Connect with us

Diaspora

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

Published

on

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.

Diaspora

Somali Man charged the deaths of 4 in fatal I-55 accident

Published

on

STAUTON, IL – A Colorado truck driver has been charged following an investigation into a multi-vehicle accident that killed 4 people and injured 11 others. Mohamed Jama, 54, of Greeley, Colorado, turned himself in to the Madison County Jail Monday.

The accident happened on southbound I-55 in Madison County on November 21, 2017.

The fatal accident killed 2 sisters, Madisen and Hailey Bertels and a friend, Tori Carroll, and an out of state woman, Vivian Vu in another vehicle.

Authorities say the accident occurred when a tractor-trailer driven by Mohamed Jama failed to slow down and stop for cars in front of him in a construction zone.

By the time it was all over, 7 vehicles were damaged and the people inside them injured or killed.

The sisters attended high school in Staunton.

The deaths deeply touched Staunton where people knew the young women or knew people who were their friends. Many in town were still grieving the loss. Matthew Batson said, “I’ll hear stories about them all the time, even though it’s been five months? Yes, it’s a lasting effect.”

The Madison County State`s Attorney Tom Gibbon said if convicted of all the crimes Mohamed Jama could spend the rest of his life in prison. With summer coming on and more construction zone Gibbons says there`s a warning for all of us.

“Each of us out there in our cars we really need to pay attention, watch out, slow down you never want to see something like this to happen again it so terrible for all the victim I’m sure that no person would want to be the cause of something like this.”

Jama is charged with 4 counts of reckless homicide and 8 counts of reckless driving. He`s being held in the Madison County Jail without bond.

Continue Reading

Books

CANADA: Edmonton author aims to boost diversity in children’s book publishing

Published

on

EDMONTON—Two years ago Rahma Mohamed’s then four-year-old daughter saw an Elsa costume, complete with blond braids, and pleaded with her mother to buy it so she would look “beautiful.”

That’s when Mohamed decided her kids needed more cultural inspiration than the blond princess from Frozen.

After a year of work, the first-time author published Muhima’s Quest, a children’s book that tells the story of a young African-America Muslim girl who wakes up on her 10th birthday and goes on a journey.

Now, Mohamed’s at work on her second book, which is due out at the end of the month. She’s on a journey of her own, she said, to boost diversity in children’s publishing.

“I wanted to create a character who had African descent and is a Muslim in a children’s book because I just found out that there were none that were available in the mainstream,” she said.

Her books show kids it’s OK to be different, she said. Take her first book: some Muslims don’t celebrate birthdays, she explains, and the little girl in the book struggles with her faith and questions why she doesn’t celebrate like her classmates do.

“The overall message is that we do things differently, but that part is what makes us beautiful,” Mohamed said.

She said she felt it necessary for her kids to see themselves represented in the books they read in order to “enhance their self-confidence, as well as bolster their sense of pride.”

Mohamed, who writes under the pen name Rahma Rodaah, self-published her first book and since last summer, has sold 200 copies locally.

“It does take a lot of resources and you have to self-finance, but I believe in the end it’s worth it,” she said.

She hopes to go bigger with her second book, which focuses on the universal concept of sibling rivalry, and features a young girl who plans on selling her little brother because she believes he is getting all the attention.

“My overall goal is to portray Muslim Africans who are basically a normal family.”

Mohamed says her previous book was well-received by parents at readings she had done at public libraries and schools.

“Most of them who are Muslims really loved that the kids could identify with the characters,” she said.

The books also acted as a conversation starter for non-Muslim families, she said.

She said, for her, the most exciting part of the journey is knowing that she is making a difference in shaping the minds of young Black Muslims.

“We are underrepresented, misunderstood and mostly mischaracterized. It is time we paint a different picture.”

Continue Reading

Minnesota

When radicalization lured two Somali teenagers … from Norway

Published

on

Mukhtar Ibrahim

In October 2013, two Somali teenage girls named Ayan and Leila shocked their parents by running away to join ISIS in Syria. Their radicalization story is unusual in that it happened in Norway.

Acclaimed Norwegian journalist Åsne Seierstad spent years researching what happened. Now her book, “Two Sisters: Into the Syrian Jihad” is available in the United States.

Seierstad, who discusses her book Monday night at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis, said she didn’t go looking for the story.

“The story actually came to me,” she said. “It was the father of the girls who actually wanted the story to be written.”

His name is Sadiq, a Somali man who worked for years to bring his family to Norway. He hoped for a better life. He thought things were going well, then everything collapsed when Ayan and Leila disappeared.

When the girls left home, their parents were in shock, Seierstad said. “They hadn’t understood what was this about. Why? And then as months went by and they got to learn more about radicalization, they realized that all the signs had been there. That the girls were like a textbook case of radicalization. And he [Sadiq] wanted the book to be written to warn others, to tell this story to warn other parents.”

It is a perplexing story. Ayan and Leila were bright, and opinionated. They didn’t put up with being pushed around.

“And that is somehow part of why they left, in their logic,” said Seierstad, adding that the girls were convinced Syria and ISIS offered a chance of eternal life.

“They believed that life here and now is not real life. Real life happens after death. And this life is only important as a test. So the better your score, the better you behave in this life, the better position you will have in heaven for eternity. So isn’t that better?”

Seierstad is known for her in-depth reporting. Her book “One of Us,” about Anders Breivik, the gunman who killed 77 people in Norway’s worst terror attack, is an international best-seller.

When published in Norway Seierstad said, “Two Sisters” became the top-selling book for two years running. What pleases her most is the breadth of her readership. She gets email from young Somali girls, and also from government officials who want to prevent future radicalization.

Continue Reading

TRENDING