Last week, the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan was celebrated at the Oklahoma Governor’s mansion. During Ramadan, Muslims are required to fast during the daylight hours, and at the end of the month the feast of Iftar is held. In a display of leadership, Gov. Brad Henry decided to officially host such a feast this year. Among the attendees were Oklahoma heart surgeon Dr.Nazih Zuhdi and the president of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, Imad S. Enchassi. Enchassi reports that there are more than 12,000 Muslims in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area at this time and that there are five mosques where they can worship. Oklahoma City is host to three mosques, while Norman and Edmond each have one.

There are also Muslim grammar schools in Norman, Edmond and Oklahoma City, and plans for the construction of a Muslim high school and cultural center on property purchased by the Islamic Society that is located on North Harvey in Oklahoma City. There is now a Muslim cemetery in Oklahoma City as well. According to Enchassi, more than 60 percent of the Muslims in Oklahoma City are from either India or Pakistan, 25 percent are from the Middle East and North Africa, with the remainder being native born followers of Islam or immigrants from other locales. And while Oklahoma City’s Muslims are physicians, engineers, small businessman, taxi drivers and students at virtually all universities and colleges in the area, they are probably most visible as the Pakistanis who own and operate convenience stores throughout the metropolitan area.

The largest mosque in Oklahoma City is the Masjid An-Nasr mosque that is located on St. Clair Street off the 39th Street Expressway. Several blocks from that house of worship is a strip shopping center off 36th Street and Portland that has several establishments that cater to Muslims. Islamic law requires that animals be slaughtered in a certain manner, and the International Food Mart in that center proclaims on its window that it sells lamb and sheep that have been butchered in accordance with those laws. It also offers its patrons fresh vegetables and tapes of the Koran. Next store is the Khan Baba restaurant, which is owned by two brothers from Pakistan, Feroz and Farukh Khan, and it features a buffet on weekends of Pakistani food that is prepared in accordance with Islamic law. During Ramadan the Khan brothers distribute advertisements to Muslims that offer party trays for when the fast ends that also indicate the times at which the sun will go down on each day of the holy month

Just as Mexican restaurants in Oklahoma that are operated by immigrants from that country often have large screen televisions that feature news and soccer matches from Mexico, Khan Baba has a plasma screen that features a channel in the Pakistani language of Urdu that originates in one of the Arab Emirates that has a large Pakistani community.

At the nearby grocery and video store, Bangla Bazaar, there are flags from Muslim countries and also the American flag hanging from the ceiling, and the proprietor explains to a visitor that he has hundreds of films that have been dubbed in Urdu which are rented by his Pakistani customers. He also points out that the American flag in his store is the most important one, and that he is grateful to the state of Oklahoma for the opportunities that it has afforded him.

In the late 1990s, many Vietnamese immigrants in Oklahoma City began to move to smaller towns in Oklahoma for the purpose of opening Chinese restaurants in those communities, and a similar dynamic seems be at work now for Oklahoma City’s Muslim immigrants, with many of them relocating to places such as Woodward and Altus where they operate small businesses. Like their Asian counterparts, many of them have received assistance in the funding of their new ventures from family members and associates in Oklahoma City

By all accounts, Muslims have been well received in Oklahoma, and many of them relay stories of the unanticipated assistance that they have received from Oklahomans.

Feroz Khan reports that many Muslims left the Houston, Texas area after hurricane Katrina and that some of them have come to Oklahoma because they have heard from their co-religionists here that the state is a good place for them to relocate to.

Several days after the destruction of the World Trade Towers then-Gov. Frank Keating made a public visit to the Masjid An-Nasr mosque, and Enchassi reports that many Oklahomans have displayed similar gestures of support for the state’s Islamic community.

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