Minnesota Muslims Express Concerns, Resolve following Mosque Arsons

17:04 - April 29, 2023
News ID: 3483368
TEHRAN (IQNA) – Several hundred Muslims bowed in prayer Friday at the Masjid Omar Islamic Center in Minneapolis, US state of Minnesota, days after a fire was set there.

Muslims in Minnesota


They filled the mosque and lining the hallway outside.

They united for Friday worship as they always have. They caught up with friends. They shared tea.

"We're here for good," vowed Abukar Abdullahi, who owns a tax preparation business across from the south Minneapolis mosque. "I don't care what they do. We will go nowhere because we are part of this wonderful community."

It was the first Friday prayer since Minneapolis police responded Sunday night to a fire set in a bathroom at the mosque. Worshipers extinguished the flames.

The next day, authorities evacuated adults and children after fire broke out at another mosque nearby, Masjid Al Rahma. Authorities have charged 36-year-old Jackie Rahm Little of Minneapolis, who remains at large, accusing him of arson in that fire.

Worshipers at both mosques reflected Friday on the events with a mix of fear and resolve. Suleyman Mahmud, 22, who regularly visits Masjid Al Rahma, said the fires have stunned the community. But having grown up Muslim in the United States, he said, he's used to Islamophobic behavior and that it's important not to let it hinder daily life.

"It's something you're already aware of and is something you have to be conscious about," Mahmud said. "Other than that you just have to go on with your daily life because you're going to find bad anywhere there's good."

Mahmud said the presence of families and young children at a day care in the building heightened concerns. He said that coming together for prayer was an effective way to feel stronger as a community in the wake of the fires.

Ismail Hussain said he felt the same way. The acts, he said, haven't changed his belief that the Minneapolis community is welcoming to Muslims overall.

"Things happen every night or hour, and we are not scared of the community because it's not all people, just a few," Hussain said.

A couple hundred people attended Friday's prayer at Masjid Al Rahma, including Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and Police Chief Brian O'Hara. Both spoke.

"We appreciate you and are with you," said Frey, who expressed the city's commitment to apprehending the suspect. "Attacks on our Muslim community will not be tolerated in our city."

One man, who declined to give his name, said he was afraid to go to Masjid Al Rahma and needed time to build the confidence to return. Still, he said, he didn't believe the arsonist was representative of Americans.

"People get scared because they fear people who want to create chaos in a community," he said. "But overwhelmingly the majority of Americans are not supporting that element of extremist persons who want to burn a mosque."

Abdi Mohamud, owner of Rajo Coffee next to Masjid Omar, worried at first that the fires were keeping his customers away. It was noon, and his shop was empty.

"Everyone is scared," he said. "We lost a lot of customers the last few days." After the fire, he said, they were all asking, "What's next?"

But soon the regular crowds began gathering in the hallways and spilled into the shop, seeking coffee and snacks. Among them was Abdullah Sharif, who sat down for tea and malawah, a pancake-like dish.

"This was unexpected, so we feel like it's scary, very scary. … We've been here the last 25, 26 years and we never experienced this kind of scary [event], this kind of aggression," said Sharif.

He said people were concerned that Little wasn't in custody and that he or possibly his friends might return.

Little previously has been charged with arson; in 2021, he was accused of burning a car in Minneapolis. Court records show he was bailed out by the Minnesota Freedom Fund, a Minneapolis nonprofit that pays bail for people who can't afford it and seeks to end cash bail.

The FBI reported 322 hate crimes in Minnesota in 2021, the latest year that statistics are available; 16 were identified as anti-Islamic.

Only an hour after leaving his business Sunday evening, Abdullahi got a call from a friend reporting the fire.

"It was absolutely shocking," he said, adding, "They cannot deter our determination and our daily life."

Abdillahi Mohamud, director of the Masjid Omar center, said he thinks worshippers feel safe now because authorities responded to the fire. Police have spread out over the area, he said, and a large surveillance camera was installed.

Even so, he's urged Muslims at the mosque to be careful. "Right now, we have to look out for everyone in our community," he said.