Embracing Oklahoma City's Muslim community 

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“Go back home!”

As a proud Oklahoma Muslim, nothing has offended me more than the above, and in the last 20 years, that is saying a lot.

Since the heartbreaking bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building shook our state, the Muslim community has unfortunately grown accustomed to being looked at with suspicion after media speculation wrongly pointed the finger at them.

In the wake of the 9/11 tragedy, I vividly remember my heart being torn to shreds as I was left reconciling the mourning of fellow Americans we had lost with the offensive and hurtful comments aimed at Muslims. I was only in my first semester at the University of Central Oklahoma when a friend and I were attending a football game and, as we returned to our car, a truck passed by and called us “sand niggers.” This was my first, but unfortunately not last, interaction with anti-Muslim hatred in our state.

In the years since, I have learned to accept those among my fellow Oklahomans who will hate me because of my faith, my ethnic background or because I promote acceptance and understanding of the growing diversity in our state.

What I cannot come to accept — and I don’t believe any American should have to — is being told to “go back home.”

No American should have to justify being home in his own country. America’s foundation was predicated on the idea that all individuals, regardless of their faith, should have the protected right to life, liberty and property. In 1776, Thomas Jefferson addressed his countrymen and quoted John Locke. He said, “Neither Pagan nor Mahamedan (Muslim) nor Jew ought to be excluded from the civil rights of the Commonwealth because of his religion.”

If our forefathers had this vision for a diverse and pluralistic America, what has happened to us?

Oklahoma is my home.

Muslims are home in Oklahoma, as are Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists and all other groups that adhere to a faith or lack thereof. The reality is that our diversity in cultures, religions and viewpoints is what makes us so unique.

We should not only be accepting of that, we should wear it as a badge of honor. Instead of spreading hateful and divisive messages, we should seek opportunities to unite and work toward the greater good for our state.

In one of my favorite quotes from the Holy Qur’an it is said, “O mankind! Behold, We have created you all out of a male and a female, and have made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another.”

This is a reminder from God that teaches us that all our differences are a part of God’s overall design and that we all share one origin, one history. These variations in the human creation should bring us to know, understand and love one another even in the midst of hatred, intolerance and division.

Perhaps if, as fellow Oklahomans, we can follow this commandment from God, when my son reaches my age, he will no longer be told to “go back home”; rather, Oklahoma will embrace him with her loving arms and tell him, “You are home.”

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

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