By Ahmed Dirie
The push for individual religious rights by Twin Cities Somali Cabdriver (Minnesota, USA) or similar events might impact the livelihood of low-income Somali families in the United States and those in Somalia
The push for individual religious rights by Twin Cities Somali Cabdriver (Minnesota, USA) or similar events might impact the livelihood of low-income Somali families in the United States and those in Somalia. The twin cities are home to the largest Somali refugees and asylees who fled from a brutal civil war of 16 years. The Somali-Americans are estimated to be from 25-50 thousand (actual numbers debatable) and they are flourishing economically and politically better than any other Somali group in North America. There are significant numbers of community-based and advocacy organizations and businesses owned and run by Somalis resulting in American political candidates soliciting the votes of Somali Americans. Thus, the Somalis have probably played an important role in electing the first Black and Muslim lawmaker from Minnesota (Rep, Keith Ellison) to the US Congress.
However, the thrust for smooth assimilation and influence of Somalis in the society could be hampered by the recent inclination to assert ill-placed individual religious rights over the larger society.
There is, for example, the public fury over Somali cabdrivers refusing to provide services to customers carrying alcohol and dogs, then followed by Somali cashiers who decline to scan canned pork products at stores. And then, some Somali factory workers demand space for prayers. Though, space for prayers may be reasonable request.
However, one might ask, is it a calculated risk to impose an ill-placed individual right over the larger society? Why not seek other employment opportunities that are in line with one's religious convictions? Is it lack of fully comprehending one's constitutional rights or over-exercising a newly found freedom by certain Somali immigrants? Or is it an egoistic pursuit by certain individuals trying to set a doctrinal record? Would the push for individual religious rights backlash against the positive gains of the Somali community in Minnesota? And why don't the Somali intellectuals and community leaders guide their community in the right direction?
Understandably, assimilating into a highly advanced and progressive society would be tough for many immigrant communities, especially for those coming from agro-pastoral or rural communities like the Somali refugees and asylees. Aside from the language and cultural barriers to find better paying jobs, a lack of skills required in the knowledge-based society being another hurdle to overcome even for educated Somalis with good command of English language. But insistent assertion of one's religious rights over the society would only cause self inflicted wounds for Somalis—adding unnecessary hurdle for a struggling community or a shot in the foot as Americans say.
Now, I will turn to a Somali saying "the destructive locust is gone but it left a negative legacy". Those who advocate individual rights will only create a legacy that will hurt the struggling Somali cabdrivers, store employees, low-income Somali families, and the young generation. Unfortunately, these individuals might argue that they are exercising their rights and safeguarding our Islamic heritage for future generations. But these premises are questionable because they violate the rights of others and these individuals could simply seek other employment sources. It could also affect Muslim Americans who are rebuilding the shattered image of Islam. Could it be that these individuals perceive Minnesota just as a temporary refuge from brutal civil war? If so, they fail to foresee that the twin cities will be home for generations of Somali Americans—there are many young Somalis who were born and raised here and the only home and homeland they know is the United States.
Furthermore, there are different groups in the mainstream society who have assisted Somalis to better adjust to Minnesota's social and political environment through the establishment of community-based organizations, fight against discrimination, and even in the of building of Mosques. Therefore, it is wise to be grateful and invest more effort to gain the support of the mainstream society to advocate decent jobs and career paths for Somali cabdrivers, women working in grocery stores and in care homes and for future Somali generations—Advocacy for better career development opportunities for Somalis from their agro-pastoral background to a smoother integration into the knowledge-based society.
These confrontations might signal the need to educate the Somalis about the United States constitution. For the Somalis to gain better knowledge in exercising their rights and avoid unnecessary confrontations with the mainstream society.
The fact is that Minnesota has strong Somali community leaders and intellectuals; than there are in any other state and they must step in to protect the best interests of their Somali community. Often they seem to be watching their community fail from the sidelines and that they watch Somalia disintegrate into a state of anarchy. Those professionals should better guide the Somalis to positively assimilate into the mainstream culture. A better informed Somali Americans will eventually help the Somalia (motherland) rise out of its state of anarchy. Minnesota is a political powerhouse for Somalis here and those back in Somalia—let us use this leverage in a positive way.
In conclusion, remember the Somali wisdom which says "Do not act like the bird that carried a fire once in its life and it eventually set the fire on its own nest". United States is home, a refuge, and powerhouse for thousands of Somalis suffering from a brutal war.
Source: Development Narrator Magazine
Dr. Ahmed Dirie is the Founder and managing Editor of Development Narrator Magazine (www.dn-sottedi.org) for Somalia. Contact [email protected]