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State Capitol Hails Local Muslims In "Historic" Ceremony

State Capitol Hails Local Muslims In "Historic" Ceremony

Author Edward Mitchell by

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Photo: Aisha Yaqoob

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal and other state officials recognized members of the Islamic Speakers Bureau's "100 Influential Georgia Muslims" at the State Capitol Building on Tuesday.

Nearly two dozen Muslim-American clergy, doctors, lawyers, artists and activists attended the March 11th event, which included a House resolution hailing the contributions of Georgia's Muslim community as well as remarks by Attorney General Sam Olens, Court of Appeals Judge Carla Wong McMillian, and State Representative Pedro "Pete" Marin.

"The…event at the Georgia Capitol showcased the contributions that American Muslims make every day to Georgia's economy, institutions, healthcare, education, legal system and beyond,” said Soumaya Khalifa, founder and executive director of the Islamic Speakers Bureau.

The ISB spearheaded the 100 Influential Georgia Muslims project last year, selecting honorees based on nominations from the community. The group held a gala honoring the group, created a book highlighting their work, and arranged the Wednesday recognition ceremony at the State Capitol.

“This year, for the first time, Georgia lawmakers and Georgians join with influential Georgia American Muslims throughout our state to celebrate [their] legacy—highlight[ing] the past and present contributions to Georgia and the United States of America,” said Rep. Marin, the first Hispanic-American elected to the Georgia legislature.

During his remarks at a recognition ceremony, Rep. Marin encouraged Georgia Muslims to continue actively participating in the broader community, no matter the push back. He noted that he was unphased and undeterred after his historic election led to racist hate mail and multiple acts of car vandalism.

"You gotta do what you gotta do," Marin said to laughs.

The Democrat’s remarks were echoed by Attorney General Sam Olens, the first Jewish-American elected to statewide office in Georgia. "The more you work with the system, the better the system will work," Olens said, encouraging the Muslim audience to engage with their elected officials by inviting them to religious festivals, and exchanging contact information. 

"It's also important for you as an ethnic minority to reach out and reach out and keep reaching out," he said.

"The more you work with the system, the better the system will work." Olens said

After the Tuesday gathering, Rep. Marin took to the House floor to read Resolution 575, which commends the 100 honorees for being "an integral part of American society" and making "important contributions as Georgians in the fields of finance, technology, law, business, politics, medicine, education, sports, media, the arts, the military, and the government, as well as other areas."

Indeed, among those honored was a former Atlanta judge who, during his childhood in the segregated south, could not have envisioned being recognized in the Georgia state house.

“Our presence in the Capitol dome was historic in that it is a small step toward recognition as a part of the fabric of Georgia’s faith, business, cultural and governmental communities,” said attorney Akil Secret, founder of The Secret Firm. “As an African-American Muslim, the state capitol of Georgia brings back memories of the struggle for equal rights in the not-too-distant past. So for Muslims to be recognized in 2015 is a sign of progress.”

Khalifa agreed, saying, “This type of engagement is necessary to raise the awareness of our lawmakers about us and our community. The feedback received has been extremely positive.” 

Edward Ahmed Mitchell is an attorney based in Atlanta who serves as News Editor of Follow him on Twitter @edmovie.

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