Islamic advocacy group celebrates SQ755 defeat

As the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) held its annual banquet Saturday, guests celebrated a year of advocacy that was highlighted by the defeat of State Question 755, a amendment to the state constitution approved by voters four years ago.

“It was a pure political ploy and it was unsuccessful,” said Michael Salem, an attorney who worked with CAIR on a lawsuit against SQ755. Salem was honored with the Faith in Freedom award at Saturday’s banquet for his work on the lawsuit.

After 75 percent of Oklahoma voters approved SQ755 in 2010, which barred courts from considering Sharia law and foreign customs, the Islamic advocacy group responded with a lawsuit that later won in federal court when a judge ruled the state question unconstitutional in a 2013 decision.

CAIR Executive Director Adam Soltani said the ruling was the highlight of the past year.

“Not only was it the biggest victory for civil liberties for our organization [of the past year], but the biggest one for our organization in the past eight years,” Soltani said. “We were the first chapter of CAIR that was successful in challenging and blocking an anti Sharia law legislation.”

The banquet’s keynote speaker was John Esposito, a professor of Islamic studies at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. He said the success in fighting Oklahoma’s anti Sharia law legislation should not cause the Islamic community to move beyond it.

“I think the anti Sharia laws are still very important to monitor,” Esposito said. “Things go silent and that’s when the laws get passed.”

Esposito also encouraged the Muslim community to push for more visibility and power in government.
“Muslims have become successful … but visually, for most Americans, this is still not a powerful community,” Esposito said.

Soltani acknowledged more needs to be done in an effort to find greater acceptance in the United States and Oklahoma. But he also felt that in the eight year’s since the Oklahoma chapter of CAIR was launched, the local Islamic community had made great strides.

“We are a community that has grown steadily over the past eight years, and that not only is attributed to the good economy and family atmosphere of [Oklahoma], but it’s a tribute to the interfaith community here,” Soltani said. “Many states [in our region] don’t have CAIR chapters and Muslims know that by living in Oklahoma their rights are being fought for.”

Ben Felder

Ben is an urban affairs reporter covering local government and education in Oklahoma City. He lives in OKC with his wife, Lori, and son, Satchel. Ben holds a masters in new media journalism from Full Sail University and is an OKC transplant from Kansas City, Mo. Twitter: @benfelder_okg

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