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Friday, December 3, 2010

Minneapolis Mosque's annual open house aimed at peace and unity across cultures

An alleged plan to blow up a Christmas-tree lighting festival in Portland is reverberating nearly 2,000 miles away, in the nation's largest Somali-American community.

Twin Cities Somalis say there's no escape from the spotlight these days. News stories about gangs, prostitution and religious indoctrination are filling the airwaves and the front pages of local newspapers.

Some Somali-Americans are feeling vulnerable after last week's arrest in Portland. Just days later, someone set fire to an Oregon mosque.

And even Abdulkadir Ali, who says he grew up in Minneapolis and served four years in the U.S. Marines, is afraid the general public may make the wrong assumptions about him.

"I am a veteran of this country. Also I am Somali. I went beyond the call to support the cause for this country, and when it was going to wars, I was going as well," Ali said. "It affects me when someone tells me I'm a terrorist."

Abdulkadir AliAli came Wednesday night to the Dar al-Hijrah mosque in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis, just steps from the colorful high-rise towers home to thousands of Somali residents.

At the mosque's annual open house, organizers invited non-Muslim neighbors, the FBI, and police, in an effort to promote unity and peace. As the visitors ate fried sambusa dumplings, they heard Quranic verses being recited by a 17-year-old boy.

While the night's event was about peace and unity across cultures, it took some courage for Oliver Utne, 24, to walk through the mosque's doors.

"I felt a little nervous. I felt scared," Utne said. "I just didn't know what to expect."

Utne said he couldn't help but feel uneasy by the divide that exists between Muslims and non-Muslims.

"It's kind of the story of our times," he said. "We can come to things like this with an open heart and open mind, and just put ourselves out there and take risks, or we can stay in our cocoons and let things get worse."

Mosque open houseWithin Minnesota's Somali community, many say they're alarmed by the problems among their most troubled youth. Fartun Ahmed, 19, said she sees it every day -- on one hand, young wayward men on the street, drinking booze or doing drugs. On the other hand, the ultra-religious men who make sure to look away when they see Ahmed, guided by what she considers an extreme interpretation of Islam.

So, she took an unusual step yesterday of declaring on Facebook: "Fartun Ahmed is a moderate muslim."

"In a world of extremes, I'm just seeking balance, to balance myself, to balance my faith," Ahmed said. "Islam right now is two extremes, and what I get here in this institution is the middle ground."

Ahmed, a college student decked head to toe in a black hijab, said she wanted her Muslim peers to know where she stands on religion.

"Because once I think Muslims understand there's moderation in Islam, and once they take that upon themselves, other people won't have to deal with these problems that we're bringing to society," she said.

While some Somali-Americans say they want to work with law enforcement to root out terror threats, others say they're afraid they're going to be scrutinized more closely by the FBI.

Kamal Hassan, 31, believes the FBI may have gone too far by helping the Portland teenager plan the attack and providing him with a fake bomb.

"I'm one of the most trusting Somali Muslim Americans who trust the FBI. I call them the 'morality police' because they fight vices all the time, and I support that," Hassan said. "But when they do this kind of thing -- set up someone who is lost -- I feel betrayed by them. I don't know how I can trust them. I feel they might set me up."

Federal authorities have rejected criticisms of entrapment.

E.K. Wilson, the FBI's counterterrorism supervisor in Minneapolis, said the agency isn't going to single out Muslims and Somali-Americans. Wilson said there's no Minnesota connection to the bombing plot.

Federal agents in Minneapolis are focused on a separate investigation into the alleged enlistment of young fighters from the Twin Cities with a terrorist group in Somalia.

"We're not out to conduct blanket-wide-reaching investigations that look at people just because they're Somali," Wilson said. "We're looking at specific individuals, many of whom happen to be Somali, for specific reasons."

Wilson said that, while the FBI is charged with preventing the next terrorist attack, it also investigates civil-rights violations, including hate crimes. He said with the local Somali community's help, the FBI will aggressively pursue those cases, too.

Source: MPR

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