Food did some of the communicating during a dinner created to bridge the difference between Somali and non-Somali residents of St. Cloud.
Local author and educator Hudda Ibrahim hosted “Dine and Dialogue with a Muslim Neighbor” with her fiance Abdi Mahad in their north St. Cloud apartment building Saturday.
Sambusas, rice, berries, fruit and one giant sheet cake did the talking as more than 65 people gathered in the apartment building’s common room.
“Sharing a meal to promote understanding is a practice as old as humanity itself,” Ibrahim said.
Friends Somali and non-Somali, some neighbors from the apartment, some of Ibrahim’s current and former students from St. Cloud Technical and Community College and even Mayor Dave Kleis participated in the event.
Some of the people were trying — and enjoying — Somali food for the first time. Somali mothers brought their children, some of them infants, who acted as the other universal cultural bridge: adoring cute babies.
Ibrahim and Mahad said they have been noticing the gap and fear between cultures in Central Minnesota more and more in recent months. They know there is confusion and misunderstanding about refugee resettlement, Sharia law, what it means to be an American, public support for low-income families, and the economic contribution of refugees and immigrants.
“So we decided to host this dinner to bridge that gap and create an environment where understanding, empathy, love, laughter and humor blossom,” she said.
Most importantly, they encouraged people to ask questions — real questions — about what they didn’t understand.
“Come to us. Talk to us. Ask us any burning question,” Ibrahim said. “We are more than willing to answer them.”
“I hate Minnesota Nice sometimes,” Mahad said, because people sometimes choose to say nothing because they’re worried they’ll say the wrong thing.
We don’t have to agree over everything, he added. He has plenty of people in his life he doesn’t always agree with, but he still shows them love and respect.
“Both the Bible and Quran mention ‘to love your neighbor as yourself,'” he said. “If we hold on to our principles of love, respect and empathy, we can learn to humanize the other.”
The couple knows it’s a hard job to address people’s fears, and they know they can’t do so on their own. They hope to do more dinners like this, and hope the idea spreads to other families and homes.
“We can have a different faith, but we need to celebrate and embrace our diversity,” Ibrahim said. “I don’t think diversity is weakness. It’s our strength.”