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US Muslim Faith Leaders Voice Concerns Over Mosque Attacks

FILE - Yusuf Abdulle, standing, director of the Islamic Association of North America, prays with fellow Muslims at the Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, May 12, 2022.
FILE - Yusuf Abdulle, standing, director of the Islamic Association of North America, prays with fellow Muslims at the Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, May 12, 2022.

Recent attacks on mosques in Minneapolis, in the Midwest U.S. state of Minnesota, have increased concerns by Somali American imams, mosque administrators and community activists about the safety of their congregations.

Fires were set at the Masjid Omar Islamic Center on April 23 and Masjid Al-Rahma Mosque on April 24, Minneapolis police said. The locations are close to each other.

Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Minnesota, was inside the Masjid Al-Rahma Mosque when someone set fire to the third floor.

“I was inside the mosque, meeting with the imam about the safety of his congregation, when I heard someone shouting with, ‘There is a fire. There is a fire,’” Hussein told VOA recently. “Thank Allah no one was hurt.”

He added that more than 40 children who were in the mosque’s day care were safely evacuated.

Hussein has been involved in the American-Muslim community’s fight against hate attacks, but he said this was the first time he witnessed one.

“I could not believe my eyes, I was shocked and bewildered that I was witnessing one of the things I have been documenting for many years,” Hussein said. “We have been receiving threatening calls and messages, but this was the first time I practically witnessed it.”

On April 29, authorities arrested Jackie Rahm Little on a state charge of second-degree arson regarding the April 24 fire at the Masjid Al-Rahma mosque.

On Thursday, Little was indicted on federal charges of arson and damage to religious property while investigators look into a series of crimes targeting Muslims and Somali Americans, The Associated Press reported.

Authorities are also investigating LIttle as a suspect in a fire that damaged the Masjid Omar Islamic Center on April 23, as well as in the January vandalism of U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar's Minneapolis office, among other crimes, U.S. Attorney Andy Luger said at a news conference last week.

Imam Yusuf Abdulle, executive director of the Islamic Association of North America (IANA), which administers more than 40 mosques across America, said he fears a continuation of such arson attacks could endanger the lives of Muslim congregations in America.

“Apart from the August 5, 2017, bombing of the Dar al-Farooq (DAF) Islamic Center in Bloomington, Minnesota, the Muslims and their faith centers have been witnessing verbal attacks and anti-Muslim political rhetoric, minor acts of vandalism and spray-painted anti-Muslim graffiti. But these latest arson attacks seem to be new messages that the danger is growing,” Abdulle told VOA.

The latest attacks also come weeks after Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey officially signed an ordinance that allows mosques citywide to broadcast the call to prayer five times a day, following a request from the community and imams.

In an interview with VOA, former IANA director Sh. Hassan Dhooye said, he thinks those who were behind the mosque attacks were displeased by the legislation.

“You know, for the first time a city in America has allowed its Muslim community to broadcast call prayers. For us, it was historic, and for those against us, it was an anger. I think the latest attacks could be a response to that,” Dhooye said.

Yusuf Mohamed Omar, the director of the Muslim Coalition of ISAIAH, which represents over 20 mosques in America, shares the fear with the imams.

“It grew fear in the hearts of the community because they feel their faith centers are under target,” Omar told VOA. “I think the number of those spreading hate and fear are few, but they carry out more wicked actions in different places and different times to send a signal that they are more and unstoppable.”

Immediately after the mosque attacks, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz condemned the acts and voiced support for the Muslim community on Twitter.

“Here in Minnesota, everyone must be able to practice their faith without fear,” he wrote. “To members of our Muslim community – my heart is with you today. We will not tolerate acts of violence toward our friends and neighbors.”

Mohamud Muse Hassan, a Somali local activist, said the community is encouraged by the cooperation and the level of response of the police and city authorities.

Speaking of Mayor Frey, Minneapolis police Chief Brian O’Hara and Governor Walz, Hassan told VOA, “All of them responded immediate and shared their console and concern with the Muslim community. They had meetings with the faith leaders. Such responses encourage us.”

This story originated from this week’s VOA Somalia’s Torch Program. Some information for this article came from The Associated Press.