When Twin Cities residents see a woman in a headscarf, many might assume she's a member of the Somali Muslim community.
That's certainly possible, given the tens of thousands of Somalis who sought asylum in Minnesota after fleeing their country's civil war.
But that woman could just as easily be Asian or African-American or Hispanic, said Naaima Khan, development director of the Islamic Resource Group in Minneapolis.
Recently, the organization set out to explore the history of Muslims in Minnesota. The group's review of historical records led to develop "Tracks in the Snow: The Minnesota Muslim Experience since 1880,"
The free exhibit, which runs through Aug. 8, showcases the history — and diversity — of Minnesota Muslims.
"We were surprised actually to learn that we have such deep roots in the state," said Khan, whose parents immigrated to the United States from India in 1979. "Muslim residents in Minnesota date back to the 1880s."
Khan said the state's first Muslim transplants were from Turkey and Lebanon, largely tradesmen and small business owners who served their communities. Muslim immigrants from Eastern Europe arrived next, followed by Pakistanis, Malaysians and Indians.
Still, many long-time residents clung to an image of Muslims that revolved around camels and deserts and men in long white robes, Khan said.
But she said those misconceptions were much less ingrained than the predominant stereotype of the modern era — the Muslim as terrorist.
"A typical Muslim is whoever people really kind of see in the media," Khan said. "What people don't realize often is that there's a good representation of every ethnicity within the faith."
Inside the Walker Art Center, 25 large, black and white photos of Muslims from across Minnesota wait to be hung on the walls of a sun-lit gallery.
"We wanted to make sure that we create a dialogue that helps shape the narrative of the Muslim Minnesotan story," Khan said. "We feel there are too many forces out there, political or otherwise, that are really taking our story and making it something that is unrepresentative of our community. What we're trying to accomplish really is presenting members of the Muslim community, and their daily lives, to the broader Minnesota community."
Some of Khan's favorite portraits in the gallery include the image of a Bosnian American computer scientist who spent 200 days in a Serbian concentration camp. Another is of an Iraqi refugee who arrived in Minnesota not knowing English. He mastered the language by reading a page of the dictionary every night.
There's also a portrait of a Japanese-American Muslim who says she's "as Lake Wobegon as it gets."
Nearby, is a portrait of Abdiwahab Ali, a Somali-American police officer in Minneapolis.
"For the Somali community, there was a lot of challenge initially in really becoming a part of Minnesota society," Khan said. "But now, people from within the community are rising through the ranks and being an integral part of the Minnesota community."
As a Muslim, Khan hopes that the show will provide a more diverse — and more accurate — picture of those who follow Islam.
A photo series of everyday Americans may not be the kind of offering many would expect from the Walker, where works of art range from modernist masterpieces to items like a plastic top hat or a mattress of peat moss.
But just as the exhibit challenges stereotypes of Muslim Americans, it helps squash misconceptions about the contemporary art museum, said Sarah Schultz, the Walker's director of education and curator of public practice.
"I think the notion that the Walker would present something that perhaps be more straight forward or more educationally or didactically constructed actually helps to dispel the preconception of not only what the Walker is, but perhaps what our cultural institutions should be in the 21st Century," she said.
Schultz said the exhibit presents an opportunity for Minnesotans who are not Muslim to learn about a community from local Muslims who are generously sharing their stories with others — without being embarrassed to ask questions.
"There are times when we don't always want to admit our own lack of knowledge," she said.