Courtesy Nelima KerrÃ©
Leaders of the Somali and Muslim communities came out in a united front Feb. 10 to address what they called â€œthe inaccurate and unfair portrayal of our mosques and Imams.â€ Mid-last year, about 20 Somali men were reported to have gone back home to fight a holy war. The Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center was rumored to be connected to their disappearance.
â€œIt is unfortunate that some individuals in the Somali community unfairly accused the Abubakar Center to have links to the disappearance of the Somali young men,â€ said Adbirashid Abdi, on the board of directors of the center. â€œWe strongly deny these unsubstantiated allegations. Abubakar Center didnâ€™t recruit, finance or otherwise facilitate in any way shape of form the travel of those youth.â€
â€œThis is a trying time for not only the Somali community, but the Islamic community,â€ said Imam Makram El-Amin of the Masjid An-Nur mosque. â€œWe need to show our solidarity.â€
The leaders accused the media of reporting statements from individuals with personal biases against the mosque and said this has presented many problems for the Somali community. Some called for the investigation of those who have an interest in destroying the mosque. Abdirashid Abdi explained that after the allegations, the authorities stepped in, and the mosque had to â€œback offâ€ from helping or talking with the families of the disappeared men. The families have been going to the mosque.
Travel plans for many Somalis have been frustrating since then. Speaking for the first time in public since being barred from getting on a flight last year, Abubakar Center youth coordinator Abdullah Farah complained about his experience.
â€œI was denied of boarding a flight to do my religious duties without any answers to this day,â€ he said. â€œOur community is overwhelmed and confused and want to solve this as much as you do.â€
President of S.Y.N.C (Somali Youth Network Council) Osman Mukhtar was held up at the Chicago airport for two and a half hours on a trip back to Minnesota from Europe, where he was visiting his family. â€œThe media needs to listen to all sides of the story,â€ Mukhtar insisted.
Mukhtar was friends with two of the missing men. â€œI knew them by different names, so I was shocked to see their pictures in the paper.â€ One of the men, whom he knew as Abdi Salam, gave him a ride to the Brian Coyle Center just a few days before his â€œdisappearance.â€
â€œOur conversation was regular talk, he asked me how I was doing and I asked him how he was doing,â€ he said. He did admit that there had been a change in the other manâ€™s character right after Ramadan., saying, â€œHe listened to the Quran all the time.â€
Mukhtar explains the dilemma facing many young Somali men, â€œThey canâ€™t get a job, they are confused and have been kicked out by parents for being in gangs. Some say to themselves, I did these bad things in the past, how do I cleanse myself? Maybe thatâ€™s why they would go back to fight a holy war.â€
But thatâ€™s not the story for all troubled Somali youth. Farah Mohamed had a dark past, but now works with youth at the Abubakar Center.
â€œAbubakar means the world to me,â€ he said. â€œI used to be in gangs and even went to prison. Abubakar helps us grow,â€ he added, drawing cheers from the crowd.
Nelima KerrÃ© is a Twin Cities writer who contributes to MinneAfrica, Mshale and the TC Daily Planet.