As a Muslim American, Adam Soltani said he has been told to “go home” more times than he can count, particularly in the aftermath of violence perpetuated by radical Islamic extremists.
But Soltani, a native Kansan raised in Oklahoma, said he is home.
“We get told a lot to ‘go home,' and it is sometimes very difficult to hear that,” Soltani said, referring to those who have told him and other Muslims that they should live in Muslim-majority countries.
Soltani said he has lived in the United States his entire life and “to be told to go back home really hurts us because this is our home.”
The executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Oklahoma Chapter said negative and bigoted comments about Muslims generally abound after extremists perpetuate violence in the name of Islam. Even after American Muslims and Muslim organizations such as CAIR-Oklahoma strongly condemn such bloodshed, anti-Muslim sentiments often persist in the aftermath of Islamic extremists' murderous aggression.
Soltani, 44, said he and many other Muslims in Oklahoma continue to try to dispel the myths that Islam is a violent faith and all Muslims are terrorists. He said that's why CAIR-Oklahoma, a Muslim advocacy organization, recently launched a campaign to distribute free copies of a PBS documentary about the Prophet Muhammad.
The campaign comes in the wake of the Sept. 11 murder of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and other Americans serving their country in Libya who were killed by Islamic extremists. Soltani said the distribution of “Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet,” along with a new website soon to be launched, will go a long way toward educating non-Muslims about who Prophet Muhammad was and the peaceful tenets of Islam.
In the meantime, he and several Oklahoma Muslim leaders said they will continue to publicly condemn the violent actions of extremists who say they are acting in the name of Islam. They also will continue to open their mosques to non-Muslims who wish to know more about Islam.
Imad Enchassi, imam and president of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, said he read in a recent newspaper story that some American Muslims are exhausted from their efforts to reiterate to non-Muslims that they strongly condemn murderous attacks such as that in Libya.
He said American Muslims grieved for their fallen countrymen just like others across the country, but their grief was laced with fear.
Enchassi, 47, said they fear non-Muslims will retaliate against them in some way such as verbal attacks, hate mail and even a violent attack at their local mosques or at Mercy School, the private Islamic school in northwest Oklahoma City.
“We have our own alert system and we become particularly concerned for our children,” he said.
Enchassi said the recent murders of Americans in Libya brought with them a sense of deja vu for him, reminding him of the anti-Muslim atmosphere in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
However, Enchassi said he and many other Muslims have become accustomed — almost immune — to the rude stares and sometimes subtly hostile or negative behavior from some non-Muslims who tar all Muslims with a terrorist brush.
Jenell Mapp-Maynard, 28, operations manager for CAIR-Oklahoma, said she thinks Muslim women often bear the brunt of anti-Muslim attitudes because they are perhaps more easily identifiable as Muslims when they wear their hijabs, the traditional Islamic headscarf.
She said she sometimes counters impolite staring by starting a conversation with the person doing the ogling. Mapp-Maynard said the other person often acts surprised but generally is receptive to polite conversation.
Sheryl Siddiqui, of Tulsa, is spokeswoman for the Islamic Council of Oklahoma, a council of state mosques and Islamic schools that serves more than 35,000 Muslims in Oklahoma. She said her work building bridges of fellowship among Oklahoma mosque includes reassuring Oklahoma Muslims who become filled with “righteous indignation” when some non-Muslims cast Islam in a negative light after radical Islamic extremists' violence.
“They wouldn't do it (violence), they condemn it, but they still get accused of it,” she said.
Still, Siddiqui, 58, said she remains optimistic the non-Muslim community in the state is educating itself and wants to be educated about the true nonviolent tenets of Islam.
Also, she said interfaith projects and day-to-day peaceful interactions between Muslims and non-Muslims worldwide do not make “headline news” as often as accounts of radical Islamic terrorism, but they exist nonetheless.
Meanwhile, Enchassi said the Prophet Muhammad encouraged Muslims to repel evil with good.
Mapp-Maynard, a native of Atlanta, said she was not a Muslim when the 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred. She said she converted to Islam about five years ago.
Mapp-Maynard said after this year's Sept. 11 violence by Islamic extremists in Libya — reportedly fueled by “Innocence of Islam,” a film ridiculing Islam's holy prophet — the Prophet Muhammad's advice to respond to hateful words and actions with forgiveness and good works was foremost in her mind.
“This is the first heart-wrenching incident or sequence of incidents that I have dealt with, so what Prophet Muhammad said about this is fresh in my head,” she said.
Support in Oklahoma
Soltani, an Edmond Santa Fe High School and University of Central Oklahoma graduate, said he hopes the free documentary DVD his organization is distributing helps to combat both the anti-Islamic tone of the film that reportedly ignited the Libyan violence and the resurgence of myths about Muslims that occurred after the Americans were killed in Libya.
He said in Oklahoma, with incidents such as a paintball attack in July on an Oklahoma City mosque more of the exception to the rule, his organization wants to share a film that depicts a balanced view of the life of Prophet Muhammad.
“When the mosque was paint-balled, they got flowers (from non-Muslim supporters). We really wanted to reach out to Oklahoma because Oklahoma has shown so much kindness, love, friendliness and acceptance to us,” he said.
And acceptance is what American Muslims really want, Soltani said.
“We want to be accepted as part of this society, as people who contribute in a positive way,” Soltani said.