The flavor of the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo for a long time has contained a full measure of religion.
That has been most evident in commentary by veteran rodeo announcer Bob Tallman, the weekly Cowboy Church assembly and the short pre-performance prayers offering blessings on contestants, animals, participants and U.S. military personnel, including a plea for world peace.
In the past, that religious tone was mostly Protestant Christian, but that has expanded this year — not in the content themes of the invocation, but in the clergy who recite the prayers.
Last spring, the Stock Show, in recognition of the growing diversity in our community as well as its growing audience, established a faith-based committee representing various denominations and religions to choose the clergy to give the opening prayers.
For the rodeo performance last Sunday night, Imam Moujahed Bakhach of the Islamic Association of Tarrant County was selected for that role, which Stock Show President Brad Barnes said was “spot-on” and “very appropriate.”
But while the audience that night was attentive and respectful, it didn’t take long for social media to light up with postings that a “Muslim prayer” had been offered at the Stock Show, which some harshly criticized as highly inappropriate.
Stock Show officials were quick to respond via social media that there “was never a Muslim prayer — or a prayer of any specific religion at the Stock Show this year,” and reiterated its attempts to appeal to visitors from around the state, the nation and the world.
For several years, the annual event that draws international attention has reached out to various communities through different activities, including the annual “Cowboys of Color” rodeo. For that, and for making the pre-rodeo blessings an interfaith affair, it should be commended.
Unfortunately, there has been an increase in anti-Muslim sentiment recently, corresponding with a rise in terrorist attacks around the world. But it is wrong to blame every Muslim for the actions of a relative few, just as it is wrong to blame all Christians for bigoted and violent behavior by some members of that faith.
According to the 2010 Census, Texas is home to more Muslims (421,972) than any other state in the country. They are our neighbors, co-workers and leaders in various segments of our community. And they deserve respect.
They must not face discrimination based on their religion.