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I’m Muslim. Here’s how I explain my faith to fearful Americans

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Written by: Ayan Omar

“Do you want to kill us?”

Washington Post — It’s a question I get a lot. I’m a Muslim Somali American living in Saint Cloud, Minn. My family of 10 emigrated here in November 1993, and I became American by the old-school system called assimilation. It’s been a sprint with no discernible end. It’s even more challenging in places like Saint Cloud, a Catholic town that’s earned the nickname “White Cloud” because of its demographic make-up.

In recent years, though, the city’s demographics have begun to shift. Between 2009 and 2014, our small African American population doubled. Our Latino population grew by about 50 percent. St. Cloud has been adjusting to this change, but it hasn’t gone so well. I’ve watched as residents throw temper tantrums about people like me, about parents who want to make a better life for their children. Around my neighborhood, white people post signs that read, “This is America, and we have a right to offend everyone. Don’t like it, too bad” and “Get prayers out of school.”

There are organized groups that call for a limit on the number of legal refugees allowed to live here. My Somali Muslim friends have confided in me about rental discrimination, customer service discrimination, public school discrimination and employee discrimination.

Once, during a panel discussion on Islamophobia, a couple approached me.”Your people have crowded America,” the wife told me. “You live for free, eat free, and all you do is take … from people like my husband and I. You bring your culture and your religion and want to take over. No more. We’re tired. We just want America back.” Her docile husband nodded in agreement. Afraid to further her hurt, I listened and apologized. As they walked away, the husband left me with a last thought, “You’re okay. You’re an American. You speak English.”

Misconceptions like this spread like wildfire, leveled against university students who made a conscious decision to move away from home or newlyweds who want somewhere beautiful in which  to settle down.

In this lack of enthusiasm for diversity, I saw an opportunity. I saw a platform for people like me to educate. So for the last six years, I’ve been traveling around the city, giving talks about my faith. I hope to humanize Islam, Somalia, refugees and others who are different to privileged, white Americans. I, a Muslim Somali American refugee educator, need acceptance in order for me and my people to flourish.
At one recent gathering I sat on a panel vulnerably facing more than 100 inquisitive residents. I was handed a handful of anonymous question. Aware of my inferiority in age, wisdom and religion, I managed to keep a steady smile as I choose my poison: “Who is Allah? How is Allah God?” “Do you feel oppressed?” “How do you pray?” “Why do you wear the veil in America?”

The questions seemed accusatory, but intrinsically, I felt comfortable. The bold arrogance of their inquiry electrified my being, awakening my soul. Surely, Islam did not start with me, nor their Muslim Somali refugee neighbors, or did it?

A particular question pulls me in: “Who is Allah?” I ruminate. Allah is God, Allah is Yaweh. Islam’s holy text is the Quran. The Quran is written in classical Arabic. Like the Bible and Torah, it has been translated to fit the modern times. As a result, Allah, Yaweh and God are all the creator of mankind. I pray to God, Yaweh and Allah. Same difference.

I worry, though, that this explanation won’t really address the fear baked into a lot of these assumptions. So I decide to go with a more controversial point: “Do you want to kill us?”  It’s a question I’ve heard a lot over this election season, a fear perpetuated by the way Donald Trump has been campaigning. Trump has scorned Obama for not using “radical Islamic terrorism” to describe the Islamic State. He believes Islam, a religion of over a billion followers, is ISIS. He’s sold that message all over the country.

As I consider how to answer, I think about my language. Somali is tonal. It’s taught me that in life, sometimes, it’s not what you say but how you say it. I recall this lesson in my answer to the inquisitive audience. Reiterate the question: “Do I, a Muslim, want to kill you?” Respond: “Absolutely not. My faith states, ‘…if any one killed a person, it would be as if he killed the whole mankind…’ (Quran 5:32). Ladies and gentleman, Islam teaches me discipline through prayer, fasting, and peace. Violence is never an option or thought for practicing Muslims.”

A sigh of relief fills the room. Suddenly, I appear more human.

Unlike the previous couple, the individuals I encounter here want to learn. At the end of the panels, I get hugs and intimate questions. One elderly man timorously approached me once, asking, “I heard from a friend that all Muslim men can have four wives. Does your husband practice that?”

“No,” I tell him.”

“I can’t imagine they can afford that. Wonderful. God bless you. I never realized we have so much in common.” At the end of every panel, I always feel the room is less eerie. Facial expression change, a light of hope turns on, and people seem more social than the hours before. Some ask me for my email and phone number. I tell them I do this for free and I’d be happy to travel. I am sure my story helps some sleep better at night.

I never expected Trump to win. No way, I thought, would America choose him for a president. I assured myself the American presidency is the most noble and honorable position in the world. Now that he’s been elected, though, I see an opportunity. While Trump has been occupied settling score on Twitter, I have engaged in dialogue to shatter the false assumptions about my faith, race and country of origin. I will display class, compassion, humility and grace in the face of a President who lacks these qualities. Others seem interested too. Since the election, I have received two requests to lead discussions promoting dialogue and diversity.

Wolfgang Mozart said, “Neither a lofty degree of intelligence nor imagination nor both together go to the making of genius. Love, love, love, that is the soul of genius.” I am confident America has many more unsung geniuses than we realize.


Ayan Omar is a language arts teacher in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

UK

London stabbing murders: 18-year-old arrested on suspicion of killing two young men on same night in Camden

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THE INDEPENDENT — An 18-year-old has been arrested on suspicion of murdering two young men who were stabbed to death within two hours of each other in north London.

Police confirmed the deaths of Abdikarim Hassan, 17, and Sadiq Aadam, 20, in Camden on Tuesday evening.

The suspect was also arrested on one count of grievous bodily harm after a 16-year-old boy was stabbed outside a block of flats. He remains in hospital with non-life threatening injuries.

Mr Hassan died in front of his mother after being stabbed in the chest at around 8.30pm. Mr Aadam died a short time later, with witnesses saying he had been slashed with a samurai sword.

Despite being given first aid by police, both men died at the scene of the stabbings.

Police say Mr Aadam and a friend were chased by a group of four men along an alleyway before the attack. The friend was unharmed.

Paul Considine, the detective chief inspector leading the investigation, said: “What is clear is that there were three violent attacks, by a group of men armed with knives, within about two hours of each other and within about a mile of each other.

“I need the public’s help to establish the exact circumstances in which two young men were murdered and another seriously injured, and to identify the people responsible.

“Today, I am asking local residents or those people who were out in the area that night to think back – and if they saw something that may help us, please get in contact. I can understand why some people may be reluctant or nervous about coming forward but we need your help. We will treat your information in the strictest of confidence.”

Mr Aadam is reportedly the third member of his family to die in a knife attack in five years. Mohamed Aadam, his brother, was murdered in the middle of the day in Camden Town in September, weeks before his 21st birthday, The Camden New Journal reported.

Their cousin, Mohamed Abdullahi, also known as “Lefty”, was murdered in June 2013 aged 20.

Mr Abdullahi’s father and the Aadam brothers’ uncle, Aydarus Ahmed, has campaigned to end knife violence since his son’s death.

“The frequency with which young men are prepared to take each others’ lives is shocking,” Mr Considine said. “We all have a part to play in preventing this. If you know something about these murders then please do your part in helping us with this investigation.

“One line of enquiry that we are urgently pursuing is that a blue van was seen in the area of the two murders. If you saw a vehicle that caused you concern due to how it was being driven or the people inside it then please get in touch with us.”

London has seen large rises in knife crime since then. Recorded incidents rose by 23 per cent in the capital during the 12-month period to the end of September last year, according to the Office for National Statistics.

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Crime

Two Somali men stabbed to death in north London as 2018 toll reaches 15

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Two men have been stabbed to death within two hours of each other in the same London borough, bringing the number of people fatally wounded with knives in the capital in 2018 to at least 15.

The Metropolitan police launched two separate murder investigations into the killings on Tuesday night but said they had not ruled out the possibility of a link between them.

The first victim was found with stab wounds in Bartholomew Road, Camden, at about 8.30pm. He was pronounced dead at the scene. He was named by family members as 17-year-old Abdikarim Hassan.

Officers were later called to reports of a disturbance in Malden Road, Camden, at about 10.15pm, and found 20-year-old Sadiq Adan Mohamed with serious stab wounds. He was also pronounced dead at the scene.

No arrests have been made.

Hassan came to the UK from Somalia when he was two years old and was the eldest of six children, his uncle Yusuf Ahmed said.

He was a student at Westminster college and was a “good guy” who was “always smiling” and liked playing football, he said.

Elsewhere in London, a 24-year-old man who was shot in the head in Westminster on Tuesday night remains in a critical condition in hospital. Two people were arrested at the scene on suspicion of attempted murder.

Reacting to the most recent stabbings, Commissioner Cressida Dick said: “London must come together to make it clear that this cannot continue. We will not police our way out of this problem. There is a role for all of us – London’s public, our partners and the police.

“There will be young people out today who are carrying knives. Stop and think: do you really want your life to end?”

Police deployed extra patrols across Camden overnight, while a section 60 order – which gives police the right to search people in locations where they believe serious violence will take place – was in force until 7am on Wednesday.

Official figures show 2017 was among young people since at least 2002. Forty-six people aged 25 or under were stabbed to death in London, 21 more than the previous year, according to police figures.

The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who has faced criticism for his handling of knife crime, said: “This morning I am asking the prime minister and the home secretary to urgently meet with me, my deputy mayor for policing and the commissioner of the Metropolitan police service to discuss what more can be done across government – including policing, youth services, sentencing, health services, probation and prisons – to tackle the evil of knife attacks on Britain’s streets.”

The latest phase of a Met police operation to fight knife crime resulted in nearly 300 arrests and the seizure of more than 250 weapons. Throughout the week-long operation officers recovered 265 knives, six firearms, and 45 other offensive weapons.

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Columbus, Ohio

Ismail Mohamed Wants To Be Ohio’s First Somali-American Legislator

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Ismail Mohamed, a candidate for Ohio's 25th House District, would be the state's first Somali-American legislator. CLARE ROTH / WOSU

Home means a few different things for Ismail Mohamed.

Right now, Mohamed works in Cincinnati as a staff lawyer at Baker Hostetler. He was born in Somalia, a country his family was forced to flee in the early 2000s as the civil war unfolded. But he feels his deepest connection is to the Columbus neighborhood where he was raised.

Mohamed graduated from Northland High School about a decade ago, earned a Bachelor’s and a law degree from The Ohio State University, and returned to the Northland last spring. Now, he’s running to represent the 25th District in the Ohio House.

“I reached out to a lot of different politicians to kind of get answers on some of the concerns that are going on, and I was not getting the answers that I thought were really addressing the issues. So that’s what prompted me to run,” Mohamed said.

Mohamed will challenge Democratic incumbent Rep. Bernadine Kennedy Kent in the May primary. If he wins that election, and the subsequent general in November, he’d be the first Somali-American state legislator in Ohio and the second in the country.

Mohamed says his district includes a lot of New American communities, including from Somalia, Nepal and other foreign countries.

“It’s critical we’re promoting such communities to really advance our goals and our policies in the future,” he says. “I’m so honored to be that poster-child and push that forward.”

But Mohamed says those groups are part of the larger fabric of the 25th District, and the issues they face are largely the same.

“The biggest issue in our community, I would say, is lack of economic development. The 25th [House District] has the lowest income rate — I think median income is $31,000,” he says. “A little more than half have high school diplomas. So there’s lack of educational attainment as well, which is driving the poverty issue.”

Mohamed is only 25 years old, far younger than the average age of Ohio lawmakers. But he said he doesn’t believe his lack of political experience will get in his way.

“Someone who doesn’t have a lot of ties to a political party, doesn’t have ties to the political machine, and is able to directly touch our constituents — I think that puts me in a better position,” he says.

And as tensions over immigration rise all over the country, Mohamed says local politics are more important than ever.

“It’s not just a national arena that’s defining us,” he says. “It’s more us defining what’s going in the national arena.”

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