In less than two months, the United States Supreme Court will review cases challenging President Donald Trump’s travel ban.
The high court is expected to take up the proposal when it convenes in October.
The travel ban has caused worry and controversy not only for the Muslim communities in the U.S. and around the world, but for those in Oklahoma as well.
Dr. Imad Enchassi, president and founder of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City and a professor of Islamic studies at Oklahoma City University said he wants people to know that the most important thing about Muslims is that not all Muslims are the same.
“You know, there are 1.7 billion Muslims around the world who come from all walks of life. Muslims are moms and dads, and sisters and brothers. They’re pharmacists, doctors, and cab drivers. I guess what I’m trying to say is that Muslims are people,” Enchassi said.
Enchassi says Trump’s travel ban affects minorities on a deeply personal level.
“The Islamophobic atmosphere that’s been created in our nation, coming from the highest office is very problematic on many fronts,” he said. “This whole Islamophobic, anti-immigrant, anti-Hispanic atmosphere really hits me hard personally. My wife is half Hispanic and half Native American, my daughter in-laws are Native American, my grandchildren are Native American, and my mother is Syrian and Palestinian.”
Everything you hear in the media feels like it’s “anti-me,” Enchassi said.
The Supreme Court has already allowed parts of Trump’s Executive Order to go into effect. The order prohibits entry of those from Iran, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen for 90 days, and 120 days for all refugees.
“None of these countries ever committed any acts of violence to the United States of America, and we’re starting to look like what we’re fighting,” Enchassi said.
Enchassi grew up in Palestinian refugee camps and came to the United States when he was 17. He received business management degrees from multiple universities and his bachelors, masters, and doctorate degree in Islamic Studies from the Daawa University Institute, and the University Institute for Islamic Studies in Lebanon.
“As a Palestinian refugee, who believed in the American dream, lived the American dream, got educated, I’d like to consider myself as somebody who contributes to society as an educator,” he said.
In the original executive order issued in January, the Trump administration banned Syrian refugees completely. In March, the White House revised the order and removed Iraq from the list, and lifted the suspension of the Syrian refugee program.
“To see us closing the doors hurts me personally, because the door was open for me and I know what a refugee feels like,” Enchassi said. “I was welcomed here with open arms to this nation and became a citizen. And to see my fellow refugees being denied is heartbreaking.”
Enchassi said he known many people who have visited those countries and are “stuck” there due to the travel ban.
He says those family stories are “heartbreaking, and anti-American” and that “this is not what the Statue of Liberty represents.” Enchassi said all people are created equal and that America has welcomed people from every part of the world, which makes America “great.”
He said they are about eight million Muslims who are U.S. citizens, and about 12,000 U.S. soldiers who are Muslim.
“Just because you are the majority race, does not mean that this country belongs to you,” he said. “This country belongs to all of us.”
Enchassi said he wished the world would be more sensitive.
“I wish we could see each other as creations of Adam and Eve. Regardless of our race, color, national origin, ethnicity, that we’re brothers and sisters. I believe if we see each other as brothers and sisters, a lot of these walls will fall, and we will be advocating to build bridges,” he said.
Enchassi experiences growing up as a refugee around war have lead him down a path spreading understanding and unity in the “vibrant, diverse” Muslim communities in Oklahoma.
Enchassi has won many awards including the CAIR “Lifetime Achievement Award”, CAIR “Inspiration Award,” and the Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice “Humanitarian Award.”
He says, “Sometimes, I think God exposed me to so much hatred and violence so that I can be a voice for love and peace.”
Ahmed Rashid, 25, is an Oklahoma City Community College international student. He attends the ISGOC on Fridays for prayer.
Rashid was born and raised in Qatar. He is here on a student visa. He said international students pay about threes times as much as the regular Oklahoma resident does.
“I’m here by myself,” he said. “The way I pay for school is my dad sending me money from back home.”
Rashid says that international students, especially from third-world countries, feel limited to certain career fields. Because of that, chances of getting a job are low.
“If you’re not here studying anything in science, math, or the health field, it won’t be all that easy for you,” he said.
Days after Trump was elected, Rashid went to go get a haircut. He said after he left, he went to go smoke a cigarette and realized he forgot his lighter. There was a woman nearby smoking as well, and asked if he could borrow her lighter.
She refused, and said “Why don’t you go back to your own country?”
Rashid replied, “Ma’am, I have legal documents to be here.” She replied, “You probably crossed over the barb wire.”
When the travel ban was first issued, Rashid was shocked. “I felt insecure to live in this country, and I still feel unsafe,” he said.
After the ban was issued, OCCC President Jerry Steward sent an email to all students and faculty. Steward’s email said OCCC welcomes and values our international students.
“We support them and are pleased they chose to attend OCCC,” Steward wrote. “It is hoped the executive order will not reduce the opportunity of international students from any country to attend OCCC. This is a time for students, faculty, and staff in the OCCC community to support all our students.”
International students, Steward said, in particular, add much to the fabric of the college. “The opportunity to know, understand, and become friends with those of different countries and cultures is a significant advantage to American students,” he said.
Rashid was surprised that Steward had sent that email, and thought it was very considerate of him to make all international students feel welcomed and not alone.
“I didn’t expect Oklahoma to say something like that, since it is very much a Republican state,” he said.
In its previous ruling the Supreme Court said those from the six Muslim-majority countries with a “credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States” are allowed to enter.
A “bona fide relationship” was defined by the U.S. State Department as parents, parent in-laws, spouses, fiances, children, son and daughter in-laws, siblings, including those that are half and step relationships. That definition was changed to include grandparents, grandchildren, brother and sister in-laws, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins be included in the definition of “close familial relationship.
Until October, those who are directly affected by the ban remain unaware of when they are able to come back to the states.