By Adam Belz
Saturday June 20, 2020
Nur Omar Mohamed, the father of U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, was a mentor to many young people and a man whose support of his daughter's political ambition was unusual for his generation.
Mohamed died Monday of complications from COVID-19. He was 67.
Omar said Friday her father was "everything" to her and her siblings, and made what should have been a much more difficult life feel easier for his children.
"We all think of him as our shield," Omar said. "He wanted to shine a light of happiness in our lives and it feels right now that there's a shadow of darkness, and I don't know how long that stays."A former civil servant in Somalia, Mohamed was both an elder in the Minneapolis Somali community and a "good man" who was very proud of his daughters, said Abdi Warsame, the former Minneapolis City Council member and head of the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority.
"He had a big laugh. He could speak Russian a little bit. He was up to speed on current affairs," Warsame said. "He was an elder, but more cosmopolitan than most."
Mohamed was seen regularly walking or chatting on the streets in Cedar-Riverside where he lived. He spoke fluent Italian and Arabic, in addition to Somali, English and Russian. He returned to visit Somalia often.
He held several positions in civil service in the Somali government and worked for the postal service in Minneapolis after he came to the U.S. His nicknames in Cedar-Riverside were "Colonel" and "Superdad."
Mohamed had a "huge" concept of family and was a father figure to many people in Cedar-Riverside, said Abdirahman Kahin, the owner of Afro Deli.
"He was the father that everyone wanted to have," Kahin said. "Open-minded, listening, taking your phone number."
His support for his daughter's political career was a departure from the sensibilities of his generation.
"The older generation, they don't really like women going into politics, but he was the kind of man who always pushed his daughters to beat the odds," Kahin said.
His wife, the mother of Ilhan Omar and Sahra Noor, worked outside of the home and owned a car in Somalia when the sisters were little.
"It was very untraditional in the way their relationship was and in the way that they chose to raise us," Omar said. "He was a feminist, I would say, before people really understood what that term was."
Mohamed's wife died when Omar was 2 years old. After Somalia descended into civil war, the family ended up in a refugee camp in Kenya and moved to the U.S. in 1995.
"For most people it would be hard to raise seven children, but he did it with ease, not only fulfilling a father's role but a mother's role," Omar said.
Mohamed was energetic, holding conversations on long walks and regularly walking to prayer at Masjid Rawdah, a mosque several blocks away from Cedar-Riverside on E. 26th Street, said Abdirizak Bihi, director of the Somali Education and Social Advocacy Center. "It sometimes would be difficult for me to catch up with him," Bihi said.
He was a "cool head" who emphasized the importance of understanding where your opponents are coming from, Bihi said, and he was a "soothing" conversationalist.
"He talked a lot about the art of listening," Bihi said. "He said when people are passionate about something, they argue about things, they cut each other off, and that's a problem."
Kahin and Bihi said Mohamed listened to young people and mentored them.
"He was always getting new ideas from young people," Kahin said. "His environment was young people."
Mohamed's survivors include seven children, including daughters Omar and Sahra Noor, and many grandchildren, including Omar's three children, Isra, Adnan and Ilwad Hirsi.
His children and grandchildren buried him Friday at the Garden of Eden Islamic Cemetery in Burnsville.
"He always said he was full of wealth because he got to see all of his children have children," Omar said. "I think that wealth was present today as we laid him in the ground."Staff writer Faiza Mahamud contributed to this report.