by Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY – What was billed as the “first annual Muslim Day at the Capitol” has come and gone at the seat of state government. The Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) organized the day.
The program was held last Friday (February 27), a day the state Legislature, in the midst of its 2015 session, was not convened. However, a group of legislators participated on panels or attended some activities.
The day’s event included a series of panels that ran from 9:45 a.m. until 2 p.m. A panel on racial profiling included Veronica Laizure, attorney and regional civil rights director for CAIR, and state Rep. Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma City. A conversation on civic engagement for the Muslim community featured Democratic Party State Chairman Wallace Collins, Sen. John Sparks, D-Norman, and Rep. George E. Young, Sr., D-Oklahoma City. Also in that discussion was John Waldron, a teacher from Tulsa Public Schools, and Brady Henderson, attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma.
Sparks told an overflow throng in the second floor Blue room, “There is no substitute for personal relationships.” He said attendees should — “regardless of political, religious, or organizational affiliation,” develop, cultivate and maintain ties to elected officials.
Young, a Christian minister, said, “How could we have a United States of America if we did not have all of the various, distinct, and diverse kinds of backgrounds that come together that make us who we are? Civic engagement is who we are. … It is your obligation to come [to the Capitol].”
Collins echoed other speakers, telling the crowd to get involved in policy development, and stay involved: “You’ve got time, you’ve got talent, you’ve got treasure, and some people have all three.”
After lunch at the Second floor rotunda, Waldon returned for a Blue Room panel on first amendment issues and religion in public schools. Also participating was University of Oklahoma Prof. Rick Tepker and state Sen. Anastasia Pittman, D-Oklahoma City.
Coordinating panels was Sheryl Siddiqui, a Tulsan long active in that city’s Islamic Society.
A few protesters (at the peak, around three dozen) objected to the event at start of the day. In the morning, the largest group held signs stressing their view that Islam is not a “religion of peace.” As activities commenced, a contingent of Christians and Jews from the capital city’s Interfaith community accompanied Muslims into the Capitol building, forming a human barrier between them and protesters.
Activities occurred on a cold and snowy day. It drew several hundred adherents of Islam for meetings and a closing time of Interfaith Jumah (Friday) prayer in the historic building. Early in the time for prayer, a woman objected to the proceedings with a prayer of her own, beginning recitation of the Lord’s Prayer at a high volume. Two Highway Patrol officers immediately took her away from the rotunda area. As has been reported elsewhere, a man dressed as George Washington, America’s first president, quietly strolled the Capitol grounds all day, never identifying himself as he carried an American flag and listened to speakers.
In remarks before Dr. Imad Enchassi of Oklahoma City spoke to the crowd, Rabbi Vered Harris, of the Reform Temple B’Nai Israel, said she had come to “speak for human rights and justice. Every one of us has the Divine image within us.” Harris also petitioned God, “May faith in You bring us closer to each other.”
Conservative Rabbi Abby Jacobsen, of Emanuel Synagogue, joined the Interfaith delegation early in the day.
Also speaking was Rev. William Tabbernee, director of the Oklahoma Council of Churches, and Veronica Laizure, CAIR’s regional civil rights director.
Enchassi addressed some of his words to state Rep. John Bennett, R-Sallisaw, a critic of Islam who has quoted controversial sections of the Quran, Islam’s scripture.
Enchassi, Imam at the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, said, “We are a nation of immigrants. Our strength is drawn from our diversity. What makes us stay great is that we cash in our diversity, and we’re a family. And we love one another. I’m not a cancer. Representative — I’m not a cancer.”
On CAIR’s local Facebook page, the group thanked, “Members of our interfaith allies [who] escorted participants to the Capitol Building.” The post continued saying attendees had seen “love triumph over hate, education triumph over ignorance, understanding triumph over misinformation, and peace triumph over conflict. It was truly inspiring and gave … pride in our Oklahoma community and in the work we do.”
The posting quoted poet Lauren B. Zuniga, concluding that on Feb. 27, “faith was a branch instead of an arrow.”
CAIR-OK Executive Director Adam Soltani said the group’s goal was “to encourage Oklahoma Muslims to be active participants in the democratic process, and this event was our first step in making that possible.”