Muslim in Oklahoma

November 18, 2010

*This is a guest post by my friend. She’s beautiful, generous, smart, hard-working, brave and Muslim. She lives in Tulsa, Ok.* 

I am an American. I am a woman. I am a Muslim. And I am so much more.  With growing anti-Muslim sentiments and Islamophobia , now more than ever, I’m realizing that my actions aren’t used just to judge who I am as a person, but suddenly my actions represent Muslims everywhere.  Lately, my non-Muslim friend’s approach me almost daily with questions like, “Saira, did you see the news about the proposed Koran burning?  Ho do you feel about the controversy over the “ground zero mosque?  What’s Sharia law?”  While I was immersed in my tight knit Muslim community growing up, I’m realizing faster than ever that most Oklahomans aren’t likely to share an intimate relationship with a single Muslim.  A recent TIME magazine poll found that only 44% of respondents have a favorable impression towards Muslims.  Of those respondents, 62% said they don’t personally know a Muslim American.  That’s more than half of Americans who view Muslims either negatively or with indifference.  Because so many Oklahomans know little about their Muslim neighbors, I agreed when my sweet co-worker Spring asked me to write a piece on being Muslim in Oklahoma for her blog.  Though Spring asked me several questions, for the sake of keeping your attention, I’m just going to try to explain the existing atmosphere surrounding a Muslim in Oklahoma.

One of my first ‘ah-ha, some people really don’t understand me‘ moments of being Muslim in Oklahoma came several years ago when my family stopped at a gas station in Small Town, Oklahoma. Coming straight from a cultural event, instead of my usual blue jeans and frilly top, I was dressed in traditional Pakistani clothing washing my hands in the restroom when a middle-aged woman approached me inquiring about my religion. When I responded by saying I was Muslim she asked, “Is it true your religion believes in killing people?” Stunned by the words just spoken to me, I tried to explain how this wasn’t remotely true, to no avail. Fast forward to present day, and the fear of Muslims remains alive and growing. 

Unless you ignore the news and didn’t visit the polls last Tuesday, you have probably heard about the deceitfully written State Question 755 on our state’s ballot.  For me, this vote represents the overwhelming fear of Muslims and immigrants that’s plaguing our state. In a nutshell, SQ 755, also known as the “Save Our State Amendment” or as talk show host Rachel Maddow put it, “Save Oklahoma from Muslims Amendment,” would ban the use of Sharia law and international law when making legal decisions. Sharia is an Islamic moral and ethical code that Muslims are to use as a guide to live their lives and practice their religion.  The full elucidation of Sharia is vague even to many Muslims.  On November 2nd, the good voters of Oklahoma, a whopping 70%, voted yes on SQ 755. This state question is particularly disturbing because Sharia law was never an actual threat in the United States, much less in Oklahoma.  It seems that 70% of voting Oklahomans have forgotten the good ole first amendment that already “prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion.” It’s this amendment that established the separation of church and state in both federal and state law.  Writer, Reza Aslan, put it into perspective best when he said that “considering that no judge in the United States has cited Sharia in a legal case…this is a bit like passing a federal law banning Americans from riding unicorns.”

This amendment has less to do with the looming threat of Islam and more to do with running a political campaign based on fear, feeding on voter’s paranoia of Islam and immigrants. It felt like another way for politicians to get voters to the polls out of fear.  Let’s take the writer of the question, former OK State House Representative Rex Duncan, who referred to the SQ as a “pre-emptive strike” and who after refusing to accept a gifted copy of the Quran for Oklahoma’s Centennial celebration is quoted as saying that, “most Oklahomans do not endorse the idea of killing innocent women and children in the name of ideology.”

To this, I say, most Muslims share the same belief. 

As for SQ 755, luckily, a federal judge suspended the amendment for now, to which many have responded with “it was the will of the people.” But just because the majority votes for a certain amendment doesn’t necessarily mean it is just. It was the same “will of the people” that once supported segregation in the 1960s and created the Jim Crow Laws.

To be fair, I do believe that a lot of sensible people who voted for the law probably didn’t understand the complete implications of it. Nevertheless, it’s a terrifying thought that suddenly my faith is being misrepresented; so much so, that by accusing our President of being Muslim, we are somehow humiliating him. As if being Muslim would make one unfit to run a country.

I wish every American knew that every time an extremist Muslim participated in any act of violence or spoke any word of hate in the name of Islam, they knew that that person does not represent me, that person does not represent my ideals, and that person surely does not represent my faith.

While Islamophobia is growing in our state, that doesn’t mean that my experience as a Muslim in Oklahoma has been an entirely negative one.  For the most part, I have been saved from being on the front lines of hate.  This, I believe, has a lot to do with being a Muslim that doesn’t wear a scarf and therefore, because my outward appearance is not apparently Muslim (which is proof that Muslims come in all shapes and forms), people tend to know me as a person, before they know immediately of my faith. I’ve seen countless people from all religions show their solidarity and support when mosques have been threatened and vandalized.  I’ll never forget the kindness I felt when as a 9th grader, after the tragic 9/11 attacks, I was called into the councilors office to make sure no students were harassing me. Or when my roommate of four years and good friend Katie, defended Islam to some of her relatives when they were skeptical of Muslims and went out of her way to point out that her Muslim roommate was “one of the kindest people she knew.” Or when as a student at OU, hundreds attended interfaith events to promote tolerance and foster understanding.  It warmed by heart when my co-workers this year fasted from sunrise to sunset to share my experience of Ramadan.

The point of all this is so that everyone knows that Muslims really aren’t that scary. We have a tendency to fear the unknown. So get to know someone who is Muslim. Give them a chance before you believe this country is not theirs and that their religion is not as peaceful as yours.  My race and religion makes me a minority in this country, but I am and feel as American as the next person. Isn’t that part of the charm of being an American? That this country was established to escape the persecution of minorities. That we don’t all fit into a narrow description. 

If you’re still unsure of Muslims, or simply just don’t know enough about them, then let’s grab coffee, share ideas, and mingle. You’ll probably just find out hat the Beatles are my all time favorite band, I have an unexplainable love for the Harry Potter series, Jersey Shore is one of my guilty pleasures, and my day feels incomplete without French fries. But mostly you’ll just find out how ordinary I am.


9 Responses to “Muslim in Oklahoma”

  1. Miz H Says:

    Can we have coffee and fries even though I’m not afraid of you? 🙂

  2. Daniel Says:

    Um, don’t you mean “freedom fries”?

  3. Guy Says:

    I enjoy reading Spring’s blog & this was certainly no exception. I’m often embarrassed by the close-mindedness often experienced around Oklahoma & having grown up in a small town, it was especially bad considering I am someone of no faith, I just always kept quiet about it. I’m glad you’ve found friends & co-workers that go above & beyond the general consensus of Oklahoma.

  4. beamish Says:

    thank you for this post!

  5. Sarah H Says:

    Thank you for writing this!

  6. Sarah B Says:

    Great article!

  7. Courtney Says:

    Thank you for this post! I have so much to say about it; I am inspired to write more at my blog (out of fear of clogging this comment space). For what it’s worth, thank you for taking time to write your story.

  8. Weltha Says:

    This is wonderful–and a good explanation for people who have “heard” of Sharia law and are not so sure what it could mean here.

    AND for making it clear that not all Muslims (not “Islamists”…) are ultra-fundamentalists any more than all Christians (that would be me…) are ultra-fundamentalist wack-jobs.

    And thank you so much for commenting on my blog–please, oh please feel free to visit a lot and comment as much as you wish.

    And happy baby to you! I can join with you in saying, “Allahu akbar.” And forgive any bad spelling.

    Independently Weltha

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