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

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.)

Costs & Conflicts of Assimilation

By Omar Alansari-Kreger, Engage Minnesota

Be one of us or one of them.

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Assimilation is a difficult thing to experience. Some choose to live insular lives which leaves very little room for external engagement. As a matter of principle, the ways of the old world are traditionally followed without question. The children of refugees find themselves in a very difficult position. There is this underlying belief suggesting that a way of life must be chosen. Either embrace the ways of the old world or become part of the new. That decision carries with it a weighty proposition. For a great deal of expatriated youths living across the United States, there is this feeling that a choice must be made between parents and their external surroundings. For example, parental refugees may choose to maintain minimal proficiency with the English language in addition to their newly acquired surroundings. Their children generally function as bridges which assist in overcoming barriers of language and culture. That eventually leads to a conflict of interest which materializes in a clash of ideas.

Youths experience a world that is fundamentally different from that of their elders. Such conflicts originate from cauldrons that brew oppositional antagonisms with old world traditions. An ongoing trend among refugees finds a need to keep assimilative forces at an arm’s length. The rationale behind that is supported by an analogy of fear.

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Meet Reza Alizadeh

By Tea Rozman-Clark, Green Card Voices

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The Iranian Revolution brought about many social and political changes within the country. When Reza Alizadeh saw the revolutionaries’ many promises go unfulfilled, he saw no other option but to find refuge someplace else.

Prior to the revolution, Mr. Alizadeh enjoyed a happy and carefree life with his parents and siblings. At the age of thirteen, he witnessed the collapse of his government and, eventually, his society. He made plans to immigrate to the United States just as his brother had done years earlier.

Mr. Alizadeh’s journey out of Iran included enduring a rough bus ride, navigating security checkpoints, hiding in a swamp for several days, traversing down a rugged mountain path on horseback, and dodging heavy crossfire. To his relief, he arrived in Turkey unharmed and began the process of starting his new life. After a brief time in Italy, Reza was granted political asylum in the United States and rejoined his brother.

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Trump’s attack on Somalis illustrates the harm he could do

By Jamal Abdulahi, Star Tribune

And Minnesota’s GOP leaders have a moral duty to speak out.

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Donald Trump, who plans to visit the Twin Cities on Friday, recently unleashed a hateful attack on Minnesota’s Somali community in a speech delivered to a large crowd in Portland, Maine. It was beyond the pale.

Trump’s attack inspired more attacks. A hateful message left on the Somali Museum of Minnesota’s voice mail is the latest example.

Unfortunately, state Republican Party leaders such as Chairman Keith Downey, House Speaker Kurt Daudt, and U.S. Reps Erik Paulsen and Tom Emmer not only remain silent but continue to support Trump for president.

The unabated support by the top state GOP brass is a moral scandal. To preach of outreach and a possible partnership with the community while tolerating Trump’s outrageous attack is tantamount to moral turpitude and could lead to catastrophe.

Partisan politics is far from pure. Party leaders often accommodate fringe elements in the spirit of building a big political tent. But Trump is not a fringe figure in a large political party. He is an unhinged and dangerous nominee who hijacked a major American political institution and uses the power and the prestige that came with it to attack vulnerable groups.

Continue reading at Star Tribune

Jamal Abdulahi of Rosemount, is a community organizer, blogger and essayist.

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Does Our Opinion Matter?

By Omar Alansari-Kreger, Engage Minnesota

Renewing the Freedom of Speech against an Unforgiving Status Quo

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We live in a nation that prides itself on the freedom of speech. Yet, we pay nothing but lip service to the first amendment. That fact of the matter is that if you are outside of the elite establishment, no one really cares about your opinion or what you have to say for the matter. The Plutocratic States of America is the giant elephant no one wants to recognize. Citizens are free to have opinions, but if they are unredeemable, what good are there? We might as well have no opinion whatsoever. Arguably, that can explain why apathy is the new cultural norm. Information surrounds us everywhere we look. In the “free world,” accessibility to information is no longer an issue. It has actually transformed into an open source of vanity. We hold naïve expectations about humanity which teases us with perfectionism.

There is this presumption that more information means more intelligence.

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Meet Majra Mucic

By Tea Rozman-Clark, Green Card Voices

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Majra Mucić never thought her childhood was out of the ordinary. Later, she realized not every child grew up waiting in line for food rations and hiding from air raids.

Ms. Mucić was born in Zenica, Bosnia in 1988—four years prior to the start of the Bosnian War. After the war, her family decided to immigrate and escape the economic and political tensions that remained. After an arduous screening process in a refugee camp, her family was paired with a host family in St. Louis Park, Minnesota.

Upon her arrival in 2001, Majra had a difficult time adjusting to the nuances of her new home. From the bus system to the grocery store, everything seemed so different. Life at school was just as tough; few children were willing to reach out to Majra. She eventually made friends over a mutual passion—sports.

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