Working day in and day out to advocate for religious freedoms for all Oklahomans and improve the lives of Muslims in the state, Adam Soltani is the executive director of CAIR – the Council on American-Islamic Relations. With a master’s degree in human relations with a certificate in organizational diversity and development, along with a degree in sociology, Soltani is uniquely positioned to serve Oklahoma’s Muslim community in various capacities. Along with leading CAIR, Soltani serves as the chair of the Oklahoma Conference of Churches’ Religions United Committee; writes commentary for various news publications; is a regular speaker at Oklahoma universities; and is an adjunct instructor at OSU. Residing in OKC with his wife and two sons, Soltani has received numerous awards and recognition for his advocacy and management style. We caught up with him and got his thoughts on … 

… key lessons he’s learned.

The first one is the importance of relationships. Whether maintaining good familial relationships, work relationships or friendships, we as human beings need one another more than we realize. These human connections fuel and provide us with a sense of fulfillment that you cannot get elsewhere. Secondly, I would emphasize the importance of following your passions. Too often, I witnessed my peers in college following the degree that would one day potentially net them the highest income. I, instead, followed my passions and took a path that no one in my family or social circle had previous to me. 

… CAIR’s core mission.

I summarize all the efforts of CAIR Oklahoma into the following: We strive to improve the quality of life for Muslims in Oklahoma through advocating for better laws and protecting constitutional rights. By extension, CAIR Oklahoma is truly an advocate for religious freedom for all Oklahomans under the United States Constitution.

… his passion for building bridges. 

I was raised in a multicultural, multi-faith home. Born in 1983 to a Shia Muslim father from Iran and a white Catholic mother from Olathe, Kan., the world I was introduced to was not ready to accept me for who I am. People constantly tried to fit me into a box, but I was never white enough or brown enough – I existed with one foot in one world and one in another. I was typically labeled as ‘other.’ I felt marginalized my entire adolescent life, which led to a journey of self-exploration to find my identity. I am so passionate about building bridges and encouraging diversity and religious education because I don’t want my children to go through the same experiences I had to go through just to be able to be myself. To know someone is to understand them, to understand them is to respect them, and to respect them is to have a sense of compassion for what they have been through in life.

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… how he came to CAIR.

I was involved in CAIR Oklahoma from its founding in 2006. Lobna Hewedi recruited me as a board member while I was still in college as a youth representative. I was blessed to have the opportunity to assist in opening our first office and hiring our first staff member, until I stepped away from the board two years later to focus on settling down and starting my master’s degree. 

However, as is typical with nonprofit work, I never could step away, and continued to volunteer at CAIR events and even built the first website for the organization from scratch in my spare time. In 2012, the position of executive director was posted. The thought to apply crossed my mind, but lacking confidence that I was fit for the part, I ignored it – that was, until my predecessor Muneer Awad called me and convinced me that I made a good candidate and should apply. 

…what he’s looking forward to.

I look forward to the day I can retire and spend all my time buried in books. I am a bit of a bookworm, but rarely get time to enjoy a good book and a cup of coffee in my line of work. But I cannot and will not retire until and unless I train the next generation of leaders to continue the fight of protecting our civil liberties in the United States. I hope that one day I will be able to observe with pride as I hand CAIR Oklahoma over to its next leader that will grow its capacity and influence far beyond anything I ever imagined. It will be in that moment that I will be able to know I completed my mission in life. 

… his proudest moments.

Through my work with CAIR Oklahoma over the last decade, we have instilled a sense of pride in identifying as a Muslim in Oklahoma. We like to call it #OkieMuslimPride, and we have successfully run many campaigns behind this concept over the years. The other accomplishment that I must mention was establishing the Oklahoma Muslim Day at the Capitol in 2015. This annual event has provided a platform that before this never existed, to allow the Okie Muslim community to have themselves represented during Legislative Session at the Capitol every year. And in 2020, this led to the first-ever Muslim being elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives – far sooner than we ever imagined possible.

… awards, recognitions and management style.

Any awards or recognitions I have received over the years are shared with my wife and children. I make sacrifices to do what I do. Still, my wife and children make the more tremendous sacrifice by supporting me and standing by my side, and they deserve to share in the credit. 

Secondly, I am often the first Muslim to ever be recognized in many categories with many of these awards and recognitions. It is for that reason that I always share the prize with my beloved Oklahoma Muslim community. I acknowledge that I would not be who I am today without their love, support, and trust, and I am but a mere reflection of my community. 

I don’t view myself as a manager. I believe my role is to be a leader that inspires and empowers those around him to be their best self in whatever role they find themselves in. Whether it be in my position as executive director of CAIR Oklahoma, adjunct instructor of Islamic Studies at Oklahoma State University, or the various volunteer committees I serve on, I have one goal: to provide the necessary knowledge, resources, and empowerment for individuals to become leaders in their own right. I believe everyone has the potential; they just have not to be given the opportunity or encouragement they need.

… Oklahoma.

I absolutely love Oklahoma! Although I was born and raised in Kansas and spent a few years in Alabama, Oklahoma is where I truly sowed my roots and established my identity as an individual. Not to mention that 12 years ago, I married an Okie, and both our families are here, so Oklahoma is truly home. My favorite things about our state are that you can truly enjoy life and raise a family here. We have so much more diversity in Oklahoma than people tend to recognize. Of course, I cannot forget to mention that the Oklahoma City Thunder experience is second to none.

… OKC in the future.

Would it not be great if we finally win that NBA championship? Seriously, though, I am genuinely pleased with a lot of what I see going on in OKC. I believe Mayor David Holt has changed OKC’s atmosphere for the better. We are witnessing the resurgence of OKC’s Human Rights Commission, and the political representation for the metropolitan area has increasingly become more diverse. The economy seems to be doing quite well. It brings joy to my heart to see Muslims in the OKC metro area finding success in opening their own businesses and running their local companies.

That being said, there is still much work to be done. We still get far too many calls with individuals reporting discrimination at school, at work and with law enforcement. We still have Muslims in the OKC area that do not feel entirely comfortable being themselves. We still see instances of police brutality targeting minorities. We still see a significant amount of individuals that are struggling with homelessness, mental health issues, and drug addiction. As good as I want to say things have gotten, there is still much work to be done.