SHAFAQNA – Oklahoma Muslims say they feel discriminated against and are worried for being criticized in the name of extremist terrorist attacks around the globe, such as the November attacks in Paris lead by ISIS.
Building relationships with people can combat Islamophobia, Adam Soltani, executive director of Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said.
“We can talk as much as we want in the media. We can write to government offices, and those will reach a certain audience, but we really have to build relationships,” he said.
“When you sit down and break bread or have a meal with someone, that builds a relationship that allows them to say, ‘Hey, I know a guy named Mohammed, and he’s a Muslim; and I won’t say that all Muslims are the same because I’ve built this relationship with someone,’” Soltani said.
Islamophobia is something that has been around for some time, Soltani said.
“I don’t think it has appeared all of a sudden. I grew up in the 1980s, and I think it stems from xenophobia, the fear of the unknown or the fear of people who are different,” he said.
“The most offensive thing I’ve heard … is to be told to go back home, because I was born and raised in Kansas, and I don’t want to go back there,” Soltani said.
“After the Paris attack, Muslims just go on this heightened sense of awareness, and they’re also scared and fearful for their own safety and security of their family,” Soltani added.
Sheryl Siddiqui, chair and spokesperson of the Islamic Council of Oklahoma, said there’s no question about the stigmatization of Muslims in Oklahoma.
“People in leadership positions are saying things about Muslims. We’ve got presidential candidates, we’ve got state legislators, we’ve got a governor who doesn’t defend the rights of her own people — there’s no question that there are things said against Muslims nationally and at the state level,” Siddiqui said.
She said the council is focusing on helping mosques in Oklahoma reach out to the public. “We had our first-ever Open Mosque Day, where all the mosques that participate within our council opened mosques on the same day,” she said. Siddiqui said the council’s initiative is to improve communications and collaborate on issues that affect Muslims who attend mosques in the state.
“By collaborating together, we can do better public relations and get the word out, and we had people who had never been to a mosque before come to every single mosque, so that was a great experience,” Siddiqui said.