The religion and sociology/anthropology departments hosted an event titled “Islamophobia, White Nationalism and Politics of Minnesota” on Oct. 2.
Mohamed Omar, director of Dar al Farooq Islamic Center, recounted the bombing of his mosque and the subsequent movement to confront white nationalism.
“We had been hiding and living that life, and that life maybe works for us, and nothing happened until August 5, 2017. It was Saturday morning when somebody came to our Mosque and bombed,” Omar said.
Omar recalled that, prior to the bombing, Dar al Farooq Islamic Center had to deal with Islamophobia from nearby residents for so many years, it became normal for them.
“This mosque, for the last seven years, we had huge problems with one or two or three neighbors who didn’t like who we are, who didn’t accept that we’re different,” Omar said. “For the last seven years we’ve been dealing with somebody taking pictures of us, somebody coming to the mosque, somebody complaining about us, and this became so, you know, normal.”
According to Omar, the attendees of his mosque tried to mind their own business in an effort to draw away the attention of their neighbors.
“We said, if we don’t talk to them, and we don’t say anything to them, maybe they just won’t hurt us,” Omar said.
This would work for some time, up until his mosque was bombed.
After the bombing, Omar’s fellow imams would not answer his phone calls. He said that his neighbors didn’t believe his mosque was bombed, but that the explosion was caused by his mosque’s attendees failed attempt to make bombs for their own acts of terror.
“I called several of my imams, who are my friends, none of them answered the phone because immediately the media says, ‘something exploded in the mosque,’” Omar said. “Immediately our neighbors start saying, ‘oh, they were preparing bombs and now they get exposed.’”
Omar then spoke to a friend with connections to people in interfaith organizations. His friend advised Omar to speak to the media about the attack. When Omar spoke to a police officer, they advised him against going to the press because it would escalate the situation. However, Omar made the decision to speak publicly about the attack.
“My friend called all his friends that morning and all these different religious leaders came, and that’s the time I felt like we were not isolated,” Omar said. “That morning, almost forty people came from different religious backgrounds. At that time, they called it what it was, which was a terrorist attack. We changed completely the news and the narrative.”
After press coverage of the attack died down, attendees of Omar’s mosque still dealt with harassment from their neighbors. Omar asked around for solutions and heard about a Minnesota interfaith organization called Isaiah. After speaking with members of Isaiah, Omar realized that his mosque’s bombing was a symptom of a larger problem: Islamophobia.
“I felt the bomb was the biggest thing that happened to us, I thought the Islamophobia, the systematic racism, is all this bomb,” Omar said. “The bomb was a symptom, it wasn’t the cause.”
Doran Schrantz, Executive Director of Isaiah, spoke about Isaiah and what people can do to combat Islamophobia and systemic racism.
“In order to change things, especially big things, whether we’re talking about poverty, or racism, or Islamophobia, the problem that we’re facing and communities are facing, is not just the interpersonal engagement that’s happening between people, like the bad neighbors of Dar al Farooq, but it’s also because communities don’t have enough power to change the conditions in which they live,” Schrantz said. “So what we do is ask how do we build power. Most of the ways that regular people build a pathway to power is they have vehicles or organizations through which they can exercise it.”
Omar then put the responsibility on everyone to do something about Islamophobia.
“Because of your silence, people like me can get hurt,” Omar said. “Everybody wants to see a Minnesota that represents all of us.”