An Oklahoma state representative distributed Bibles and what some described as Islamophobic questionnaires during the state’s first Muslim Capitol Day on Friday. The event, which organizers described as a way of encouraging civic participation within Oklahoma’s Muslim community, also attracted dozens of protesters bearing signs with anti-Muslim slogans.
An official in the office of state representative John Bennett confirmed that staffers were dispatched to distribute Bibles and fliers at the capitol in Oklahoma City during the Muslim Day proceedings. The fliers requested that participants answer 10 questions, including “Will you denounce the terrorist organization Hamas?” among other inquiries about their support for violent acts.
These questions reflect unfortunate ignorance about the state’s Muslim community, said Adam Soltani, executive director of the Oklahoma branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the group that organized Friday’s event. “We’ve seen a lot of these questions from Rep. Bennett before even though time and time again we have condemned all terrorist groups and violence,” he said. “We have a lot more to do rather than waste our time trying to dialogue with someone who doesn't want a dialogue.”
Soltani said his organization had no problem with Bibles being distributed and, in fact, welcomed it. “Honestly, we just set them out on our table and invited participants to read them,” he said. “ We welcome the distribution of educational literature, whether religious or otherwise, with open arms.”
Bennett has courted controversy before with anti-Islam comments, including remarks last year that suggested the goal of all Muslims was “the destruction of Western civilization” and that Islam was a “cancer in our nation that needs to be cut out.” Following an outcry over his remarks, the politician doubled down on his statements, saying, “I would even submit to you that Islam is not even a religion. It's a social political system that uses a deity to advance its agenda of global conquest” in a September interview with HuffPost Live. “That's exactly what ISIS is doing now, and people that follow Islam are and will do the same thing.”
Oklahoma has an estimated 40,000 Muslims, and Friday’s event was organized with the goal of encouraging the community “to be active participants in the democratic process,” according to a statement by CAIR. The state has seen attempts at passing anti-Muslim legislation, including a 2010 law that approved a ban on Shariah or Islamic law that passed with more than 70 percent support from voters, The Associated Press reported. The legislation was later overturned by courts.
Oklahoma’s Highway Patrol increased the number of uniformed officers around the capitol in anticipation of protests at the Muslim Capitol Day event. Some protesters traveled from as far away as Indiana, the AP said. One held a sign proclaiming “Islam = Death,” while others shouted slogans like “Allah is a pedophile” and “Mohammad is in hell,” the Tulsa World reported. Despite the protests, CAIR said that registrations for the event exceeded capacity, with hundreds of Muslims and other interfaith partners taking part.