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Oklahoma Muslims come to aid victims of tornado in Moore, OK; they wish to build bridges and break down prejudices

Oklahoma Muslims come to aid victims of tornado in Moore, OK; they wish to build bridges and break down prejudices

Religion News Service reports that Muslims in Oklahoma have come to the aid of victims of the EF5 tornado that hit Moore, Oklahoma.  Oklahoma is not a state that is friendly to Muslims; indeed, the state has passed laws twice forbidding courts to consider Islamic Sharia law in their decisions; moreover, GodDiscussion reported in 2011 that a police captain in Tulsa lost a lawsuit over a free lunch in a mosque that honored law enforcement. RNS adds that Muslim organizations in the state are trying to build bridges in order to help overcome prejudices against Muslims:

“As Oklahomans, we’re part of this community, and our hearts just break for what happened,” said Adam Soltani, executive director of theOklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, one of several Muslim groups collecting donations.

“We want to show the compassion and mercy that Islam teaches us.”  […]

While Muslim-American organizations have routinely provided emergency aid following natural disasters, the Oklahoma tragedy is special because of the anti-Muslim sentiment in the state. Rather than retreating, however, Muslims increased their outreach, convinced that when Oklahomans meet Muslims, their prejudices will fade.

“I believe this helps break down barriers,” said Saad Mohammed, director of outreach at theIslamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City. “But dialogue and interaction are going to have to continue if these barriers are going to stay down.”

Mohammed was at home in suburban Moore, taking cover in a closet with his wife and teenage twin sons when the tornado bore down. Their home was completely destroyed, but the family survived.

The day after the tornado hit, the Muslim community came together to organize a community drive to provide basic necessities to victims of the tragedy that killed 24 people.  In less than two days they had collected thousands of food items, toiletries, bottled water and other necessities. The Islamic Circle of North America sent a Disaster Relief Team as well, which helps with debris removal and fixing damaged houses.

Some Christians appreciate the help the Muslims are offering.  According to the RNS article, Reverend Joshua Leu of the New Hope Christian Church, an interfaith activist in Oklahoma City, said that disasters often bring people together without regard to differences.

“Anytime people come into contact with people of other faiths or ethnicities, it breaks down the stereotypes people have."

The video above from Faizan Syed, details the relief efforts of the Muslim community in the Oklahoma City area.   He says they will help rebuild the community, donate blood, and do whatever is necessary to help the victims. He said as Muslim Americans, it is "our duty to go and help these people."

About Dakota O'Leary

Dakota O'Leary is a freethinker, and often sassy, scholar of theology and literature. She got her Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Theology from the State University of New York College at Buffalo, and her Master of Arts degree in Theology and Literature from Antioch University-Midwest. She is a contributing writer focusing on eschatology, biblical prophecy, and general religious news. Dakota is a co-host of the God Discussion radio show, offering insight to the news stories of the week. We like to call her "our in-house Biblical prophecy expert" as her articles on eschatology have received over 200,000 views on God Discussion.
  • OK, that's fine and great, as long as they do not desire to convert people to Islam. I say the same for Xians and people of other religions too. However, one of my questions is, how can they break down prejudices when some of their women are floating around in brown paper bags? How can these women, wearing such clothing, get down in the dirt with other women, not wearing such clothing, and help?

    No, please don't jump and start screaming if you are Muslim, before you hear me out. I'm walking on campus one day and see something that looks like a large brown sack drifting in the wind out of the corner of my eye several yards away. I look at it directly and realize that it's not a large brown paper bag, but a human, a human female, a Muslim human female. As a female, I could not help but think, it's a shame she is so afraid of being raped if she showed herself and her beauty as a human being. She's in the States, yet she is afraid and I am not afraid and have never been sexually harassed or assaulted by strangers (relatives and other people I know is another story). At the same time, I see many Muslim women who wear beautiful hijabs that accentuates their beauty and I find that more appealing than the bag, but not enough to become a Muslim. It also makes it easier for me to talk to a woman wearing a hijab than one wearing a burka. There was no way I was going out of my way to stop a woman dressed in a burka and strike up a conversation with her. On the other hand…

    True story- I met this one young American female Muslim, born and raised- her parents came here before she was born and became U. S. citizens. Her English was impeccable, which made it easier to converse with her. Anyway, she was in line to get and pay for her own food, taking care of herself in a society that demands such things, not always having a man do it for her- she was independent and self-caring. She was also wearing a beautiful U. S. flag design hijab and you could see her beautiful complexion and exotic features, as well as look her in the eye as you talked to her and see her lips move as she talked to you. Full communication, facial expressions and all.

    Anyway, since we weren't busy, I talked to her and I told her it was a beautiful hijab (I did not call it a scarf and made every effort to be polite and respectful) and that I was surprised she could wear a hijab with the U. S. flag. She said she could. I also said, "I hope this is not bad to say, because I really don't mean it in a bad way, but I like the hijab better than the burka because many hijabs are not only actually pretty, but you can see the person's face as you talk to them. She told me, with a friendly smile, that it was not bad or wrong to feel that way and was very polite herself, thanking me for the compliment. Her facial expression did not betray her words and she actually seemed like she appreciated my words, despite them being a bit awkward due to my admitted concern that she might take it wrong and I did not wish that. She also did not attempt to preach Islam at me either. Rather she made me feel comfortable with my personal preferences in seeing other women's mode of style of dress, as well as attempting to strike up a friendly conversation. I didn't feel as though I had to go out and get one myself either, but I did feel that it was OK to prefer one style over the other, as well as start a friendly conversation with her. It was a start all the way around, IMO.

    I agree that helping others is a good start to helping people overcome their prejudices, esp in times of disaster, but I think more than that needs to be done. I think, when there is no disaster involved, it is also helpful that when a non-Muslim attempts strikes up a friendly conversation with another Muslim, (such as, "I like your hijab…."), to understand, when they continue beyond that, they don't always mean any harm, but sometimes lack words to say or ask what they mean (maybe out of fear or feel awkward) or fear what they say will be taken wrong or fear offending, without meaning to offend.

    I think both communication and actions are needed- good communication, with understanding, compassion, empathy, and shared thoughts in a respectable manner and good, caring compassionate actions, both without attempts to convert others to their world views. I say this as a humanist and as a human being who actually does care about other humans, regardless of they believe or don't believe, but don't always like what they do in the name of their beliefs/religion. Some practices do trigger questions, sometimes out of curiosity and not hatefulness. At the same time, I think one needs to personally ask themselves, with empathy for the person (in the case of breaking down prejudices), which, as an example, is less intimidating when you are already traumatized by something as an F5 tornado- a woman in a hijab or a woman in a burka? If the tornado happened at night and a survivor needing rescued is a female in her pajamas, while her rescuer is obviously a Muslim male and people told her Muslim males rape women not fully clothed, her reaction to her rescuer might not be as good as if she was not taught [strong] prejudice. Her fearful reaction causing her to put her in more danger or keeping her in a dangerous position (it can and has happened). The keyword here is "taught".

    Breaking down prejudices also involves meeting others half way, understanding that some things cause those with no knowledge or understanding more discomfort than other things, sometimes causing fear and when one is already traumatized, what causes discomfort and/or fear can be heightened, making things worse, despite intentions, not better. Prejudice is taught, but curiosity is not always taught, despite how the questions come out of one's mouth.

    As I taught my sons, the only bad question is the one not asked, because it perpetuates ignorance, intolerance, hatred, prejudice… and the effort to help others will bring out some rather awkward questions and even questions that may sound bad on the surface, but asked in that manner because that's what they know and the best words they have at the time.

    Sorry for the long commentary. I guess I could have written a related opinion piece.

    • I also want to add, that I've met some very nice young men from what are known as "Muslim Nations". Because they are friendly and treated me as a human being, while they were in line to pay for food, I felt comfortable asking them questions, only to find out their nation pays for their education, even abroad. I asked, "Forgive me if this sounds bad, but it only stems from what I've heard. What if a woman wanted an education abroad, would your nation pay for it?" They replied, "Our government is very rich and pay for your whole family to get an education, even the women of your family." They did not appear to take offense to my question and seemed very eager to answer it, once I finally asked it, probably because I attempted to explain that I meant no offense and was only asking because of what I've heard. Again, breaking down prejudices is a two-way street and part of it is understanding where one's questions stem from and the situations that trigger those questions. It also involves understanding each other's fears, discomforts, background, what they might have heard, etc, as well as treating each other as human beings, regardless if they are atheists, Xians, Muslims, Hindus, Taoists, Buddhists, etc.

      • American Muslima

        Dear Mriana,

        Thank you for your comments. I too am an American Muslim woman, born in raised in the U.S. I appreciate the efforts that my fellow Muslims and Americans are making to help our neighbors in need. I think that at the end of the day, people helping people is what is important. I too look forward to going to OK to help, God willing.

        II think it's important that we find what is similar in each other than putting too much on the differences. Most of your comments seemed to me to be focusing a lot on differences, which of course we should not deny or hide away from, or act like the aren't there–but it's our similarities that will ultimately unite us. I am personally apart of several women's groups that brings Christian, Jewish and Muslim women together to get to know one another, enjoy each other's company, and learn from each other. If you ever have the chance to be apart of this type of group, I highly recommend it.

        • The thing is, I'm not Xian, Jewish, or (obviously) Muslim. I'm a humanist. Why not just bring women together, without focusing on any religious differences? Why not focus on the two similarities we unquestionably do have? 1. we're all human and 2. we're women. Everything else, esp religion, is just tribalism and separates us as humans. In fact, we can take it a step further and drop the sexism by including men and just focus on the one thing we all unquestionably share- we are all human.

          • Delhi Ekambo

            Yes, we are human, but we are different and that's a fact. And's it not a bad thing either. We have different religions and cultures, colors and languages, and those should be appreciated, celebrated even. They present opportunities for us to know one another. This is actually mentioned in a verse from the Qur'an (ch. 49:13). It's not something that should divide us or to put one against the other or make one better than the other. It's something that should be recognized, respectfully, and ultimately God is the Judge (as the verse relates and as I believe). I shouldn't have to hide or suppress the fact that I am Muslim. It is apart of who I am and you are a Humanist and it's apart of who you are. You are definitely right we should focus on on similarities more, but going back to your previous comments, I personally got the feeling that the differences were creating a sort of wedge, that did not have to be there. Perhaps the differences should be approached with sense of more tolerance and respect, and to use it as a opportunity to learn and understand and ultimately united in similarities that would be found.

            • Tolerance and respect, as well as understanding, was what I was ultimately going for when I asked questions and even gave one person a compliment. However, I'm not so sure skin colour, which you mentioned is really a difference. It's only a difference when others make it that, but religion is something that is part of us. It is something we learn, from our parents and our culture. As we get older, we have a choice to stay that religion or choose something else, unless we are in a society that doesn't allow for individuals to choose their beliefs or even question the beliefs we grew up with. In a society that allows for religious freedom, people can change their religion just as they change their clothes. Skin colour is nothing but melanin, which we all have to varying degrees, even within families.

              The problem with religion, is that it can not only kill, but our parents and other adults who influences us in childhood, do not allow us to explore the smorgasbord of religions and choose for ourselves. We have to do that when we are grown, esp if our society has religious freedom. By that time, it's too late for some of us, because we are too brainwashed by fear to do any differently. It dominates our minds with fear and even causes some people to go insane.

              The second problem with religion is that all religions are nothing more than primitive tribal superstitions, which have no place in modern society. It is this tribalism that separates us, not skin colour. If skin colour did separate us, then we could not mate each other and have offspring any more than we can mate with a lion or a horse and have offspring. The one exception with tribalism is that, since we all the same species, we can mate with each other and have offspring, thereby imposing our superstitious tribalism on future generations.

              Religious tribalism is also not genetic, which makes it easier to change, if we so choose, less we do genetic manipulation. Then again, disbelief isn't always a choice. However, one can be forced to believe in the Wizard of Oz and believe he created people, through fear and brainwashing, instead evolution and the Big Bang, even into adulthood, yet we shed our beliefs in the tooth fairy and Santa Claus.

              However, that's not the point of this discussion or the article. The point of the article is that there are Muslims who choose to help other human beings and treat them as such, esp in times of disaster. Not all Muslims are evil monsters any more than not all Xians or humanists are evil monsters, but I find it quite interesting you exclude atheists and men from your little group of learning about each other, which makes it sound like only religious women can learn about each other and even segregating them from men, while using your story book, instead of other people's books of Aesop's Fables. Xians are not much different and no that's not Islamophobia, that is a dislike of what religion does to people, not just Islam.


              • Delhi Ekambo

                With respect, you have the right to your views, but the fact is that there are people believe in God/religion, people who don't, and that's the reality. And fact is that unfortunately, there are people in this world who oppress others who don't match their skin color or culture. It's wrong of course but it happens My point was to find ways to unite us, not divide. My faith is not only a choice, but a way that I live my life (as Islam is a way of life). It's apart of what you will get and see when you meet me. As far as our meeting group, I am sure it would be open to everyone, it was just started as a initiative between people of different faiths. I am sure there are groups out there that have a variety of people represented, with a faith or no faith, and that's great if they exist. I personally take offense to your comments towards the end, not really sure how we ended up here, but you have a right to you opinion, as do I. I think that all people (no matter who they are) coming together and helping people in need as for the OK relief efforts is a great thing and what this article was ultimately about. Thank you.

                • "I think that all people (no matter who they are) coming together and helping people in need as for the OK relief efforts is a great thing and what this article was ultimately about. Thank you."

                  And that's the part I agree with wholeheartedly and I agree that is what this article is about. Also, like you, I live by what I do believe, rather than by what I don't believe, thus why I am a humanist and a vegetarian. Kind of difficult to live by what you don't believe when all it is is a lack of belief in any human concept of a deity.

                  As for oppressing people based on colour, which does happen to this day, that is without a doubt (and unarguably) ignorance.

    • NANA

      very short answer to your comment ; please promise to go and read a bit about islam trough internet or books , ncuz majority of people are brainwashed by media when it comes to islam ( this media that created an islamophibia ) …FIND THE TRUTH YOURSELF

      • I think, rather than shouting about finding truth, I think it is better to talk to the people who practice the religion than some internet website and that is what I was talking about- talking to the people who practice it. If you are going to shout from your computer about finding truth, then I don't think it's worth it, because that's is not talking to the people who practice it. There was no Islamophobia in anything I said, just a few statements stating that I tell the people who practice Islam why I'm asking the question I am about to ask. That's the complete opposite of Islamophobia.

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