An Open Letter To The Oklahoma Lawmaker That Likened Islam To Cancer

I will try to explain why what you did last week was wrong.

Dear Representative Bennett,

Last week, you issued a questionnaire to Muslims visiting Oklahoma’s state capital. In this survey, you did not ask these constituents about their aspirations for their state representatives. Nor did you ask them about their stances on current issues like health care reform or gun control. Instead, you asked these Muslims if they beat their wives.

Mr. Bennett, I want to share a few facts on domestic abuse with you. Did you know that Oklahoma ranks 10th in domestic abuse nationally? Are you aware that a third of the women murdered in Oklahoma each year were killed by their husbands? I’m sure you aren’t, because if you were, you would have changed the law in your state that states domestic violence is a misdemeanor if it’s a first offense. Surely, if you had known these facts, you would have also campaigned to change the penalty that punishes first-time domestic abuse offenders with only six months of jail time.

I will give you the benefit of doubt regarding what you said. Because if I don’t, the only other assumption I can make is that you used the plight of abused, helpless women to foster your own anti-Islamic agenda.

And I do not want to make that assumption.

Instead, I want to believe that you, along with every other representative in this nation, are tolerant, open-minded civic officers. I want to trust you. I want to trust in you.

So instead, Mr. Bennett, I will try to explain why what you did last week was wrong. I will try to help you understand, at least a little, why Muslims are upset with you.

Around 30,000 Muslims currently live in Oklahoma. Now, I know this is not a significant number: in fact, it is less than 1 percent of the population. But that doesn’t mean you should disregard these Muslims. They matter, because they are American citizens and Oklahoman residents. They matter, because in this country every citizen matters.

And in this country, every citizen has the constitutional right to meet with his or her state representatives.

The Muslims visiting the capital last week had the right to meet with you.

Mr. Bennett, vetting Muslims who had wished to meet you based on their answers to prejudiced questions on Islam is, at best, ignorant and unethical and at worst, unconstitutional. (I say prejudiced, because I am a Muslim who has read the Quran and I can assure you that it does not condone domestic abuse.)

Furthermore, the Muslim community in Oklahoma has already experienced enough hatred. After the Oklahoma City bombing, for example, a pregnant woman miscarried after a group of Oklahomans threw rocks at her house. Since then, Muslims all over Oklahoma have continued to endure multiple acts of Islamophobia, including the hearings in which you called Islam a cancer.

Last week, you continued this cycle of ignorance. You ignored the opportunity to build a bridge between the local government and its constituents. You overlooked a chance to create positive dialogue with a misunderstood community. In short, you failed to do the job you had been elected to do.

Mr. Bennett, I ask that you issue a formal apology to the Muslim constituents you offended. I ask that you express regret for creating those questions. I ask that you seek forgiveness for your past anti-Islamic comments. I ask that, in the future, you lend not only your office, but also your ears and your contrite heart to the Muslim community.

Is this asking too much of you?

I don’t know. Not yet.

I only hope that I am right; that you do care, at least a little, about Americans like me.


A Muslim-American