Meet the attorneys representing Somali-American terror suspects

By Jamal Abdulahi, Star Tribune

Abdulahi_Jamal_colCircleTrials for the seven Somali teens arrested for attempting to join ISIS are scheduled to begin in September. The suspects could spend years in prison if convicted. Defense attorneys have said little outside of court, but one thing is certain: The deck is stacked in favor of the prosecutor.

When Reverend Al Sharpton eulogized the late defense attorney Jonnie Cochran, he told mourners: “With all due respect to you, Brother Simpson, when we heard about the acquittal, we weren’t clapping for O.J., we were clapping for Johnnie. We were clapping because for decades our brothers, our cousins, our uncles had to stand in the well with no one to stand up for them. And finally a black man came and said, ‘If it don’t fit you must acquit,’”

Sharpton went on. “Johnnie Cochran was to this era what Thurgood Marshall was to the era before.”

Sharpton was making a broader point about the American judicial system. The difference between walking free and serving lengthy prison sentences depends largely on the rigor of the defense.

And of course, quality of defense is often tied to wealth or lack thereof.  O.J. Simpson was enormously wealthy.

The seven Somali-American teenagers are standing in a deep well alone. The current political atmosphere in America makes it nearly impossible to defend charges of conspiracy to provide “material support” to a designated terrorist organization. The defendants’ identities only deepen the well.  The combination of being black, Muslim and immigrant amounts to three strikes and you’re out in post-September 11 America.

These teenagers and their immigrant families are not wealthy. In addition to the most serious charge of conspiracy, two of the defendants are charged with financial fraud by resorting to withdrawals from their college financial aid funds to allegedly finance their travel plans. This underscores the point: The defendants can’t afford a Cochran-style defense.

When defendants are not able to afford attorneys, the government provides a public defender. The problem is, the federal public defender system is plagued by chronic budget shortfalls, including a $52 million in 2013.

Continue reading at Star Tribune

Jamal Abdulahi is an independent analyst. He writes about politics, economy and Minnesota’s Somali-American community. He also blogs at http://www.minnesotacivic.com.

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A place for Hamza

By Ibrahim Hirsi, St. Cloud Times

IbrahimHirsiIllo400On Saturday, Abdilahi Hassan did the hardest thing a parent can do: He buried his son.

Hamza Elmi, the 6-year-old whose body was found last week near the Mississippi River, was buried in a Muslim-only section of the North Star Cemetery in St. Cloud.

“Hamza left us all,” said an emotional Hassan, whose reddened eyes attested to almost three sleepless and tearful days. “That’s all I can say for now.”

Almost 300 men huddled around Hamza’s grave to mourn and bury the autistic and nonverbal Madison Elementary School student, whose pink scooter led him to his tragic demise after he slipped away from home last Thursday night.

An overnight search by community members and police ended Friday when Hamza was found dead just 10 to 15 feet off the west bank of the river.

Although Muslims traditionally bury their deceased within 24 hours, the post-mortem examination, also known as autopsy, delayed the process: He was found Friday morning and was laid to rest Saturday afternoon.

“It’s encouraged to bury the body as soon as possible,” said Mohamed Nuh Dahir, an imam with the Islamic Center of St. Cloud. “But it’s fine if the body isn’t buried right away because of medical examination.”

Continue reading at St. Cloud Times

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McKnight/Concordia study fills in data gaps on African immigrants’ impact in Minnesota

By Ibrahim Hirsi, MinnPost

IbrahimHirsiIllo400On a recent warm evening, Eritrean-born Afeworki Bein got busy serving beer, coffee and food as a long line of customers snaked insight Snelling Café, which he’s owned and operated since 2003.

When Bein, who immigrated to the United States 28 years ago, first opened his business in St. Paul, he only served coffee and soft drinks. But once he noted the increasing immigrant population in the Hamline-Midway neighborhood 10 years ago, he expanded the space and added new items to the menu.

“There were not these many people here,” said Bein, comparing the current African immigrant population in the Twin Cities to that in the ‘80s and ‘90s. “There were a few … and I knew them all.”

The neighborhood has now blossomed into a business hub for African immigrants in the Twin Cities, a home to thousands of immigrants and refugees, may of them from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Cameroon, Liberia, Nigeria and Somalia.

Bruce Corrie, an economics professor at Concordia University in St. Paul, has been studying the economic growth of these communities for years.

In his latest “The Economic Potential of African Immigrants in Minnesota” report, Corrie unveiled the growing entrepreneurship and economic boom of African immigrants in Minnesota as well as the obstacles they’re facing in their pursuit of entrepreneurial success.

The community generates an estimated $1.6 billion in income purchasing power each year, according to the report. In the Twin Cities metro area alone, African immigrants spend an annual $800 million purchasing groceries, electronics, furniture and healthcare, among other things.

Funded by the McKnight Foundation, the report pulls information from more than 600 customer and business surveys, which Corrie and his team conducted in the Twin Cities, Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center.

“The consumer and business surveys indicate that there is a sizeable market for ethic products,” stated the report, which was published in May. “For example, African immigrants in Minnesota spend an estimated $90 million in groceries at ethnic stores.”

Continue reading at MinnPost

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With social media, moms aim to end racism in St. Cloud

By Ibrahim Hirsi, St. Cloud Times

IbrahimHirsiIllo400Natalie Ringsmuth and Kelly Meyer have an ambitious plan for St. Cloud: to create a united community, despite longstanding racial and religious tensions between black and white residents here.

The idea struck the pair following the Tech High School incident in March, when more than 100 students — many of them Somalis — walked out of their classes to protest alleged discrimination and mistreatment.

As tensions grew at Tech, the flood of messages on the St. Cloud Times comment section left Ringsmuth and Meyer bewildered.

“It wasn’t until I read the comments that I really understood that this was highlighting a larger problem in our community,” said Ringsmuth, a Waite Park mother of three.

“When you come to this country and you’re told to go back to where you came from,” she continued with tears clouding her eyes, “how would you feel?”

Like Ringsmuth, Meyer said she was astounded how people reacted to the Tech incident and the misconceptions many had about Somalis.

“I feel like if you’re not speaking up and doing something to better it, you’re part of the problem,” said Meyer, a St. Cloud mother of two. “I didn’t want to be part of the problem.”

Continue reading at St. Cloud Times

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Chattanooga Killings: Motive Unknown

By Fedwa Wazwaz, Engage Minnesota

But they have no knowledge therein.
They follow nothing but conjecture;
and conjecture avails nothing against Truth.

(Quran 53:28)

fedwaOn July 16, 2015, Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez killed five U.S. service members in a shooting rampage in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  The 24-year-old gunman, joked that he was just an “Arabian redneck,” was smoking marijuana with friends and struggled to stay devout to Islamic teachings.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, immediately condemned the deadly attack in Tennessee.

In a statement, CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad said:

“We condemn this horrific attack in the strongest terms possible. Such inexcusable acts of violence must be repudiated by Americans of all faiths and backgrounds. The American Muslim community stands shoulder to shoulder with our fellow citizens in offering condolences to the loved ones of those killed and injured and in rejecting anyone who would harm our nation’s safety and security. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families impacted by this tragedy.”

Likewise, the Minnesota chapter of CAIR responded immediately as well.  Executive Board Member Sakinah Mujahid who is a 13 year veteran of the US Army said:

“We condemn this horrific attack in the strongest terms possible. Such inexcusable acts of violence must be repudiated by Americans of all faiths and backgrounds. The American Muslim community stands shoulder to shoulder with our fellow citizens in offering condolences to the loved ones of those killed and injured and in rejecting anyone who would harm our nation’s safety and security. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families impacted by this tragedy.”

Initial theories on the possible motive behind the Chattanooga killings appear to be just pure conjecture or guesswork.

In an effort to fill in the gaps while reinforcing the stereotypes that inform our world view, people espouse these speculative theories to create a sense of control or to separate themselves from the horrible crime as far as possible.

Some non-Muslims indicate normal Islamic teachings as a possible motive for the crime, while some Muslims are pointing to some of his unIslamic behavior.

Islamic teachings did not radicalize him.  Many Muslims believe in the teachings that the world is a prison, meaning – be patient as when one is in a physical prison – you accept it and seek God’s help to be patient.  Deal with life’s hardships and don’t expect utopia.  Not all Muslims who believe that go shooting people.  I believe that.  It teaches one to expect hardships in life.  i discussed this Islamic teaching in a blog on Lessons on Power and Oppression from Moses.  From the blog, here is a clarification of what life is a prison means:

He[Moses] had completely nothing with him, and fully exhausted himself – to the very depth of his body and soul in pursuit of survival.  It is not an easy experience – but in that state – what does he do?

Some would commit suicide, others go on shooting rampage, and others on drugs to numb their feelings or escape from the pain, fear and a whole new reality.  He just experienced and accepted the event.  He surrendered to the new reality he was in as this is where God brought him to.  Then, in a state of dire need and exhaustion, he saw two women who had a need.  Instead, of being absorbed with his need and his near starvation and exhaustion, he got up and approached them, asked a clarifying question, then addressed their need.  He asked them for nothing in return.  He made no assumptions or ugly accusations about their standing with their flock instead of a male relative.  Afterwards, he turned to God and put forth his prayer asking for “whatever good that You bestow on me.”

Life is a prison is about surrendering to God’s will and facing hardships with faith.

Likewise, I know many Muslims who engage in unIslamic behaviors, like drugs, drinking and even go to strip joints, etc.,  That doesn’t mean they are going to shoot people as well.  Some of them would go out of their way to help people.  They are human beings struggling with human problems in their lives like most humans do in various parts of their lives.  Some of them turned their lives around.  We read such stories all the time.  Here is a recent story on StoryCorps here.

There is no clear predictor for what turns a person to engage in violence.   A 2008 UK study showed no identifiable pattern to “radicalization.”  In the document, Rethinking Radicalization from the Brennan Center for Justice:

An in-depth empirical study by the UK’s security service MI5 found that “there is no single pathway to extremism,” and that all those studied “had taken strikingly different journeys to violent extremist activity.”

The point is – we are just conjecturing and sensationalizing a feel good story.

Simply put, the motive for the Chattanooga killings is unknown.

Fedwa Wazwaz is a Palestinian-American born in Jerusalem, Palestine and raised in the US.  She is the chair for the Interfaith Relations at Islamic Center of Minnesota.  She has completed training in restorative justice at the University’s Center for Restorative Justice and Peacemaking.  She was a 2008-2009 policy fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.  She lives in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota.

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Blessed Festival of Fast Breaking

Blessed Festival of Fast Breaking

Eid Al-Fitr, or Festival of Fast Breaking comes right after a pillar of Islam called the Sawm in the Holy month of Ramadan.  The day begins with a special congregational prayer followed by a short sermon.  People are dressed in their best clothing, and children traditionally receive new clothing as well as other gifts.  Food, holiday congratulations, and festivities such as rides, balloons, and other fun activities for children follow the prayers.  The holiday lasts for three days during which people usually visit or invite each other.

Eid Mubarak or Blessed Return!  May God, Mighty and Majestic accept all of our good deeds and efforts during the month of Ramadan.  May God grant us His enabling grace to take the lessons and reflections with us throughout our lives so that we may benefit and receive benefit.  May God increase us to be more conscious of Him and grateful for all the blessings that are too numerous to count.

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A Powerful Interfaith Night

By Hanadi Chehab, American Diversity Report

Two events taking place in one venue occurred in the community of Plymouth, MN on Friday, July 10, 2015. As Muslims are witnessing the last few days of the fasting month of Ramadan, an “Interfaith Iftar”, or fast-breaking meal, and a “Night of Power” event joined forces to host 300 people, a mix of different faiths, ages and backgrounds, in the heart of the local mosque, North West Islamic Community Center (NWICC).

The objective was to familiarize people with the lives of Muslims and give them a chance to witness them worshiping in the most sacred month of the year. In Ramadan, the 9th lunar month, also called the month of the Quran, Muslim adults fast from before the break of dawn until sunset, abstaining from food, water and any intimate physical activity. In North America, the fast can range from 15 to 18 hours. In the “Night of Power” event, a group of Muslim families invited their neighbors, friends and colleagues to witness a fast-breaking meal together. “In a way, it was intimidating to ask people to join. We did it because we want to share our faith. Islam is a beautiful religion and people will witness that for themselves in the heart of our place of worship,” said Mona who invited her colleague.

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Continue reading at American Diversity Report

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Hanadi Chehab is a writer and blogger currently living in Minnesota, with her family of three children. Previously published on MinnPost and http://www.asamuslima.com. 
Before coming to the US Hanadi was a communication specialist working across different media platforms. She was a creative editor, previous TV presenter and program manager, jury member for various award shows in the Middle East, and reporter of the Cannes Advertising Festival. At the beginning of her career as a copywriter, Hanadi was awarded the Gold award for Cannes Young Lions on behalf of United Arab Emirates.

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Muslim community opens 4th Islamic center in St. Cloud

By Ibrahim Hirsi, St. Cloud Times

IbrahimHirsiIllo400In 2013, the Islamic Center of St. Cloud proposed a plan to build a mosque in a residential area near Clearwater Road, only to withdraw its application after strong public resistance to the proposal.

Last Friday, however, Islamic Center of St. Cloud President Mohayadin Mohamed explained how the lost battle became a blessing in disguise: The Islamic center recently purchased a church in the city that embodies nearly everything the center sought in the failed plan — and at a lower price.

In April, the former Good News Assembly of God church at 712-17th Ave. S was converted into a mosque and classrooms for the growing Muslim population in the city. The building is the former Garfield Elementary School. The site is St. Cloud’s fourth mosque; others are located on Fifth Avenue South, Fourth Avenue South and Third Street North.

Randy Adams, former pastor of Good News Assembly of God, congratulated the leaders of the Islamic center for the purchase.

“They were easy to work with,” Adams said. “They were good people. We wish them the best.”

The 46,640-square-foot facility — which consists of 20 classrooms, seven offices, a cafeteria and a space that can hold up to 400 parishioners — cost the center $850,000.

“After the city rejected the plan to build a mosque, we were looking for another option,” Mohamed said. “But we found this place … a better place than the one rejected.”

Continue reading at St. Cloud Times

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‘We want to show our identity as Somali Muslim women — but also, we want to look good’

By Ibrahim Hirsi, MinnPost

IbrahimHirsiIllo400Sofia Hersi broke out into a smile.

A pair of customers entered her small clothing store in the Karmel Square mall in Minneapolis last week, and Hersi rose from her stool to walk up to the two young Muslim women, who were shopping for the weekend Eid al-Fitr festival, which marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Hersi welcomed the shoppers as they caught glimpses of an abaya — a loose, robe-like dress — hanging from the wall without a price tag.

“Where did you buy this from,” one customer asked, “and how much is it?”

“Abu Dhabi,” Hersi replied, “and that one is $70.”

Hersi, 27, opened her shop, Modern Closet, in partnership with her friend Istar Mohamed in April. Their aim was to cater to young Muslim women who had a taste for the traditional  — and for stylish clothing.

The store sells various items, including traditional dresses, scarves, handbags, clutches, sunglasses, rings and necklaces — some of them imported from the Middle East and others from New York and Los Angeles.

Older women have tended to dominate the female clothing market in the Twin Cities Somali community, Hersi explained. But in recent years, the industry has seen an increase in a new generation of entrepreneurs, who have joined the field to bring new, more stylish design ideas to young Muslim women.

Prior to opening Modern Closet, Hersi was a regular customer at Karmel Square. But she often came and went without buying anything, unsatisfied with what was around. “When I tried to find clothes in these stores, it was tough because most businesses were owned by older women like your mom and grandma,” she explained. “They were having a hard time finding what young women wanted.”

“Modern Closet is here to fill that void,” she said. “We want to be fashionable, we want to represent our culture and we want to show our identity as Somali Muslim women — but also, we want to look good.”

Continue reading at MinnPost

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Kenyan refugee camp friendship rekindled in St. Cloud

By Ibrahim Hirsi, St. Cloud Times

IbrahimHirsiIllo400The recent stream of Somali immigrants and refugees who are making their mark in St. Cloud is partly the reason Hussein Mohamud and Feisal Ali decided to live in the city.

The childhood friends who grew up in the dusty and arid Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya also picked St. Cloud to be closer to their families here — and to Minneapolis, which has a vibrant Somali-American presence and serves as the capital city for Somalis in North America.

“It’s a small place,” Ali said of St. Cloud. “Anywhere you want to go in the city is just about 10 minutes away. People really like that.”

Mohamud added: “St. Cloud is really a nice city. It’s promising for young Somalis … many kids are graduating from colleges and high schools.”

Before their arrival in St. Cloud, Mohamud and Ali spent more than two decades in Dadaab, the largest refugee camp in the world.

Both escaped the civil war in Somalia — which erupted in 1991 — and sought refuge in the camp, which has more than 400,000 people. They initially thought the war would end sooner and planned to return home in a matter of months.

That wasn’t the case, however.

The civil war in Somalia stretched into decades. For Ali and Mohamud, this meant living more than 20 years in dire conditions in the camp.

Continue reading at St. Cloud Times

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Ramadan and Your Health

By Rwoof Reshi, Engage Minnesota

scopeRamadan tests a Muslim’s physical, mental and spiritual being. This is great news for Minnesota winters as days are short and physically it is not taxing. However, the story is different when it comes to long hard days of Minnesota summer and it gets even further complicated when you have a medical condition to deal with.

There are certainly major medical benefits to fasting. Spiritual and religious reasons aside, one of the major benefits of fasting being able to control eating. This is one of the many reasons for obesity in western world and it disproportionately affects immigrants. Obesity in turn causes high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and strokes.

Let me address some of the common medical conditions that might need special attention during fasting in the month of Ramadan.

Read more »

Global Impact Day and Charity

By Memoona Ghani, Engage Minnesota

Memona

July 4th came and gone.

July 5th came and gone.

But the memories, experiences and the friends of Al Maghrib Impact Muslim volunteers gained in these 2 days will stay with us forever. As part of the Global Impact Day, the Al Maghrib Impact volunteers of Minnesota served food at 2 different homeless shelters and the level of compassion of these volunteers coming out of these shelters was more than it was going in. Hearing about something and then “seeing” that something adds a different level of understanding about that certain situation. Likewise, hearing about homelessness from news or the Internet and then serving the homeless people while listening to their stories and struggles was entirely a different experience.

These experiences brought humility to the volunteers’ experience. We realized the blessings we have been given and increased in understanding the Islamic teachings: “there is a share for the poor and needy in your income.”

In our discussions we expressed that the fact that God has put some of us in this trial of homelessness and poverty is not because one group of people is somehow better than the other, rather it is that God has put the share of the needy in the income of those who are in a better situation. This is so some of us in a better financial situation will help people in need. This in the end will bring our hearts closer to each other, hence building a better brotherhood and sisterhood. It is just so amazing to see that the solution to most of our problems lies in simple acts and gestures done on a continuous basis.

On July 4th, the Impact volunteers served food at St. Anne’s Shelter in Minneapolis. Since this is a Women and Children only shelter, we wanted to do much more for this day but as per Shelter’s request they only delivered the food with some Independence Day decorations to go along with. Volunteers took the prepared food to the location around 4 pm and the shelter coordinator was kind enough to let the volunteers set the food and some decorations before serving.

Read more »

Global Impact Day and Ramadan

By Memoona Ghani, Engage Minnesota

Follow the hashtag #GID and #GlobalImpactDay

MemonaLove for Ramadan is something that is introduced to kids by parents and with time they learn the significance of this beautiful month as their faith and love increases for this month even more. In 2015, Ramadan started on June 18th and we are now past the middle of the month.

Ramadan is the month when practicing Muslims observe daily fasts for a whole month. Everyday during this month, Muslims stop eating and drinking after sunrise and break their fast at sunset. This sequence might seem boring and tiring but in fact it is not. Also eating and drinking is not the only highlight of this beautiful month.  Acts of worship increase during this month, such as worship by praying late at night and other extra worship in any way possible during daytime.  These acts of worship – fast breaking, praying at night in a group or congregation makes it even more beautiful and rewarding.

Along with many extra acts of worship done during this month, 2 are always common:

  • Giving Charity to the people and places that need it regardless of their faith.
  • Sharing a meal with others regardless of their faith

Muslims try to collect as much money possible at an individual or at a group level and donate it to various areas such as social service organizations, orphanages, areas hit by calamities, refugees, non-profit schools or civil service organizations etc.,

Read more »

My Image, Honor, and Reputation

By Fedwa Wazwaz, Engage Minnesota

“When you are hurt by people not showing you favor, or by them directing their criticism towards you, then return to Allah’s knowledge of you. If His knowledge does not satisfy you, then your misfortune through your dis-satisfaction with Allah’s knowledge is worse than your misfortune through the presence of their harm.”
— Ibn Ata’Allah al-Iskandari

fedwaWhat is image?  Image is our perception either of ourselves or of others.  It lacks understanding, depth, and breadth – it’s just a snapshot, if you will.  Carl Jung said perception is projection.  What does this mean?  We all have a shadow self, a hidden personality that we do not like. When we are listening and engaging others in a reflective mode, we are aware of that personality and don’t disown it.  We work on it continuously and repetitively — that’s what Ramadan invites us to do and take with us the rest of the year.

However, when we disown parts of our personality, we project them onto other people, in a scapegoating way, in order to feel better about ourselves and to avoid any spiritual growth.

When we obsess or become fixated on a particular group or individual, and use that image to engage them, that is projection.  We must stop and ask ourselves the following six questions:

  1. Do I know them beyond that perception?
  2. How much effort have I made to know them as human beings?
  3. How much of my time is spent psychoanalyzing the other’s flaws?
  4. How often do I find myself pointing out their flaws to fix them?
  5. Do I find myself feeling good after fixing their flaws?
  6. How well do I receive advice from this “other?”

Now pause and reflect: How are the flaws that characterize this “other” representative of you? How much of the bad that you see in this little-known other, if you were to be really honest with yourself, exists in you?

Read more »

Ramadan – An Exercise in Self restraint

By Sarah Siddiqui, Engage Minnesota

Ramadan is a sacred month for the Muslims.  Muslims believe that this is the month in which the first revelation of the Quran, Muslims’ holy book, came down to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). In Ramadan, Muslims are required to fast from dawn to sunset.  Fasting is not just refraining from eating and drinking, but also staying away from acts such as cursing, backbiting, and so on. It’s the time of the year when Muslims try to become closer to God and try to humble themselves.

I think Muslims are the only people who actually look forward to a month where they can’t eat or drink, sunrise to sunset. But, there are many reasons as to why Muslims look forward to this month of fasting.  Fasting in Ramadan helps them become more patient, and allows them to learn self-restraint.  Food is everywhere. Literally! So, it requires a huge amount of restraint in order to not be tempted to break their fast. Also, people around them, like at work or school, would eat in front of them, which also aids in strengthening their resistance to give in. As said earlier, fasting for Muslims does not only mean no drinking and eating, it also means no bad habits like backbiting, cursing, or fighting. So, Muslims use this month to get rid of their bad habits. For example, if someone has a really bad habit of cursing and a situation in which they would usually curse comes up, he/she would restrain him/herself from cursing. This way, their resistance towards the bad habit will build up and, by the end of the month that habit will be gone. This is one of the biggest reasons why Muslims look forward to the month of Ramadan: to get rid of bad habits.

Read more »

As Ramadan begins, Minneapolis makes life a little easier for Muslim businesses

By Ibrahim Hirsi

IbrahimHirsiIllo400

One spoon at a time, Abdirahman Mukhtar finished his plate of rice and chicken Wednesday afternoon at the Geeljire Grill in the Palestinian-owned Karmel Square mall in south Minneapolis.

“This will be my last daytime meal for the next 30 days,” Mukhtar said with a big smile. “No food or water for long hours.”

Thursday marks the beginning of Ramadan, a month of fasting from dawn to dusk with deep reflection and intense prayers for Muslims throughout the world.

In Minnesota, Mukhtar and more than 150,000 Muslims will have to endure summer’s longer hours and hot temperatures, which could make observing Ramadan more challenging.

And it might bear specific challenges for Muslim athletes, like the youth soccer team that Mukhtar coaches every Tuesday and Thursday at Currier Park in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood.

“It could be hard on these kids,” he explained. “It’s going to be difficult for anybody to be very active while fasting.”

Difficult or not, Mukhtar was quick to say that it’s an exciting time for Muslims everywhere to see this month. “It’s a blessing to be able to live this month,” he said. “It’s a month of forgiveness, humility, humbleness, charity and reflection.”

Continue reading at MinnPost…

Ibrahim Hirsi

Ibrahim Hirsi reports on immigrant communities, social issues, marginalized groups and people who work on making a difference in the lives of others. A graduate from the University of Minnesota, he interned for Newsday and has written for multiple publications in Minnesota.

Ramadan Mubarak (Blessed Ramadan)

By Fedwa Wazwaz, Engage Minnesota

Ramadan Mubarak (Blessed Ramadan)

“O who believe, fasting is decreed for you as it was decreed for those before you; perchance you will guard yourselves.”

“The month of Ramadan is the month in which the Quran was sent down, a guidance for the people, and clear verses of guidance and criterion.” (Quran: Chapter 2, 183)

The fourth pillar of Islam is Sawm, or fasting in the month of Ramadan. Fasting is also practiced in many other religions and is mentioned in the Torah and Bible as well as in Hindu scriptures. Observant Christians fast during Lent by giving up a particular food. Hindus fast on certain days of the week or on holidays, and for Jews, the most important day of fasting is on Yom Kippur, which lasts a little over a day.

Ramadan is the 9th month in the Islamic Calendar. Because Ramadan follows the lunar calendar, it rotates through the seasons, moving back around eleven days each year. Last year, Ramadan started on August 1st and this year, the Islamic Society of North America, declared Ramadan to begin on June 18th, 2015.

Muslims fast from dawn to sunset, abstaining from food and drink during this time. The aim of the fast is to weaken the physical desire or self and allow for the purification of the soul. It’s a process of spiritual purification and strengthening of willpower to carry us through the year. Muslims break their fast with dates and water followed by the evening prayer and dinner.

It is customary for families to attend the local mosque after breaking fast for special nightly prayers called taraweeh. The entire Qur’an, 114 chapters or 6,000 verses are recited by the end of Ramadan in a melodious recitation, called tajweed.

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Volunteering Is My Lifestyle

By Memoona Ghani, Engage Minnesota

MemonaOften times Muslims are thought of as citizens who are far away from volunteering or activism in the community, which is actually not true. On the contrast there are several Muslim groups that have been working on several projects to benefit the local communities but most of the time these efforts are hidden.  In fact, serving the humanity is an inherent characteristic for practicing Muslims.

It is just amazing that nowadays the “volunteering” has to be called out. While the fact is helping the needy with food, money, moral and spiritual support, cleaning the places of living, preventing wastage of resources, providing education, mentoring young adults, voicing the rights of the weak etc. was presented and taught as a lifestyle for Muslims by God and the Prophets of God.

For example, to keep our surroundings clean and to prevent the wastage of resources, God has continuously brought attention to the beautiful world He has created and then He mentions that human beings are His vicegerents on earth. What does a vicegerent do? A vicegerent takes care of everything that has been given to him i.e. the earth and its resources, the living beings that exist on this earth.

Of many local Muslims groups in Minnesota, Al Maghrib Impact volunteers have also been busy with different projects to benefit the community. They have taken up collecting and preparing for a few food shelves in a joint effort with yet another amazing group Building Blocks of Islam. These volunteers are there to help from month to month regardless of their ethnicity, gender and age.

The Qur’an states, “ (The righteous are those) who give food in spite of love for it to the needy, the orphan, and the captive, [Saying], ‘We feed you only for the countenance of Allah. We wish not from you reward or gratitude.

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Let’s Talk About Islam – With Honesty

By Fedwa Wazwaz, Engage Minnesota

fedwaI advocate for a holistic approach toward life. By holistic, I mean that when we talk about everything from medicine to education, we include a view of all aspects of ourselves as people, including our spiritual selves. If we engage only one layer and neglect or encourage people to divorce other parts of who they are – we don’t allow for people to fully express themselves, which leads to all kinds of social ills and hardships in our communities.

Honest discussions on faith allow us to holistically challenge the voices of extremism that flourish in the internet. This is also an important step if we are going to build a strong foundation for coexistence.

If faith remains a topic that can be shut down and treated superficially without understanding nuances and without being engaged with respectfully, then accusations against it cannot be countered in a meaningful way. I grew by the many mistakes I made online and in person communicating what I truly felt. Through this dialog, I was challenged many, many times to search aspects of my faith, that had had it remained unchallenged in a meaningful way, I would have never come to a greater understanding of some, and shed other views that I now feel were very much in error.

Quite a few accuse Muslims and Islam of trying to take over America….that Muslims say one thing but secretly are planning another. People who have a hatred and fear of Islam (such as Dutch MP Geert Wilders) are asked to brief our elected representatives in Congress in closed hearings and forums. Muslims cannot engage in a debate that is framed in a way that limits their ability to respond and their ability to engage in meaningful dialogue beyond polemics.

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Wearing the hijab: Minnesota Muslim women share their experiences

By Lori Saroya

Saroya_Lori_circleMugThe first person I told about my decision to start wearing the hijab, the Islamic religious headscarf, was a Lutheran. She was my best friend since middle school and the slightest hesitation, discouragement, or worry from her would have made me reconsider. She paused, clearly caught off guard by my announcement. “Do they make Mickey Mouse headscarves?” she joked. Then she told me: “Whatever you want to do, I will support it.”

Growing up in a small town in southern Iowa, diversity consisted of my Muslim family and the local Amish community. The Amish women covered their hair, despite the stares and negative comments they were subjected to by others. I admired their grace and composure. I envied their strong faith and confidence.

As my religious study and practice increased, I knew that the hijab was a part of my Muslim faith. I respected Mary, mother of Jesus, and the piety and strength that she embodied. I wanted to emulate her. The decision to start wearing the hijab felt right to me, yet I struggled with it. As much as I tried to justify reasons for not wearing it, I realized my real fear: how others would perceive me.

“Someone who looks like me walks past you in the street. Do you think they’re a mother, a refugee or a victim of oppression? Or do you think they’re a cardiologist, a barrister or maybe your local politician? Do you look me up and down, wondering how hot I must get or if my husband has forced me to wear this outfit? What if I wore my scarf like this? I can walk down the street in the exact same outfit and what the world expects of me and the way I’m treated depends on the arrangement of this piece of cloth. But this isn’t going to be another monologue about the hijab because Lord knows, Muslim women are so much more than the piece of cloth they choose, or not, to wrap their head in. This is about looking beyond your bias.”

TedTalk: What does my headscarf mean to you?

While other countries are banning the hijab and dictating women’s dress, our Supreme Court just voted 8-1 to defend religious freedom. The recent landmark decision in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc. increases protections against religious bias in employment. It reaffirms our nation’s values and upholds a Muslim woman’s right to wear the hijab in the workplace.

Other recent headlines highlight wins for the hijab and feature trailblazers. AMuslim lawyer in New York refused to choose between her career and hijab. Girls in Minneapolis worked with the university to design their own hijab-friendly basketball uniforms. The St. Paul Police Department hired its firstMuslim woman police officer — and created a hijab to go with her uniform. There’s even a hijabi contestant on America’s Masterchef for the first time.

I know there will come a day when Americans will see beyond the stereotypes. The hijab — as well as the yarmulke, turban, kufi and other religious headwear — will become a part of America’s diverse culture. The hijabi trailblazers are going to make that happen.

Continue reading at Star Tribune…

Lori Saroya is a civil rights activist, nonprofit leader, writer and mother. She has received several awards and recognitions for her community work including a Congressional Tribute, the Governor’s Distinguished Service Award, and the Ten Outstanding Young Minnesotans. She is writing her first memoir, a reflective piece on her identity as an American Muslim woman and the civil rights challenges facing her community.

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