor, also said how much he appreciated the support.

“This is a really good thing. We are Muslim, but we are educated, and Islam does not teach about (terrorism),” Malik said. “We are peaceful people. We are really upset about what is happening.”

Arooj Chishty, of Pakistani descent and born in London, has been in the United States since 1990. Her husband is a cardiologist.

“I think this is absolutely wonderful,” she said.

Growing up in the South, she said, she wore a hijab in middle school and high school and experienced some persecution. That ended when she went to college in the East, and she thought those issues were over.

“But then 9/11 happened, and it’s been an uphill struggle since then for Muslims,” Chishty said. “We want to let all Americans out there know that we are as American as you can get. We’re in all walks of life.”

Bill Sherman 918-581-8398