Saturday January 30, 2016
By Ben Rodgers
Four local Somali residents took part in a community discussion about living in Minnesota as a Muslim, challenges they face and what the next steps are to bring together community.
The forum labeled "Muslim in Minnesota" was hosted by Minnesota Public Radio at St. Cloud Public Library with Tom Weber serving as a moderator. The panelists included Haji Yusuf, a community advocate and founder of Orange Oak Advertising and St. Cloud Somali Radio; Hafsa Abdi, a senior at Technical High School; Lul Hersi, a community advocate who works as an interpreter; and Hassan Yussuf, who recently ran for a seat on the St. Cloud school board and owns a tax business in St. Cloud.MPR expected over 200 people in attendance to hear the four panelists speak about their experience as Muslims in Minnesota and what needs to be done next to answer issues in St. Cloud."It's not the whole of St. Cloud," Hersi said. "It is a few, but those few are the ones making headlines and making people talk."
Hassan Yussuf said he believes a majority of the division is caused by "innocent fear."
"They see these people coming into their town in large numbers and see overseas people being killed by people who look like the ones here, so they're afraid," Hassan Yussuf said.
Haji Yussuf pointed to rhetoric coming from the presidential elections and issues overseas that have caused some of the fear.
Hassan Yussuf said the main cure for the issue is to constantly have conversation.
"That can come about by knowing them, we are neighbors," Hassan Yussuf said. "In our religion, we are taught you are not a correct Muslim if you are not aware of the affairs of your neighbor."
While those on the panel said conversation is the cure, Weber questioned "what will push the needle?"
Haji Yussuf pointed to an article written in City Pages that called St. Cloud the worst place in Minnesota to be Somali, saying articles like that need to drive conversation.
"When we see a headline like that we get surprised about it," Haji Yussuf said. "We also want to take that moment, and maybe not blame anybody and say 'Is this what's going on? Then let's start talking about it.' " Hassan Yussuf suggested these opportunities come through employment opportunities for the immigrant population, giving them a chance to have dialogue with the general public when serving them through their employer.
One issue brought fourth by Abdi about dialogue, was those who need to have conversations refuse to take part in it.
When the question of assimilation was brought up, Hersi said she feels the Somali community should assimilate to the community, but should not have to give up their dress or religion.
"How much more should we assimilate to the American culture that we are not doing right now," Hersi asked. "Does it mean I have to take off my hijab to wear something I'm not raised to? Does that make me an American? Or are you going to accept me the way I am?"
Closing the evening's discussion. Abdi spoke of the current state of St. Cloud. Abdi said while some news headlines may shine a poor light on St. Cloud to the rest of the state, she sees there are people in the community who are trying to bridge gaps and not cause division.