I Am a Muslim American Army Reservist Who Was Turned Away From a Gun Range Because of My Faith

At a time of rising anti-Muslim rhetoric and discrimination, communities nationwide are coming together to push back. This is the second in a series of blog posts meant to highlight this fight for equality and religious freedom.

When I joined the service five years ago, I did so knowing that I am blessed to be born in America.

As Americans, we are afforded an amount of physical, economic, and political stability that seems a rarity in today’s world. Surely, as a Muslim American, all it takes is flipping on the evening news to realize that I am considerably freer here than I would be living in many countries across the Muslim world.

But in spite of these rights, experience has taught me that — on the basis of my faith alone — some people will never treat me as a fellow American. Last fall, I was denied service at a commercial gun range in my home state of Oklahoma as a result of the prejudice and misinformation that caused this business to declare itself a “Muslim-free establishment.” Working with the American Civil Liberties Union and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, I filed a federal lawsuit alleging that my civil rights were violated that day.

When I went to the Save Yourself Survival and Tactical Gun Range last October, I wasn’t looking for any trouble. As an active Army reservist, I shoot regularly to maintain my proficiency in marksmanship. Like the proud Oklahomans of various faiths, I also enjoy it as a hobby that has nothing to do with my religion. When I got to the counter, I signed the waiver and was preparing to pay my fee as part of standard procedure. But the transaction was never completed because as soon as I identified myself as Muslim, things took a frightening turn.

The owners of the range grabbed their handguns and demanded to know whether I was there to “commit an act of violence” or as part of a “jihad.” I was nervous about what would happen next, being outnumbered two to one, but I didn’t return the animosity.

I have had practice dealing with Islamophobia by now, and I’ve learned that personal interaction can change minds. When people get to know me as an individual, many come to realize that their fears are unfounded.

Sensing that the owners misguidedly believed that the Qur’an requires me to commit violence, I calmly explained a few essential verses from the Qur’an that idealize quite the opposite. The Qur’an forbids murder: “Do not take life, which God made sacred, except by way of justice and law (state authority for a crime)” (6:151) as well as the oft-repeated verse that equates killing a single person with the murder of all mankind (5:53).

I continued to explain that I am a U.S. Army reservist and even accepted the condition that I could only go onto the range if accompanied by the owners. But still it seemed that the longer we spoke, the more hostile they became toward the idea of allowing me to use the facilities at all. Ultimately, the owners told me that I couldn’t use the range and forced me to leave.

I’ve had my share of hostile encounters with people who dislike Muslims, but I’ve found that fear and hatred is always informed by ignorance. In fact, I’ve made some friends as a result of tough and candid conversations that focus on learning about one another and dispelling myths.

If people just took the time to know their neighbors — not the religion, but the people — this shameful blight on the American identity would become a thing of the past.

I was born and raised right here in Tulsa, Oklahoma. At least six generations of my family have called this state home, and I enjoy living here. Just as I would fight to defend American rights and freedoms around the world, I have a duty to do the same at home. Today, I’m proud to confront an injustice that erodes the constitutional value guaranteeing freedom for all faiths.  

Read the first post in this series: Why I Have Hope For American Muslim Equality

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Anonymous

"...as soon as I identified myself as Muslim, things took a frightening turn."
Refusing service based on religion is illegal discrimination and is not to be condoned. However, I must say that I have never once been asked my religion or even had it come up in conversation while checking in at a shooting range. How, exactly, did this situation come about?

DB

What difference does it make how it came up? Perhaps they asked him when they saw he filled out the form with an Arabic name, or perhaps he volunteered the information (which isn't so crazy considering they had a sign saying Muslims aren't welcome, once he saw the sign he would have been committing a lie of omission if he didn't admit the truth about himself). Why should it even matter?

I don't know why you're asking the question, but I really hope you're not entertaining the thought that he's some kind of troublemaker for revealing that information about himself. Because that's not relevant. He's the victim here, not the shooting range proprietor. The proprietor is the guilty perpetrator.

Your own experiences aren't relevant here. This isn't about you. If you look white and you have a name indicating European ancestry, your experiences interacting with some people are going to be different than someone who is a person of color and has an Arabic name.

Anonymous

You're probably a white person, so you wouldn't know how it feels to be discriminated against. You have privileges when you're white. People assume you're Christian. So that's why religion probably never comes up for you wherever you go. But don't worry, I don't know what it feels like to be discriminated against either. I'm mixed (white and Vietnamese) but I look more white (unless I do my makeup to look more Asian) so people assume I'm Christian but I'm not. But for middle eastern Asians, people assume the worse because the media misinformes this ignorant nation. Before you judge, do some research and I mean real research. Not bias news article. Read the Qur'an, read scholarly articles. Read articles on trusted sites. The news we see everyday on tv is no longer real, it's all bias.

Anonymous

I caught the same detail left out of the article. It does matter how it came up, but maybe if it's in litigation as we speak, he's been advised not to publically go into a verbatim account of the incident. Most things come down to details, but the American public prefers sensationalist headlines and memes or course.

Anonymous

I caught the same detail left out of the article. It does matter how it came up, but maybe if it's in litigation as we speak, he's been advised not to publically go into a verbatim account of the incident. Most things come down to details, but the American public prefers sensationalist headlines and memes or course. If the employee started giving him a hard time because of his name, sure they're at fault, but if the guy walked in with an attitude, especially at a place like a shooting range (a little different than a bar or something) it could easily tilt things the other way. I've only been to a shooting range once in my life (begged to go by a friend) and it was a nice sunny day, and I was immediately annoyed with all these out of shape people there who in my opinion thought they were tough because they had a gun. But I chose to go there too, so I just kept my mouth shut and it was a worthwhile experience (too damn loud though :))

AnonymousToo

First I'll own up to not entirely trusting the ACLU on gun law because they still claim the Second Amendment doe snot protect an individual right to keep and bear arms. If not for that, I'd donate to them.

However, banning all people from a business for being a particular religion is kinda' stupid. Especially when nearly every religion on this Earth is represented on the tombstones of fallen heroes in Arlington National Cemetery.. That includes the Crescent Moon of Islam. If there can be Muslims who died for this country, there can sure as hell be Muslims who do not interpret their religion as requiring them to attack the very country they have sworn to protect. So putting up that sign was an insult to brave Americans who bled and died so some loose sphinctered afraid of his own shadow fool could post a "Muslim Free Zone" sign on his storefront.

Look, I'll admit I do not get the whole religion thing. My holy document is the Constitution of the United States. But peculiar and incomprehensible though religion may be, it is obviously not the only thing we need to evaluate in taking the measure of a person.

I hope this guy wins his lawsuit. I hope the owners of the establishment wise up as well. Would be even better if they all reached an out of court settlement, with only costs being paid.

Tricia

I am so sorry you experienced this. Fighting bigotry and fear with the ACLU by your side is an act of bravery. I hope you win a clear victory.

Anonymous

Hoo ra! I would say, "Hoo yah, shipmate," if you were a fellow Sailor, but I'll go with yours... Hoo ra! Even if it was an activist project, you've done your part to strengthen religious freedom for Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Atheists, etc. Love my brothers and sisters!

Susan Shortill

Sir, you are a human being who chose to stand up in defense of me and my family. But even if you didn't, we are a family that chooses to stand up for you and your faith. Thank you so much, to you and your family, for all that you sacrifice, and you can count on us to support you too.

Cherry Teresa

Much respect to the ACLU for fighting this. Some similar orgs wouldn't touch this case because it deals with a gun range. But discrimination is wrong and wrong should be fought against. Bravo, ACLU.

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