Days after Muslims around the globe celebrated as the holy month of Ramadan came to a close, festiveness turned into uneasiness and fear for the Twin Cities Islamic community.
An attempted arson at a Minneapolis mosque Sunday evening was followed the next night by a fire at another mosque in the same neighborhood, prompting the Minneapolis Police Department to team up with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to determine whether the incidents were motivated by bias.
The back-to-back incidents are the latest in a troubling increase in attacks on the houses of worship in Minnesota, keeping Muslim communities in a state of unease.
Against the backdrop of the recent attacks and with less than four weeks left in the legislative session, members of Minnesota’s Muslim communities and advocates asked lawmakers to pass legislation that would expand reporting for bias-motivated crimes.
On Sunday night, a man entered Masjid Omar Islamic Center inside Mall 24 with a brown bag thought to contain a gas can used to light a fire in the mosque’s bathroom. Worshippers quickly put the fire out but the man believed to have lit the fire, caught on surveillance footage, is still at-large.
The next day and just blocks away, another fire was ignited at Masjid Al-Rahma, with fire crews contending with flames on the building’s third floor and evacuating men, women and children.
No injuries were sustained in either incident.
The fires come two weeks after surveillance footage showed a man smashing the windows of Ummatul Islam, another mosque in south Minneapolis, and months after two more mosques were vandalized and robbed days apart last fall.
Minnesota saw nine attacks on mosques across the state last year, which is the most of any state in the nation, according to Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. According to a fact sheet compiled by the U.S. Department of Justice, recorded religious hate crimes in Minnesota went up from 20 incidents in 2019 to 30 in 2020 then again in 2021 to 44 incidents. FBI data show 11 recorded hate crimes categorized as anti-Muslim in 2021.
Dozens of DFL lawmakers, along with Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carver, joined their Muslim colleagues Reps. Hodan Hassan, Mohamud Noor and Samakab Hussein, as well as Sens. Zaynab Mohamed and Omar Fateh, for a Tuesday news conference to denounce the attacks and highlight efforts to combat increasing attacks on mosques statewide.
“This is the Minnesota that we want – in this room, is the real Minnesota, but out there, there is some notion that we don’t belong,” said Hassan, who represents the district containing both mosques, referring to her colleagues’ show of support. “I belong in Minnesota, but I’m also a Muslim Minnesotan and I’m also Somali American. I’m proud of all of my layers, very proud of them, and no one should be afraid to go and pray at their most sacred space.”
The recent uptick in attacks has brought back painful memories for Mohamed Omar, the imam and executive director of Dar al-Farooq Islamic Center. In 2017, the Bloomington mosque was firebombed by members of a white supremacist group as worshippers were preparing for early morning prayers.
“We thought we moved away from this and that chapter had become closed, but it’s very clear that in Minnesota, those who are behind the hate, they have not moved on and those who want to hurt us are still around,” he said in an interview. “For us, this is between life and death — I was in the next room when the bomb landed and God gave me a second chance — but today, seeing this right after Ramadan. It’s actually more painful.”
Emily Claire Hari masterminded the attack, driving up from Illinois with co-conspirators Michael McWhorter and Joe Morris and convincing them to throw a pipe bomb through a window of the mosque.
Omar said that a few days ago, the Bloomington Police Department reached out to him to tell him the mosque is on “high alert.” He fears that since the mosque was in the public eye due to the previous attack and Hari’s trial, they may become a target, he said.
“Imagine the police are telling you to stay alert, how safe can you feel?” Omar said. “We have to make sure that you are not going to die while you are worshiping and praying — it’s absolutely getting worse with what happened in the past.”
DFL lawmakers Rep. Samantha Vang and Sen. Zaynab Mohamed are chief authors of House File 181. The bill would expand bias-motivated crimes to include gender identity or expression, and require the Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) to train officers on how to recognize bias-motivated crimes. It would also direct the Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights to solicit bias-motivated crimes from community organizations, schools and individuals.
Mohamed highlighted the role of the community in helping to craft the bill, but also emphasized the community’s role in helping to prevent more bias-motivated crimes from happening by being more active in reporting them.
“When communities can be able to report accurately, then we know what’s happening and how things are happening, then we can do something about it,” she said.