Commentary: Learning from Ahmed Mohamed

Oklahoma, much like Texas, is an environment ripe for opportunities to let Islamophobia get out of control if we don’t learn from the mistakes of others.

Sept. 14, Ahmed Mohamed, a 14-year-old ninth grader, was arrested at MacArthur High School in Irving, Texas, for bringing to school a clock he built himself. The teen was accused of having what school officials and police described as a “hoax bomb,” and he was led out of school in handcuffs.

Although police decided they will not charge Mohamed and he has received support from social media (#IStandWithAhmed was the top-trending Twitter topic in the days following his arrest), celebrities and academics, his arrest points to a bigger problem plaguing our state and country.

I have written and spoken about the growing concern of Islamophobia in Oklahoma countless times over the past three years. However, I have not been without my critics, who claim our concerns are overstated. We have even heard fellow Oklahomans attempt to advise us by mentioning we “should not be overly sensitive” and that this is something “all minority groups must go through in our country.”

We can pretend all we want that Islamophobia in Oklahoma is not a real problem, but the xenophobic environment that led to Mohamed’s arrest in Texas exists in our state and if we are not careful, we have the potential to commit the same sin against one of our young people.

In the last year, this state’s Muslim community has witnessed the following:

>> verbal attacks from Rep. John Bennett, who called Islam a “cancer that needs to be cut out of our country.”

>> an unprecedented number of hate mail, calls and death threats following the tragic incident at Vaughan Foods in Moore, which the Muslim community swiftly and vehemently condemned.

>> several anti-Muslim town hall meetings with the most notable one taking place at Edmond’s Fairview Baptist Church and headed by fear-mongering pastor Paul Blair.

>> coming face-to-face with hatred and animosity as Oklahoma Muslims were met with protestors at their first Capitol Day.

>> in the weeks before the third time a proposed Edmond mosque expansion would go before the city council, the religious center was vandalized with bacon.

And most recently, a gun range in Oktaha followed the example of several others around the country and publicly banned Muslims from their business.

As a community, we should be outraged that we allow this hatred to happen to a people that consider Oklahoma home. We should stand in support of one another in the way people have stood with Ahmed Mohamed before we have to deal with a young Muslim being arrested for expressing a curious, creative and inventive spirit.

The interfaith community and social justice organizations have diligently supported this state’s minority groups, but unless the majority of the public does the same, it will never be enough.

Mohamed has quickly become a hero for many Muslims in Oklahoma and around the country.

Let us allow him to be a hero not only for Muslim rights, but let the lessons we learn drive us towards embracing diversity, pluralism and that which others tell us we must fear.

Adam Soltani is the executive director of the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Print headline: Learning from Ahmed Mohamed

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