Three Muslim students tried to visit Oklahoma lawmaker John Bennett on Thursday at the State Capitol when they were handed a questionnaire at his office to fill out, which included the question “The Koran, the sunna of Mohammed and Sharia Law of all schools say that the husband can beat his wife. Do you beat your wife?”
The three students were participants in the third annual “Muslim Day” at the Oklahoma State Capitol on Thursday, an event created by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) to build better relationships between the government and the Muslim community, reports the Washington Post.
Anna Facci, an officer with the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), reported that the morning sessions had gone well and that groups had split up in the afternoon to visit the capitol’s different legislators. The survey included questions that “intentionally misinterpreted ideas [from the Koran] to try to slander Muslims,” said Facci.
State Rep. Bennett (R-Okla.)was elected to the state legislature in 2010 and has a history of anti-Muslim sentiment. In 2014, he had called Muslims a “cancer in our nation that needs to be cut out” and then refused to apologize for those public remarks.
Facci claimed that the students knew about Bennett’s history when they tried to visit him. They believed they would be welcomed, given it was “Muslim Day” – they instead were handed this survey and eventually turned away. “Because we were in the State Capitol and because this is a place that’s supposed to be open to everyone … I think they weren’t expected to be treated with that level of disrespect,” said Facci. “One of the students, he just kind of seemed like he was in shock: ‘Can you believe this? Can he do this?'”
On Friday, Bennett confirmed that his office did indeed distribute those questionnaires to the students. In an email to Tulsa World, he wrote, “CANT REFUTE FACTS!” “According to the Qur’an, Hadith and Islamic law, a woman may indeed have physical harm done to her if the circumstances warrant, with one such allowance being in the case of disobedience,” wrote Bennett. “This certainly does not mean that all Muslim men beat their wives, only that Islam permits them to do so.”
The survey was apparently written by a group called ACT for America, which the Southern Poverty Law Center lists as an extremist group, “the largest grass-roots anti-Muslim group in America,” with supposedly 280,000 members in more than 1,000 chapters. From its beginning, ACT for America has tried to brand CAIR as a terrorist organization.
ACT for America has several ties to President Trump; Mike Pompeo, Trump’s CIA director, has previously spoken at ACT conferences and has sponsored an ACT meeting at the Capitol. Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn was the president’s former national security adviser and is now on ACT’s board of advisers.
Adam Soltani, the executive director of CAIR Oklahoma, recorded a video of himself at the Oklahoma State Capitol on Thursday, denouncing Bennett’s survey. In the video, he called ACT for America “an Islamophobic hate group.” “We need to hold this man accountable,” said Soltani. “John Bennett has no right to do this to Muslims or to any group of people. To promote Islamophobia is one thing. But to refuse to meet with members, citizens of the state of Oklahoma unless they answer hateful, bigoted questions is something entirely different.”
Facci has noted that Bennett was Thursday’s exception; other lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats alike, were positively participating in CAIR’s “Muslim Day.”
“It helps our community find strength and solace [knowing that] Rep. Bennett stood alone in his opposition to our community on Thursday,” she said. “There were definitely more representatives and senators in support of us.”
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