LAST week, I started sharing my view about hajj. This is the second piece of my article in looking hajj in a different way. For us Muslims, hajj is a religious obligation that we must fulfil if we are financially and physically able, at least once in our lifetime.
I view my recent trip in the US as a different kind of hajj because it was a pilgrimage to gain knowledge and meet new friends. In my previous article, I wrote briefly about my trip in Washington DC and the two American Muslim scholars that I met. For this article I will share my experiences and learnings in Minneapolis – St. Paul, and Detroit, Michigan.
I was in Minneapolis – St. Paul, Minnesota last September 22 – 28, 2016. These two cities are described as the Twin Cities. According to our travel information kit, “Minneapolis-Saint Paul is a major metropolitan area built around the Mississippi, Minnesota and St. Croix rivers. The area is commonly known as the Twin Cities for its two largest cities, Minneapolis, the city with the largest population in Minnesota, and Saint Paul, the state capital. It is an example of twin cities in the sense of geographical proximity.” One of the reasons why we visited these two cities is because of the presence of Somali Muslim refugees.
Few days before our visit, the local news reported that, “Eight people were injured during a stabbing attack at a Minnesota shopping mall that ended with the suspected attacker – who was dressed in a private security uniform and made references to Allah – shot dead by an off-duty police officer, authorities said.” Local news also reported that the St. Cloud (a city few miles away from St. Paul) Police Chief Blair Anderson said the suspect made at least one reference to Allah during the attack and asked at least one person whether they were Muslim. However, Anderson declined to call the attacks an act of terrorism, saying the motive for the attacks isn’t known yet. The news as reported by the media targeted the Muslim Somalis. There are approximately 80,000 Somali refugees in Minnesota alone. And incident like this, affects the entire Somali Muslim community in the city and increases Islamophobia in the whole world.
When I was Minnesota, I visited the Brian Coyle Community Centre. This Centre is located in the predominantly Somali Cedar-Riverside neighbourhood of Minneapolis. It is one of the most densely populated areas in the state, with approximately 1,800 apartment units on two city blocks. The Brian Coyle Community Centre offers residents an institutional-size kitchen, six multi-purpose meeting rooms, and a food shelf, and houses organisations including the Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota. In the Centre, I didn’t see what the media is projecting about the Somali Muslim. It was totally different. The Muslims there are peace loving people who simply went to America to find a better home that is safe for their families. But because of social and political issues, to choose whether to assimilate or integrate the Muslim refugees is a tough challenge in the state of Minnesota.
In the Centre, I learned a program called Furthering Achievement through a Network of Support (FANS). This program prepares Somali youth in 8th through 12th grade for college. It also includes youth and staff work together to develop plans to achieve goals like delaying parenthood, resisting drugs, contributing to the community. And the program contributes a lot in helping the community.
I learned a lot in my few days stay in the Twin Cities. There were universities, centres, and institutions that I visited. I will share my experiences in those places in another article.
I was in Detroit. Michigan in September 28 – October 4, 2016. The same with the other cities and states that I visited in the US, I also went to universities, mosques, centres, and met American Muslim scholars. The highlight of my visit in Detroit was my visit at the Michigan Muslim Community Council. This council has served the community in Michigan for over 25 years. Their new name was adopted in 2012 after the merging of the Council of the Islamic Organisations of Michigan (CIOM) and the Islamic Shura Council of Michigan (ISCOM).
I also learned that the merger reflects their new focus on community building with their expanded board. MMCC is an umbrella organisation that unifies and coordinates the large Muslim community in Michigan to make the state a better place for all. In the centre, I met Imam Mustafa M. Almasmari who is the Executive Director of the MMCC. Imam Almasmari was born and raised in Michigan. He traveled to Yemen for his formal Islamic training, where he memorised the Quran and earned his Bachelor & Master Degrees in Islamic Sciences & Islamic Law. After completing his studies, the Shaykh returned to America and served as Imam in Oakland, California and Brooklyn, New York. Currently, he is the Imam of the Muslim Unity Centre in Bloomfield Hills where he resides with his wife and three children.
In my conversation with the Imam I asked him about the conditions of Muslims in America. He told me that Muslims in America can express their Islamic faith better compared in other countries. He also said, Muslims with different school of thoughts work collectively in America. There is no violent sectarian divide. Sunni, Shiite, Sufis, Ismailis, and other groups can all pray inside the same mosque. This is something different compared to our communities. I wish I can share all my experiences. But we have limited time and space as of now.