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Etiquette Issues Surrounding Islamic Conferences in Minneapolis

 by Mohamed Abdi (Sandhere)
Friday, Sept 01, 2007

 

A Brief History

 

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Minnesota has been the hub for the Somali Community since the brutal civil war erupted in their home country in 1991. Apart from the refugee resettlement programs that brought the Somalis directly to this Midwestern state, there has been a significant number that moved from other states for education and employment opportunities. Although the exodus reached at its peak in the new millennium , the first wave in 1993 was what made the community become visible in Minneapolis and in the metro area[1]. Somalis, like any other immigrant community, came with their norms and values. Religion being probably, the only unifying factor, they established mosques in as early as 1998[2]. Even though Somalis co-established other mosques such as Dar al-farooq in South-East Minneapolis with other Muslim communities, Dar al-Hijra and Imam Shafici (the latter morphed into the giangatic Abubakar Assidique Institution) represent the first Somali Community-run Islamic projects in the state of Minnesota. Both are now owned by the Community after eight years of rent with a purchase price of $400,000 and $1.9 million respectively. 

 

 

Programs, Services, and etiquette issues

 

As part of their civic duties, these Islamic institutions and others in the state provide religious and social programs and services to the Community. Services include basic health and high school for adults (Dar al-Hijra), family counseling, conflict resolution, civic engagement, and the provision of community halls for wedding ceremonies with reduced fees. Programs include, among others, Quranic, faith, the Prophetic traditional teachings, programs for youth and for non-Muslims. Likewise, there are lectures about the opportunities and challenges faced by the community in this foreign land.

 

Occasionally, there are annual conferences, the center piece of my discussion, held at various times in Minneapolis Convention Center by various Islamic centers. So far, Dar al-Hijra Islamic and Civic Center held its first successful annual conference in June, 2007. Muslim American Society (MAS), Minnesota Chapter, which had several mosques under its management before it disintegrated due to conflicts in its management level, held its fourth and least attended Islamic annual conference in mid 2007. It is worth mentioning that the attendance was significantly in an incremental mode for MAS’s conferences in the preceding years. For example, the number of attendees doubled in the 3rd annual conference in April, 2006 from the preceding year[3]. Finally, Abubakar Assidique Islamic center, the largest Islamic project implemented in the state of Minnesota with several mosques under its management, has successfully held six annual conferences and has its seventh on the way during the American Labor Day holiday from August 31 to September 2, 2007. These conferences serve two main purposes: spiritual and financial, and undoubtedly, have a major political importance whether or not these centers are aware of the magnitude.  Spiritually, these conferences bring knowledgeable Islamic scholars in one place from different cities and states. Listeners from as far as East and West coast states also come for these conferences. Financially, both entrance fees and the possible fund-raising during the conference represent a major source of income for the Islamic centers to purchase facilities and run their day-to-day activities.

 

However, there are etiquette issues that surround these conferences that can jeopardize the whole purpose of holding such events and might defame the same Islam that we are trying to promote its values. These issues are mainly due to lack of proper planning and the unruly behaviors of some members of the Somali Community. Among these issues are inundating restroom floors during prayer times for ablution (Wudhu), clogging, particularly, men’s restrooms with paper towels, ignoring to take the kids to the arranged daycare centers and bringing them with strollers in the giant lecture halls and blocking the sideways, which can be catastrophic in case of emergency. And most importantly, not keeping the daycare center clean, which, as you can imagine, would result a long list grievance from the Convention Center’s management and janitorial crew.

 

Speaking of the daycare center during the Islamic Convention days, it cost Abubakar Assidique Islamic Center for $ 27,000 penalty (yes, twenty seven thousand dollars) in 2006 when the kids and infants wrote on the walls. Imposing penalties and fines are not limited only to this event but has happened in Dar al-Hijra, at least one time if not more, when people congregated in front of the mosque after prayers not heeding the Imam’s repeated call not to do that. And of course, most Somali Minnesotans know that many rules have been changes because of misconduct from some member of the community whether that is at the popular coffee shop when tougher parking rules are imposed,  at Airport cab stand where free standing restrooms are provided for cab drivers due to, may be, regular restrooms misuse, or at the public libraries that serve our kids when library management had to hire security for a place where security and a library can never be synonyms.   

 

Conclusion and Recommendations

 

The case of why these centers don’t hold events together as if they are competing forces, which many of you might be wondering why I didn’t address, is an open question but people can do things separately and can work together at the same time. A very good example was during the I-35 Bridge tragedy when all mosques, Dal al-Hijra and Abubakar Assidique taking the lead, along with two local community service provider, put their efforts together and form a taskforce. This taskforce has succeeded in setting up a bank account for the victims, consoling Somali victims’ families and communicating with local government officials and mass media.

 

Indeed, it is becoming apparent that the only organized entities that don’t easily change with the political and financial weather and not heavily or entirely depending on government funds, are the Islamic centers. I mentioned earlier that Islamic centers form a major political weight because they are the only group that can gather thousands of people in one place at the same time and consequently, are the ones whom politicians like to approach in election seasons. This puts an enormous responsibility on leaders of Islamic centers. It doesn’t only require them to advance their management capacities and develop social and parental skills programs for mosque attendees to tackle misconducts, at least, during conferences but also to become ready for bigger challenges. These challenges could be addressing issues similar to or even more serious than that of cab drivers vs. alcohol totting passengers, receiving from a city councilor to a gubernatorial candidate, this time might include women, with crowd of media personnel in the mosque facilities or any other challenge that you, the reader, may think of.

 

Knowing that some centers set linguistic and knowledge standards for any management positions, which is a commendable positive step, but it is apparent that there are no more than one or two of that caliper in each center. This necessitates staff development trainings in both the short and long terms. This will enable the leaders of Islamic centers to be up to the challenges on the horizon that don’t seem imminent to some. It will empower them to handle cases that might arise here and there in a time that Somalis are predominantly becoming citizens and everyone, weather an official or an ordinary Minnesota citizen would have high expectations for their [Somalis] actions.

 

Mohamed Abdi (Sandhere)

Minneapolis

[email protected]



[1] J. Schaid and Dr. Z Grossman: Somali Immigrant Settlement in Small Midwestern Communities: The case of Barron, WI.

[2] Sh. AbdiRahman Sherif, Imam of Dar al Hijra, Minneapolis.

[3] Masnet.org



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