The African-American Women Behind the Heroes

By Jimmy Jones, Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)

Yet neither of these men could have soared to the heights that they did without the passionate, persistent, consistent, and competent help of women who just happened to be African-American.

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For African-Americans, the annual time period between Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday on January 15th and the end of February is bittersweet. This is because we hear quite a bit about Dr. King’s legacy and the importance of Black History for about six weeks, only to be shunted aside again on March 1st of every year.

Nevertheless, we rightly remember Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a genuine American hero. So was recently departed astronaut and senator John Glenn, the first American in space.

Yet neither of these men could have soared to the heights that they did without the passionate, persistent, consistent, and competent help of women who just happened to be African-American.

In John Glenn’s case, the full story of these women was finally told in the book “Hidden Figures,” written by Margot Lee Shetterly and released as a Hollywood film with the same title.

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Academia, a World of Rude Awakenings

By Omar Alansari-Kreger, Engage Minnesota

Is the core curriculum offered at colleges and universities changing so much as to necessitate an aggressive rise in annual academic tuition?.

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During an interview on Errol Morris’s First Person, Christopher Langan, a man reported to have the world’s highest IQ at over 200, described academia to be a cold and heartless bureaucracy. “A breeding ground for parrots,” he exclaimed! Year-by-year, tuition continues to skyrocket with no end in sight. According to statistics collected from the website collegedata.com, the annual cost of private college tuition in 2016 stood at an average of $32,405. For state residents enrolled at public universities, the average cost was marked at $9,410 annually. Finally, for out of state residents attending public universities, the total cost for one year’s worth of education approached $23,894. Such figures are rather overwhelming which leads to a critical objection which arrives in the form of a question: how does academia justify the soaring cost of academic tuition? Is the core curriculum offered at colleges and universities changing so much as to necessitate an aggressive rise in annual academic tuition?

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It’s not just conservatives. We’re all being duped by “fake news”

By Hani Hamdan, Engage Minnesota

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Media is now more about manipulation than ever before.

The buzz these days is about fake news and how it apparently had a role in the election of Donald Trump. I worry, however, that a portrayal of fake news as being somehow proprietary to conservative websites is misleading, if not disingenuous.

Minorities, including Muslims, have been subjected to a barrage of hair-raising news warning that white people are basically out to get them. Every single incident involving racist remarks, letters, attacks, graffiti, salutes, conferences, flags, posters, or associations is amplified to the tenth degree by people who cannot care less about minorities.

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Jesus in the Bible, Jesus in the Qu’ran

By Fedwa Wazwaz, Engage Minnesota

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Jesus appears differently in Christianity and in Islam. Yet between the two, Jesus is a point of connectivity: His teachings and his life story are important in both the Bible and the Qur’an.

For me, as a Muslim, the teachings of Jesus remind me of the central importance of vulnerability. Jesus was born into a marginalized community during the rule of the powerful, patriarchal Roman Empire. He had no father to protect him. And it wasn’t just the agents of the Roman Empire who opposed Jesus’s works. His own community was often against him. So Jesus faced many forces that wanted to silence him.

Against all these forces, we’re told, young Jesus had only his mother Mary to defend him.

Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings upon him, underlined the link between himself and Jesus: “Both in this world and in the Hereafter, I am the nearest of all the people to Jesus, the son of Mary, peace and blessings upon him. The prophets are paternal brothers; their mothers are different, but their religion is one.”

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What is—and isn’t—bravery?

By Fedwa Wazwaz, Engage Minnesota

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The David and Goliath story is used by people around the world as a structure and a storyline to help them understand their own actions. The story has a wide appeal: It’s empowering for any of us to see ourselves as a small, unlikely “David” figure fighting against a behemoth of a “Goliath.” After all, justice was on David’s side, while Goliath had brute force and worldly power. And David won.

This story has been adapted to the purposes of people across many political and religious spectra. Ultra-right-wing commentators have called themselves Davids against a Goliath entity of the mainstream media; ISIS fighters paint themselves as a David against the Goliath of the United States military might. There have been heroic David-figures as well. Nelson Mandela has been called a David against the South African apartheid regime’s Goliath. Or a small whistleblower standing up to corporate corruption might also be called a David.

It’s an easy story to fall back on. As important and appealing as it is, when read simply the story can blind us to criticism, allowing us to see ourselves as a tiny hero against powerful aggressors.

But what was David’s story, really?

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Embracing altruism beyond pessimism

By Omar Alansari-Kreger, Engage Minnesota

The reality is that it only takes a relatively minor concentration of altruism to effectuate a world of difference.

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It’s all too normal to feel like the smallest person in the world after watching the evening news. No matter what resource we use to obtain knowledge about the outside world, we often walk away with a sick feeling in our stomachs. That is especially true of a world overridden with unprecedented strife and hardship. To the average lower middle-class citizen, there is a million dollar question that runs through the mind: do I have the power to change anything? We often rebuke the world by dismissing it outright. When a concerned citizen gives up on the prospect of a better world, hope is replaced by shallow pessimisms. The fact of the matter is that no price can be paid to the experiential pain and suffering of the human condition. The rationalization of an atrocity is often weighted in its material cost. It is naively presumed that the only resource required is a bottomless void of money to make anything possible. The reality is that resources alone do not effectuate changes in an otherwise adverse world; that is especially true of money.

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When is it time for forgiveness?

By Fedwa Wazwaz, Engage Minnesota

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When we see people oppressed, trampled on, violated, and their loved ones murdered, “forgiveness” is one of the first words that often comes to hand. There are thousands of memes and stories that urge people to forgive. Indeed, popular wisdom informs people that the anger they carry is only damaging to them. Offload it, we’re told, and everything will be fine.

Forgiveness can be a positive force, of that there’s no doubt. But we must distinguish between a harmful “instant forgiveness” and a helpful, spiritually satisfying “sustainable forgiveness.”

Real, sustainable forgiveness rarely comes quickly, and it cannot be forced, compelled, or coerced. A sustainable forgiveness certainly isn’t about quickly offloading anger, which often forces victims to deny their reality –putting them in the same position that they were in when they were first victimized.

Indeed, there are many steps on the path toward sustainable forgiveness. This kind of forgiveness doesn’t emerge straight away from victimization, and it certainly doesn’t ascribe to “forgive and forget!”

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Meet Salman Kirmani

By Salman Kirmani, Green Card Voices

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“Even if people did not know where I was from, they respected who I was; they respected I was different. Their respect was a very endearing thing for me and defined that this is the community I want to live in. This is the community I want my kids to grow up in.”

As a medical student. Dr. Kirmani was loyal to his community in Pakistan. And although his training led him to Minnesota, he believed he would return to assist and comfort the elders in his community back home.

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Let your fear of God be embedded with love

This is an excerpt from a forthcoming book, currently titled Reflections of Faith: Lessons from the Prophets.By Fedwa Wazwaz, Engage Minnesota

O God! I ask You for Your Love, the love of those who love You, and deeds which will cause me to attain Your Love.
–Prophet Muhammad, upon peace and blessings.

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How Do We Fear God?

When some people think of “fearing God,” they imagine God as a fearsome torturer. This “God” is a towering, vindictive being who is just waiting for them to make a mistake.

In fact, it’s the reverse. The God who we fear is patient and loving. This God gives us opportunity after opportunity to repent, feel remorse, change our habits, and grow. Punishment comes into the picture only when it becomes evident to God, and to everyone around, that an individual is not receptive to growth.

Indeed, God gives us many opportunities to see our actions through other eyes. Pharaoh was surrounded not just by the slaves who he dehumanized and oppressed, but he also had people of light and goodness in his own home. These were people who he respected: namely Asiya, his wife, and her adopted son Moses.

Pharaoh also had a pious, wise advisor, and there were others in his kingdom who tried to steer him toward a better way, to the intertwined love and fear of God. But none of these good people were able to have an impact on Pharaoh. His arrogance and narcissism were simply too deep-seated.

So, yes, God is loving, merciful, compassionate, and patient. Yet this cannot be all. Because there also comes a time for justice.

We shouldn’t fear God because we believe that God is vindictive. God doesn’t care only about a select elite—God is compassionate and cares about everyone. So, instead, we fear God because God is majestic. This majesty should bring about not our quavering, but our humility. It should help us to authentically know our own limitations.  

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Unity, an Unfortunate Deficit of Minnesota Muslims

By Omar Alansari-Kreger, Engage Minnesota

Great efforts have been made and initiatives launched, but how successful have such undertakings been in marshaling a greater Muslim identity across the Twin Cities?

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We all have day jobs. It is a fact of life. In order to survive, one must work to sustain a living. We sacrifice a great deal for our day jobs. A great proportion of our true identity is misplaced only to be frozen on the sidelines. As a professional that specializes in caring for the elderly and developmentally challenged, there is one crucial fact of life I take home each day: the best things in life are free. Sundays are special to people that grew up under the Judeo-Christian tradition. They share a great reverence for their communities. In their company, I have noticed a unique willingness to share the burden of the communal blunt when faced with hardships.

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Loyalty & cooperation are two-way streets

By Fedwa Wazwaz, Engage Minnesota

Most of your sins are because of your tongues.
–Prophet Muhammad, upon peace and blessings.

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There are frequent calls—from law-enforcement officials, from radio personalities, and from ordinary people—for Muslims in the United States to be “loyal.” It’s not new. The loyalty of many other groups has been questioned: Japanese, Catholics. But what does it mean to be a loyal citizen of the United States, and how can loyalty be fostered?

Loyalty doesn’t mean that you agree to every action taken by your country’s government. As a US citizen, I have some criticism of US foreign policy. But loyalty does mean that I will address this in the public square. I will raise my questions not to attack America, but in a way that will benefit the country. When you’re speaking up as a loyal citizen, you’re speaking openly—you’re not plotting and planning in the shadows.

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Meet Ruhel Islam

By Tea Rozman-Clark, Green Card Voices

The best way to respond to extreme vetting, a term presidential candidate Donald Trump refers to in the debates is to amplify the voices of Muslim immigrants in their own words.

Upon the request of his sister, who was moving to the U.S. with her American-businessman husband, and due to the hostile political climate of his home country, Mr. Islam left Bangladesh for the U.S. in 1996.

The fourth of seven children, he moved from his rural, childhood village of Sylhet to a larger urban area in pursuit of a college degree in commerce and accounting. Upon the completion of his degree and while still in Bangladesh, he started a farm – growing it from just two chickens to over two thousand.

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A Science Library for North Minneapolis

By Omar Alansari-Kreger, Engage Minnesota

An eager intellect is a prospect of hope. It scoffs at the predetermined odds and looks to a world of what could be.

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Behind every great community, there is an intellectual center. Youths entertain grand imaginations that tempt the known boundaries. An adult reality is bland. It is defined by the monotony of routine. Gradually, we misplace our hopes and curiosities for complacency and acceptance. An ominous gatekeeper rules over each boundary with little to no empathy. A person is labeled as expendable and is rapidly dispensed with. Will our resolve be sincere to our youths? What happens when youths are cut down and put in their “respective places” in society? Will hopeful dreams and ambitions be rendered illusory once such an ominous reality comes to pass? The need for a science library may seem abundantly extraneous to many. If we budgeted enough tax revenue for a billion dollar football stadium, why is a science library for less than a quarter of a million dollars unconscionable to us? It then becomes pertinent to ask ourselves an existential question: as a society, where are our priorities?

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Meet Nemeh Al-Sarraj

By Nemeh Al-Sarraj, Engage Minnesota

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For six years, Nemeh Al-Sarraj struggled with university. “I was at North Hennepin,” in Minneapolis, Minnesota, she said. “And I kept changing my major every week. I picked almost every major possible.”

“My family was so annoyed.”

School was always a struggle for Al-Sarraj, who wasn’t properly diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) until she was nineteen. After that, she said, life began to grow a lot clearer, but she still had a lot to learn about herself and others. She also had to learn to come to grips with her diagnosis, and to “stop hiding the fact that I have a disability.”

There was a long struggle, and then “I took a year off. I transferred to Metro State and looked at all the degrees.”

It was at Metro State, Al-Sarraj said, when education finally clicked. “I took my first disability-awareness class. And loved it.”

Last fall, Al-Sarraj triumphed in her long struggle, graduating with a Bachelor’s of Human Science degree in Disability Studies. But even before she graduated, Al-Sarraj’s life had markedly changed. She had seen how much a diagnosis changed her life, and how she’d struggled before she’d gotten it. As a Palestinian-American, a Muslim, and a person with cognitive differences, she knew how much work there was to do in disability awareness. She wanted to contribute.

Al-Sarraj didn’t want to wait until she had her degree. Clearly, once she has a clear idea of what she wants, Al-Sarraj sets about getting it done. She has difficulties with communication, reading body language, and social situations. But, through this, her single-minded determination shines.

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In wake of attack, activists working to reduce tensions in St. Cloud brace for ‘a long winter’

By Ibrahim Hirsi, MinnPost

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Each time a tragic or controversial incident strikes the Somali-American community in St. Cloud, Yusuf Haji is one of the first people to get to the scene.

Over the past several years, Haji has recounted numerous stories of high-profile events and boiling racial tensions through written and video postings for his Facebook audience of nearly 4,500 — making him one of the most visible activists in the city.

The latest episode came on the weekend after a knife attack turned a typical Saturday night at the Crossroads Center mall into chaos and confusion when a 20-year-old Somali-American, Dahir Adan, allegedly stabbed 10 people before he was fatally shot by Officer Jason Falconer of the Avon Police Department.

The incident began to unfold at the shopping mall at about 8 p.m. In less than an hour, Haji was on Facebook, posting images and videos of the center, speaking to witnesses about the incident that has shocked many in the Somali-American community.

Hours later, Haji appeared on a Facebook Live video with a woman named Natalie Ringsmuth to call for unity, and to discuss the possibility of retaliation against the Somali-American community, “It’s a very sad night for us here in St. Cloud,” Haji said in the video, which had “We’re praying for the victims … it’s going to be very shocking and a very sad night for all of us. It doesn’t look good for our community. It’s going to be really bad.”

The incident — which the FBI is investigating as a potential act of terrorism — delivered a major blow to Haji and Ringsmuth’s years-old effort to bring together the diverse residents of St. Cloud, a city that has seen a string of incidents hostile to its Somali-American community and other racial and religious minorities in recent years.

Continue reading at MinnPost

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.

Ibrahim Hirsi can be reached at ihirsi@minnpost.com.  Follow Ibrahim Hirsi on Twitter: @IHirsi.

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Meet Zaynab Abdi

By Tea Rozman-Clark, Green Card Voices

Since arriving in the United States, Zaynab Abdi has set goals for herself. She wants to have the best future possible.

Zaynab was born in Aden, Yemen. She grew up in a large household with her extended family. Her mother immigrated to the United States through the Green Card Lottery when Zaynab was very young. After sixteen years, her mother was eligible to sponsor her for a visa, and Zaynab made plans to immigrate.

Before she could move, a revolution erupted in Yemen, disrupting her plans. She moved to Egypt with her sister. After two years, Zaynab’s visa arrived but not her sister’s; she would have to find another way. As another revolution began in Egypt, Zaynab went to Minnesota. It was difficult for Zaynab to adjust to life in the United States. Not only was she introduced to American culture, but she had to learn about her mother’s Somali culture as well. However, Zaynab was glad to be reunited with her mother.

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What Happened When K’naan Came to Cedar?

By Ayaan Dahir, Engage Minnesota

What people fail to understand is that Somali youth have a right to discuss, question, organize, and protest.

 

As many of you know, on sunny Saturday afternoon, the West Bank Community Coalition held their annual block party. This year, musician K’naan Warsame would be in attendance. The event was set to take place in Cedar, a notable Somali community. K’naan was even scheduled to give a live performance.

His arrival in the Twin-Cities, which holds the largest amount of Somali diaspora worldwide, was met with concern. The Canadian rapper was promoting his new HBO drama series, which according to Rolling Stone, “will focus on Jihadi recruitment in the United States.” He is joined by the series executive producer Kathryn Bigelow.

Many are extremely concerned with the series potential portrayal of Somali folk, especially during the rise of hate crimes and surveillance. News of K’naan’s project comes on the eve of a historically unsuccessful initiative called Combating Violent Extremism(CVE). This program profiles Somali youth as “potential extremists” and uses institutions to surveil and monitor young kids. Nearly 50 Muslim organizations in the Twin-Cities issued the following statement in response: “It is our recommendation that the government stop investing in programs that will only stigmatize, divide, and marginalize our communities further.” The Somali community is largely against this program.

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Minnesota Muslims to Mark End of Hajj with Prayers, Celebrations

By Jaylani Hussein, CAIR Minnesota

cairmnOn Monday, September 12, Minnesota Muslims will mark the end of the yearly pilgrimage to Mecca, or Hajj, with communal prayers and celebrations at locations around the state. The prayers and the holiday that follows are called Eid ul-Adha (EED-al-ODD-ha), or “festival of the sacrifice.”

Eid ul-Adha also commemorates the Prophet Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael at God’s command. The holiday is celebrated with the prayers, small gifts for children, distribution of meat to the needy, and social gatherings. During this holiday, Muslims exchange the greeting “Eid Mubarak” or “blessed Eid.” Each year, some two million Muslims, including thousands of American Muslims, go on Hajj.

[NOTE: For actual pilgrims, the rites of Hajj continue for some time after the Eid prayers.]

WHEN: Monday, September 12th – The prayers are held in the morning. Many communities also hold day-long Eid festivals for families.

WHERE: The Eid prayers and festivals are held either in local mosques or in public facilities designed to accommodate large gatherings.

Minneapolis Convention Center, 1301 2nd Avenue S, Minneapolis, MN 55404
(Host – Abubakr Islamic Center)
TIME: 8:30 am and 9:30 am (two sessions)

St Paul River Center- Host Dawah Institute
175 W Kellogg Blvd, St Paul, MN 55102
7:30am

Northwest Islamic Community Center, (two sessions)
1st Session: 3300 Plymouth Blvd, Plymouth, MN.
TIME: 7:20am
2nd Session: Hilde Performance Center, 3500 Plymouth Blvd, Plymouth, MN
TIME: 8:30am

Islamic Center of Minnesota
6155 Earle Brown Drive, Minneapolis, MN 55430
TIME: 7:00am and 9:00am (two sessions)

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Remember Salman Hamdani

By Talat Hamdani, StoryCorps

On the morning of September 11, 2001, emergency medical technician and Muslim-American Salman Hamdani died trying help his fellow New Yorkers at the World Trade Center. In the weeks that followed, while his family searched for their missing son, the police and press wrongfully linked Salman as being an accomplice in the attacks.

His mother, Talat Hamdani, came to StoryCorps to remember those first days after her son went missing. #NeverForget

Illustration by Matt Huynh

Ban the burkini ban: How the same decision that claims to liberate women actually oppresses them

By Hanadi ChehabeddineMinnPost

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In 2004 I was in France reporting on the Cannes Advertising Festival on behalf of ArabAd Magazine, not only as an Arab, but also as a Muslim woman and a veiled one. For a whole week I was following up on the Arab delegation, arranging interviews with winners and even scoring with the festival’s highest rank and advertising celebrities. I was very proud of myself and thought I deserved a day off before traveling back to Lebanon.

Nice, as the closest town to Cannes, was my leisure destination and I enjoyed wandering aimlessly at its charming Sunday market. The craft kiosks lining up next to farmers’ colorful produce and eclectic bags fascinated me. I looked forward to having breakfast at one of the local cafés. As I was entering the establishment, a long skinny waitress blocked my way and said in a snooty French accent: “Where are you going?” I said naively, “I want to have breakfast.” She said, “The restaurant is booked.” I looked around and saw people coming in and out freely. Clearly the restaurant was not booked. The waitress turned to me and huffed, “People like you have no place in this restaurant.”

Back in my hotel room, I cried my eyes out. I vowed that night never to be quieted again.

The animosity toward Muslims in France dates to long before recent terrorists attacks. The ban on “conspicuous religious symbols,” including headscarves in 2004 and the full-face covering in 2011, was the start. Its latest iteration bans the burkini, a swimwear designed to cover most of the body worn primarily by Muslim women. The religious obligation for women to cover their bodies stems from the concept of modesty that Muslim women believe in — in simple terms, converging the attention on women’s thoughts rather than their bodies and bodily assets. Objecting to the ban on the burkini should be the quest of every woman.

 

Continue reading at MinnPost

Hanadi Chehabeddine is an award-winning public speaker and writer. She recently received the Eden Prairie Human Rights award 2016 for her efforts to dismantle misconceptions about Islam and build bridges of unity. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in International leadership at the University of St. Thomas. Before coming to the U.S., she was an award-winning creative and communication specialist working across different media.

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If you like this piece, share it on social media.  We invite you to join us in this project on our social media sites.  We welcome your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a commentary, podcast or photo story. (For more information, email engageminnesota@gmail.com.)

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