By Rob Port | Watchdog.org North Dakota Bureau
BISMARCK, N.D. — A group of Republican lawmakers in North Dakota’s state House of Representatives were upset that a Muslim leader was chosen to deliver an invocation at the beginning of their floor session on Ash Wednesday, a Christian holy day.
As a result, Nadim Koleilat from the Bismarck Muslim Community Center delivered an invocation to the state Senate instead.
Among the lawmakers critical of the invocation was Rep. Dwight Kiefert, a Republican representing District 24 near Valley City. “It’s Ash Wednesday,” Kiefert told Watchdog in a phone interview. “It just wasn’t appropriate.”
He said Christians shouldn’t be “forced” to listen to someone who “worships another god” during “one of the holiest days of the year.”
“In Egypt, Christians are being slaughtered and beheaded,” he said, referring to the murder of a group of Egyptians in Libya by members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.
“We’re for free speech and free religion,” Kiefert said. “We’re against forcing people to participate in something they disagree with.”
Objections to Koleilat’s invocation were also posted on the Facebook page for the District 24 Republicans.
The posting, which has since been taken down, read in part:
“I respect people of other religious backgrounds but given the current situation in world affairs I view this as political correctness at it’s worst. Lets face it, the country has been at war with since september 11th 2001 uses the words of the Koran and the example of their founding prophet Muhammad as justification for the slaughter of infidels, christians, anybody not muslim the world over. Does this amount to the worst form of political correctness?”
The posting was signed with the initials “DJ.” It’s not clear at this point who was responsible for the posting. Kiefert told Watchdog a number of local party activists have access to publish to the page.
Koleilat, a urologist who lives in Bismarck, didn’t respond to messages requesting comment left at his place of business.
Speaker of the House Wesley Belter, a Republican from Fargo, said Koleilat will be invited back to the House to deliver an invocation on another day.
“It was just purely a Christian event, and so there were a number of members that thought it was appropriate to have someone from the Christian faith on that day,” Belter said to the Fargo Forum. “But he will be invited back.”
Both the House and Senate chambers begin floor sessions with invocations delivered by religious leaders from around the state. During past sessions these have included a variety of Christian, Jewish and Native American spiritual leaders. It was not clear at the time of publication if an Islamic leader had ever delivered an invocation to lawmakers previously.
North Dakota is home to the first mosque constructed in the United States. It was built by Syrian-Lebanese immigrants near the City of Ross in the western region of the state.
This was Koleilat’s invocation delivered to the Senate as transcribed from a video recording of the floor session.
“Peace be upon you. In the name of God, the most merciful, the most benefactor, praise be to God, the cherisher and sustainer of the words, most gracious, most merciful, master of the day of judgment. You alone we worship, and you alone we ask for help. Show us the straight way, the way of those on whom you have bestowed your grace, not the way of those who earned your anger nor those who went astray. Oh God, guide us with those whom you have guided, and preserve us with those whom you have preserved. Take us to your care, with those whom you have taken to your care. Bless us in what you have given us. Protect us from the evil you have ordained. Surely you command and are not commanded. And none whom you have befriended shall be humiliated. And none whom you have taken as an enemy shall taste glory. You are blessed, our Lord, and exalted.”