In the 7th century A.D. a young merchant in the Arabian peninsula who would be known to his followers as the Prophet Mohammed began to preach about the revelations he had received about the existence of one God and a life after death. His preaching did not sit well with the religious establishment of that time, which believed in many gods.
He eventually was forced to flee his home in Mecca and seek refuge with several of his followers in the neighboring community of Medina. But Mohammed eventually would return in triumph to Mecca as the leader of a faith that was known as Islam that would in time spread from the Arabian Peninsula to the entire world.
A group of followers of that faith recently met in Oklahoma. The Oklahoma Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which is known by the acronym “CAIR-OK” had its second annual banquet in Oklahoma City last week, and more than 300 people were in attendance.
The diversity of the Muslim community in Oklahoma was evident in the varied ethnicities and occupations of the attendees, which included surgeons and physicians from Egypt and other Arab countries, engineers from African nations, business people from India, Pakistan and Iran, college professors and high school teachers from Turkey, and cab drivers and mechanics from Iraq and Morocco.
While most of the guests were immigrants, there also was a sizable contingent of young Muslims in attendance who had grown up in Oklahoma and have remained in the state to become members of a variety of professions.
College and high school students were present as well. Several elected officials, including Oklahoma House of Representatives member Shane Jett of Tecumseh also attended.
The gathering was addressed via viedeotape by Keith Ellison, a Muslim member of Congress from Minnesota, who urged the attendees to get involved in the political process as a means to improve American society. Ellison’s sentiments were echoed by the banquet’s keynote speaker, University of Wisconsin Chancellor Don Betz, who said “The call tonight to civic engagement is intense and important and each one of us should not look across the table and say that it is a job for someone else to do.”
Betz also told the audience that he formerly taught and had been an administrator at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, and that he knew the people of Oklahoma were fair-minded and tolerant of people of other faiths.
CAIR’s executive director from Washington, D.C., Nihad Awad told the group that the organization was dedicated to ensuring that the rights of Muslims and other minorities were respected in America.
The executive director of CAIR-OK, Razi Hashmi, explains that the organization was founded several years ago to enhance understanding of Islam among Americans and also to encourage dialogue between Muslims and people of other faiths.
Hashmi, who is the son of a Pakistani thoracic surgeon who came to Oklahoma decades ago, also points out that CAIR was instrumental in the release of a document signed by a group of Islamic scholars that condemned terrorism.
CAIR-OK has activities planned for the future that include the convening of a Muslim Youth Leadership Conference in Oklahoma City to encourage leadership skills among the young followers of Islam in the state. And it may be that followers of the faith that were born in the Arabian Peninsula in the 7th century will play a role in Oklahoma’s future.
[William F. O’Brien is an Oklahoma City attorney.]