Muslims came to a city church for education in the morning Thursday and then to the Oklahoma Capitol for public prayer and time with their legislators.
Those in attendance prayed the Salat, which is the second prayer of the day for Muslims. Salat means “connection with God, or intimacy with God,” said Imam Imad Enchassi, senior Imam of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City.
He led the prayers in the fourth-floor rotunda of the Capitol in the afternoon as supporters of other faiths surrounded those praying to make sure they were not interrupted.
“Today’s political climate has pushed a lot of people out of the shadows,” Anna Facci told Free Press. “People who were quiet supporters before are vigorous defenders now.”
She is the director of government affairs for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Oklahoma, or CAIR-Oklahoma. The organization serves Oklahoma Muslim population by providing organization and advocacy for Muslim needs and concerns.
Facci was referring to the Muslims who were present. But she was also referring to people of all faiths who came to the capitol as “shields” for the Muslims who came. In years past, Muslims arriving for the day have had to deal with a gauntlet of protesters outside and occasional hecklers inside.
This was the third year for CAIR-Oklahoma to organize a Muslim Day at the Capitol in Oklahoma.
Adam Soltani, executive director for CAIR-Oklahoma, was upbeat about this year’s event.
He said that it was a “huge shift” from three years back when they had their first such day.
“We were really unsure about what the response would be,” Soltani said. “We had far more protesters than supporters.”
“But this year I think that there is just a sense of buzz and excitement about the Muslim community on this day and we’re excited to be here. We’re excited that some people are off to talk with their legislators. That’s the key,” said Soltani.
The civil rights director for CAIR-Oklahoma, Veronica Laizure said that getting their participants into the offices of their legislators was a big win.
She said it was “…the greatest development in CAIR-Oklahoma’s government affairs department, and really probably the greatest accomplishment we have had in the past three years of Muslim Days at the Capitol.”
Support from legislators
Three legislators were visibly involved during the afternoon events: Representatives Jason Dunnington, HD 88, Cyndi Munson, HD 85 and George Young, HD 99, all from Oklahoma City.
Dunnington presented a declaration from the legislature welcoming the attendees to the capitol.
He told Free Press that he and the other legislators welcoming Muslims to the Capitol wanted to send a message about the relatively light protest this year compared to the last two.
“There are a small number of people who continue to protest these types of events, but the vast majority right now are people that want to see us have a better interfaith healing going on,” Dunnington said.
Munson said that she has a number of Muslims in her Oklahoma City district as well as the headquarters for CAIR-Oklahoma.
She said she wanted Muslims to “know their representative is listening and loves them and wants to do the best that she can to make good policy and make sure our state is safe.”
Rep. George Young from Oklahoma City spoke to the gathering in the morning and then was present during the prayers in the afternoon.
“This Muslim community has so much to offer, has already given so much, has so much resources left to give and they have worked tirelessly to make themselves available,” said Young. “It really bothers and hurts, makes my heart heavy, when I see that there are folk who resist their efforts to try to be a part of it.”
Rabbi Vered Harris and members of her synagogue, Temple B’nai Israel in Oklahoma City, made up a part of the contingent of people from other faiths who served as shields during the day’s events both outside and inside.
“As an American, as a Jewish woman, I know what it means to be told ‘you don’t belong here,’” said Harris. “The message sometimes that my Muslim neighbors receive even from elected officials that they don’t belong here is not only against our constitution, but is against the basic core beliefs that I hold as a Jew.”
Ally Shinn, director of external affairs and other members of the American Civil Liberties Union were present to show support for CAIR-Oklahoma who are their partners often in defending civil and religious rights in the state.
“At the ACLU, we are staunch supporters of and defenders of our religious freedom, and part of religious freedom means that all people who are in this country regardless of their faith have a right to be represented by their people,” said Shinn.