Adam Soltani, Executive Director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations shares his take on the new campaign sweeping Oklahoma.
How did #TheMuslimNextDoor campaign come about?
It actually was not my idea. A long-time friend of mine, Sarah Albahadily contacted me and said a friend of hers from college wanted to touch base with me and discuss an idea for a project to challenge Islamophobia. I never turn down offers for contributions to fight bigotry and hatred, so I of course said yes. All it took was one conversation with Arpana Dattilo and the idea was born. We initially planned a photo shoot with photographer Jessica Montgomery and received an awesome response with Muslims attending from all over the state. With the positive response and motivation from our community, we started to put together plans to launch a website, start on a video series, put up billboards and much, much more.
What is the goal of the campaign?
The goal of #TheMuslimNextDoor campaign is quite simply to dispel myths, misunderstandings and stereotypes about Muslims by providing an opportunity for people to get to know Okie Muslims better. It is also to provide a platform for Okie Muslims to tell their stories to people in hopes of challenging Islamophobia in society.
Statistics show that a person that know a Muslim is twice as likely to view them and their faith in a favorable light. We are hopeful this campaign will reach the eyes, ears, and hearts of our fellow Oklahomans and show them Muslims are not much different than they are.
What events can we look forward to in the future?
We will be launching a video series this Fall that will tell the story behind the photos in #TheMuslimNextDoor series. We will start putting billboards up around the state and we will have in-person ‘Meet Your Muslim Neighbors’ gatherings throughout the state.
How can non-Muslims become involved?
By sharing the photos, stories, and videos that are part of the campaign. The only way this campaign will be successful is by the involvement of people that are willing to share the reality of what it means to be an American Muslim with their friends, family, and colleagues.
“The goal of #TheMuslimNextDoor campaign is quite simply to provide an opportunity for people to get to know Okie Muslims better.”
What led to your living in Oklahoma?
I was only 15 when we moved to Oklahoma, so I guess you could say I didn’t have much of a choice. I came with my family when we relocated from Madison, Alabama, after my father received a job at Langston University.
What is your favorite thing about Oklahoma?
Without a doubt, the people. That may seem strange to an outsider that thinks Oklahoma is a bunch of rednecks and hillbillies, crooked politicians and Islamophobes, but nothing could be further from the truth. I have met the most loving, caring, and genuine people I have ever know in the last 19 years I have lived in this state. Whenever I go on vacation or take a business trip, I am always happy to return home and be back with people that will take time out of their day to sincerely get to know you.
Tell me about your family.
I am the oldest of 3 boys. My father is from Iran and my mother is from Olathe, Kansas. I grew up in a mult-cultural, multi-faith home. Growing up we didn’t have the most money in the world but we also did not live in poverty. My parents emphasized the importance of making intentional time to be spent together as a family, the value of money, and the concept of giving back to those in need. We are a close-knit bunch, in particular because we don’t have very much extended family in the United States.
What do you like to do in your free time?
What is that? I have 2 young children and a job that keeps me busy around the clock, I am not sure I really remember what free time feels like. But if and when I do have free time, I like to read books about the American Muslim experience, I always enjoy a good movie, and I have always been a gamer, so I try to sneak in an hour or two a week to play sports games on my Playstation 4.
“I have met the most loving, caring, and genuine people I have ever know in the last 19 years I have lived in Oklahoma.”
How did you end up working at CAIR Oklahoma?
I never had a plan to be the Executive Director of CAIR Oklahoma. In fact when the position opened up many asked if I was going to apply and I said ‘nah, it’s not for me.’ People wouldn’t stop pushing me to apply, however, and after consulting with close family and friends I decided to take a leap of faith. In all honesty, I’m glad I had the right people around me that encouraged me at the right time. This has and continues to be the best experience of my life and one that I almost didn’t even consider in the first place.
What is your favorite thing about the job?
Working with young people. There are so many things I do in my position with CAIR Oklahoma, however, the most rewarding experience is the inspiration I get from witnessing the hope young people have for a better future for our country and their commitment to work towards social change.
Have you encountered any difficulties in the job due to the fact that you’re a Muslim?
Every day ☺. I have worked for CAIR Oklahoma for 5 years and probably have racked up 500 death threats to go along with that. I fight back against injustice, oppression, and discrimination. I’m not afraid to speak my mind. I call people out for things they do wrong, and I show no mercy to racists and bigots. It is not surprising that some people don’t like this. But I always seek refuge in the words of Malcom X which keep me focused: “If we don’t stand for something, we may fall for anything.” Death doesn’t scare me, living in a world in which I’m afraid to speak the truth does.