February 25, 2019
The Council on American-Islamic Relations recently held its annual Interfaith Jummah Prayer event at the state Capitol. The event, also billed as a "Day of Prayer for Our Legislators," included guest speakers from the interfaith community. They included Rabbi Vered Harris, spiritual leader of Temple B’Nai Israel; the Rev. Shannon Fleck, Oklahoma Conference of Churches executive director; and the Rev. T. Sheri Dickerson, co-pastor of The Table Ministries. The gathering also included an interfaith Jummah prayer, which is the Friday communal prayer event for observant Muslims. Lani Habrock, CAIR-OK's government affairs director, said communal prayer is an important part of the Islamic faith. She said it commonly is held in a mosque but can be held at any public location.
Imad Enchassi, senior imam of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, led the prayer event with a keynote address before Muslims gathered to pray together on prayer rugs on the second-floor rotunda. Enchassi's presentation included remarks about an error that occurred when he was denied participation in the House of Representatives' chaplain program. In 2017, Rep. Jason Dunnington, D-Oklahoma City, had asked him to participate in the program to offer morning prayer to the House. However, the imam was rejected for the post by then-coordinator of the program, Rep. Chuck Strohm, R-Jenks. Enchassi brought the matter up at the 2018 Jummah prayer event at the Capitol, and several interfaith leaders were outraged because they felt that the imam was being discriminated against for being Muslim. Strohm eventually resigned as chaplain program coordinator and no longer serves in the Legislature. House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, took over the program. At the recent Jummah prayer gathering, Enchassi said he and the interfaith leaders tried to convey an "unspoken truth: An attack on one religion is an attack on all religions."
He said he recently was encouraged to file a religious discrimination lawsuit against the House of Representatives, but he has chosen not to. "There will be no lawsuit filed against the Legislature of Oklahoma as we heal and move forward," Enchassi said. "I call upon the Legislature, I call upon the new governor, to shake my hand. Let's open a new chapter. ... Our strength comes from our diversity and not our disunity." Jason Sutton, spokesperson for McCall, R-Atoka, said the chaplain program is going well now that it has been re-tooled to follow the congressional model. He said under the remodeled program, only one chaplain serves the House.
Meanwhile, the Feb. 15 event served as a type of prelude to CAIR-OK's annual "Muslim Day at the Capitol," which is March 4.
Adam Soltani, CAIR-OK's executive director, encouraged those gathered to participate in the day of sessions and opportunities for participants to meet with their legislators. Soltani said the Jummah prayer event drew about 150 people. He said he expects Muslim Day at the Capitol to draw about 250 Muslims and interfaith supporters. "It is a day that we, as a community, need to show up," Soltani told the crowd.