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OKLAHOMA CITY – A group of supporters formed a makeshift greeting line to escort Muslims into the Oklahoma state Capitol for Friday's first-ever Muslim Day as a smaller group of protesters heckled participants as they arrived.
The event was hosted by the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations as a means to foster civic engagement among the state's estimated 40,000 Muslims.
Adam Soltani, the group's executive director, said Muslims in Oklahoma are increasingly being targeted with anti-Islamic rhetoric, some of it from Republican state legislators, making it even more important to learn how government operates.
For example, Republican Rep. John Bennett is a frequent critic of CAIR who has said he believes Islam is a threat to America.
"Our first Capitol day is about laying the foundation for civic engagement ... and getting our community to understand the process a lot better," Soltani said. "We're hoping the people who attend this will form a base of Oklahoma Muslims who can do lobbying and sitting down with their elected officials and things like that."
In 2010, more than 70 percent of Oklahoma voters approved a ban on Sharia, or Islamic, law that was later overturned by the courts.
Discussion topics on Friday included racial profiling, the importance of political engagement and how the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution applies to religion on public schools.
As participants arrived at the north entrance to the Capitol, some protesters, some who traveled from as far away as Indiana, shouted anti-Islamic sentiments. Others held signs with inflammatory anti-Muslim language. The conservative groups Overpasses for America and III Percent Patriots of Oklahoma reserved space at the Capitol to protest Muslim Day, while a Libertarian group rallied in support.
The Oklahoma Highway Patrol, which has a troop assigned to the Capitol, had an increased number of uniformed officers in and around the building, and there were no reports of major incidents or arrests, said patrol spokesman Lt. John Vincent.
Imad Enchassi, senior imam at the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, said he was not discouraged that some people decided to protest their event.
"As people of faith, we're never discouraged," Enchassi said. "It was very refreshing to see our interfaith allies outnumbered the protesters.
"If you don't get challenges in life, you're not on the right path. That's a very profound Islamic belief."
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