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How Minnesota Muslims feel when terrorists say they kill in the name of Islam

For many Muslims in Minnesota, one thing seems to have become the new normal in America: criticizing Islam whenever terrorists strike.

But in this presidential election season, it isn’t just faceless commenters on social media that have unleashed such criticisms; it now comes from some of the candidates themselves.

The latest example is from Sen. Ted Cruz, who, in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Brussels, advocated the need to “patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods” throughout the country.

It wasn’t the first time a presidential candidate uttered such a remark, of course. Several months ago, when another ISIS attack killed scores of people in Paris, Donald Trump called for barring all Muslims from entering the United States.

Community advocates say such comments have triggered growing resentment toward Muslims in America — including the nearly 150,000 who live in Minnesota, a group that includes Americans with centuries-old roots in the country as well as immigrant children and their foreign-born parents.

To understand what it’s like to be a Muslim in Minnesota after a terrorist strike, MinnPost spoke with various people in the community, asking them to speak at length about their thoughts and emotions following such incidents. The following is a transcript of their remarks, lightly edited for length and clarity. 

The American people are much smarter than that’

Zafar Siddiqui is the founder and director of interfaith and civil relations for the Islamic Resource Group, which educates communities in big cities and small towns across Minnesota about the religion. 

“Whenever any kind of terrorism happens anywhere in the world, as a Muslim, I feel very sad. Islam teaches that even if one innocent life is taken, it’s like the lives of all humans are taken.”

“So, irrespective of whether they’re Muslims or non-Muslims, as a human being, I feel sad for anybody who’s killed. But I feel even sadder if so-called Muslim groups have been involved in hurting innocent people.”

Zafar Siddiqui
MinnPost photo by Ibrahim Hirsi
Zafar Siddiqui: “Muslims don’t expect Christians to condemn violence that happens in the name of Christianity anywhere in the world.”

“At the same time, though, what I don’t agree with people on is the expectations from non-Muslim communities that Muslims must condemn anything that happens anywhere in the world. Muslims don’t expect Christians to condemn violence that happens in the name of Christianity anywhere in the world. We know better that those are not the teachings of Christianity, and Christianity doesn’t espouse or endorse terrorism. But the same courtesy is not extended to Muslims.”

“I feel that this noxious atmosphere that is being created by some presidential candidates won’t last. The American people are much smarter than that, and they’ll see through these gimmicks.”

“I do see a bright future for the American Muslim community if they keep working toward doing good, benefitting the community around them and also educating people around them about who they really are — and take the discourse away from the extremists.”

I didn’t think my daughter would grow up having to explain something like ISIS

Fedwa Wazwaz is a longtime blogger and founder of Engage Minnesota, a website focused on covering the Muslim community in Minnesota. 

“The one thing that worries me is that my daughter is now being asked to explain ISIS. I didn’t think that my daughter would grow up having to explain something like ISIS. And she’s coming back to me in the morning [to ask], ‘Who is ISIS?’ And we have to keep telling her, ‘No, no, no. That’s not you for you to explain.'”

“We are asking Muslim students, who are probably starting high school or even elementary school, to explain these actions. What if they go on to the Internet and start looking at those videos? What if … they start to feel a sense of empathy or are impressed by those videos that they see on the Internet?”

“So, I have to watch my daughter and say to her, ‘Don’t go over there because I’ll explain those questions to you.'”

Fedwa Wazwaz
MinnPost photo by Ibrahim Hirsi
Fedwa Wazwaz: “What if some families don’t sit down with their kids and explain, and they go on the Internet and they start to look up, ‘Who is ISIS?’ That concerns me.”

“[But] what if some families don’t sit down with their kids and explain, and they go on the Internet and they start to look up, ‘Who is ISIS?’ That concerns me. That worries me a lot.”

“I’m afraid of the next terrorist attack because if it does happen, it’s going to hit me and you. If you look at the ones that did take place … there were Muslim victims. The majority of ISIS victims are Muslims.”

“We’re constantly explaining the bad Muslims to people. What I’m trying to do … is to say we’re a human community. Just like all communities, there are in our community people who do good and people who do bad. We’re human beings.”

If we’re going to divide Americans … we’re just falling into their trap

Mohammad Zafar, a former U.S. Marine who was born in Pakistan, was given one of the 25 Veterans’ Voices Awards by Gov. Mark Dayton in 2013 for making a difference in Minnesota. Now a community psychologist, he was in Turkey when ISIS bombed the country’s capital of Ankara, killing at least 34 people.

“As a U.S. Marine — my brother is [also] a former U.S. Marine — we served this country. We wrote a blank check. We got out with honorable discharge. I don’t expect a thank-you or gratitude of any kind. All I expect is to treat me and other fellow Muslims as equal. We’re the same as everyone else. When these attacks happen, we have no clue as you don’t have a clue. As such, we need to look at this as a collective body, as what we can do to prevent such things.”

“In four years of active duty, I felt really good as a Marine because I was taken care of as a Muslim. We had kosher, halal meat. We were given all our privileges, and we were given our rights as Muslims. Therefore, when we did what we did in the Marine Corps, we served 100 percent because … we felt part of the team.”

Mohammad Zafar
MinnPost photo by Ibrahim Hirsi
Mohammad Zafar: “When we did what we did in the Marine Corps, we served 100 percent because … we felt part of the team.”

“Those are things I’ve never really felt after leaving the Marine Corps, and it’s sad that society needs to be reminded of that.”

“In my opinion, if [ISIS] is going to attack a country [Turkey] that has such a beautiful history about Islam … and they want to blow up and just basically want to disrupt that country, clearly … they don’t care about Islam. They don’t care about security. They don’t care about harmony. They don’t care about stability. They have a whole different agenda.”

“This is a bigger picture: If we’re going to divide Americans — based on Muslims versus others — we’re just falling into their trap. This is not the right way of doing things. We’re completely embedded in the fabric of this society as Muslims. We’re not here to disrupt anything. We’re here to build a society.”

‘This is my country’

Saciido Shaie is the founder and director of Ummah Project, a Twin Cities-based interfaith group of activists “committed to the public ideals of unity and community, social and economic justice and peace at home and abroad.”

“A lot of people call me when anything happens. They say, ‘We are sorry about what happened. You also get social media [messages] saying, ‘Hey, you are terrorist. Go back to your country.’ But the first thing that comes to my mind is, ‘Hey, I’m already home. This is my country, regardless of what you say.'”

Saciido Shaie
MinnPost photo by Ibrahim Hirsi
Saciido Shaie: “You also get social media [messages] saying, ‘Hey, you are terrorist. Go back to your country.’ But the first thing that comes to my mind is, ‘Hey, I’m already home. This is my country, regardless of what you say.'”

“I don’t have to worry about what someone else did, but at the same time, there’s no way I can exclude myself from what’s happening because that person looked like me or dressed like me. It’s not my responsibility to worry about that; still, it affects me in so many different ways.”

“There are people who are misusing my religion: groups like ISIS and al Shabab. But the reality is, it has nothing to do with Islam. It’s a man-made ideology. We, as Muslims, need to change that mindset.”

‘We’re seen as an asset to the community’

Makram El-Amin is the imam of Masjid An-Nur mosque in North Minneapolis, which was established in 1990.      

“We’re alarmed and disturbed by these kinds of actions … and senseless violence. People are losing their lives for no reason. And those emotions are further compounded when those actions are attributed to Islam, our faith that we know to be a source of peace. So it becomes a very troubling incident for many Muslims.”

“We enjoy good relationships with our community [in north Minneapolis]. Most often, we would get a letter, a note or a call of support when things like this are occurring.”

Makram El-Amin
MinnPost photo by Ibrahim Hirsi
Makram El-Amin: “Most people that we encountered locally can discern between these sources of actions and the true Muslim identity.”

“On an occasion or two, we get anonymous letters or some long voicemail condemning Islam and those sorts of things — but that hasn’t been frequent for us. Most people that we encountered locally can discern between these sources of actions and the true Muslim identity.”

“Here at the mosque, we have a food service program. We feed a lot of the needy people in the community — and the vast majority of them … are not Muslims. So, they come to the mosque, they get groceries or a hot meal, their children are fed.”

“We’re seen as an asset to the community, as a trusted source in the community, not as the other. It’s really important that a lot of mosques get involved in the practical day-to-day realities of people’s lives. And the more we can do that, the more they can distinguish between things that are happening and the common person within Islam.”

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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 04/01/2016 - 01:48 pm.

    The kernel of the problem is

    The kernel of the problem is that people do not know of the number of divisions within Islam. It really is not helped when using an umbrella term of “Islam” to describe the actions.

    The terrorists commit offenses in the name of Allah and claim that their actions are justified in the Koran, and say that there actions are to further the goals of Islam. A portion of the Islamic people responding to the offenses say that Allah and the Koran do not justify those actions and those actions are counter to Islam. Another portion of the Islamic people believe that since all has been determined by Allah, the actions of the terrorists is a part of the unfolding plan of Allah and so cannot really be condemned. And, on and on. A wide range of responses.

    It would seem that there are few guide-rails in the interpretation of the Koran, and no really effective way of drawing a line throughout the community of Islam and saying–this far and no further. Because each group of terrorists have their own religious justification through their religious leaders, the foreordained nature of the belief, and the decentralized structure to the religion, the is no effective, united and consequential condemnation of terrorist actions. Crudely and inappropriately put, Islam needs a Pope and the tool of excommunication.

    When the wars began in Iraq and Afghanistan, the great majority of the people did not even know the major divisions of Sunni and Shiite–and it is quite likely that few do even now. But there are even more divisions than that of important theological consequence–there is a list of 73 with their distinctive facets of beliefs (http://www.real-islam.org/73_8.htm).

    So, some believers believe the actions of terrorists are in line with Islam, others believe that because those actions have happened that they are in line with Allah’s will, and many are horrified by the actions, and then there are those who are barely connected with their religion.

    So how is an ordinary non-Islamic person supposed to understand these?

    Blanket prejudice occurs because there is little distinction of the varieties of belief and practice.

    • Submitted by Pat Berg on 04/01/2016 - 02:33 pm.

      Westboro Baptist

      It would be like condemning all Christians because of the actions of Westboro Baptist Church.

      • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 04/01/2016 - 04:17 pm.

        Yes and no.The official

        Yes and no.

        The official Southern Baptist response to Westboro: “We share concern over the unbiblical views and offensive tactics of those at the Westboro (Independent) Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. Westboro does not have now, nor has ever had, any relationship with the Southern Baptist Convention. His extreme positions not only stand in contrast to the SBC, more importantly, they stand in contrast to God’s Word. Scripture clearly teaches that homosexual behavior is sinful in the eyes of a just and holy God; but the Bible also clearly proclaims God’s love for all sinners, including homosexuals, and that He offers forgiveness to all who repent and place their faith in the atoning death of Jesus Christ for our sins.”

        It is pretty clear that Westboro operates alone on the whims of the personal vitriol of their leader and limited group of supporters (mostly one family) and does not receive support from “related” religious organizations or governments.

        ISIS, al Qaeda, al Shabaab, Boko Haram, Taliban, and a couple dozen other organizations operate with the tacit support of governments, religious leaders and followers particular forms of Islam throughout the world. There is a clear line of funding that extends trans-nationally from the oil-rich regions to the terrorist organizations

        And, the actions of Westboro are offensive, but not terrorism (free speech, as defended by the ACLU).

        If you think that I think that all followers of Islam are terrorists, or most, or some such broad brush, you are wrong.

        What I am trying to do is enter into a dialog that, in some way, that outlines the difficulties with the necessary distinctions between acceptable and unacceptable.

        • Submitted by Pat Berg on 04/01/2016 - 04:49 pm.


          Actually, I was trying to pick up on your point of how those who are unfamiliar with a religion may or may not be aware of the distinctions that exist within it.

          In the same way that you point out how many people are unfamiliar with the major divisions of Sunni and Shiite, I could see someone who does not live in this country but who sees the actions of Westboro Baptist, for example, being reported on the news from time to time may think that sort of extremism is representative of how Christians think as a whole. The nuance could very easily get lost on them.

          I thought we were in agreement on that.

    • Submitted by Kenneth Kjer on 04/01/2016 - 04:17 pm.

      I hear what you are saying all the time

      I submitted earlier my thoughts about Islam, which I felt were reasonable and documented, but MN Post didn’t see fit to publish it, which seems typical of all news outlets. I am not a radical, who would go to in the streets and cause problems. But, I hear what you are saying all the time, to which I respond, I have never seen nor heard any believer in Islam challenge the statements in the Quran. As long as no one is willing to dispute some of the writings of Mohammed, I cannot believe that Muslims are peaceful. I have 4 copies of various Quran’s published at different times in history and I see no difference in them. I also have various Christian bibles, the Torah, The Vedas, some of the important Buddhist texts, none of them compare to the Quran.

  2. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 04/01/2016 - 10:09 pm.

    In a timely…

    In a timely manner to this story I happened to have dinner tonight at a near NE Minneapolis eating and drinking establishment that was filed to overflowing with customers. Even after we were seated we were surrounded by others waiting their turn, Among them was a young couple: an Arab Muslim woman in a berka and her male companion a white biker dude. Their affection became obvious as she slipped her hand into the back of his leather jacket. While I remain uncertain of the off spring forged from such a relationship; it does leave me hope for a united future.

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