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Mosque opens doors to help dispel rumors

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First meeting
Eleven-month-old Nurdin, left, greets 9-month-old Zeke, as their mothers Asha Ahmed and Susanna Decker look on. The two families met for the first time Wednesday when the Abubakar-As-Saddique mosque held an open house. Ahmed attends the mosque, and Decker lives nearby.
MPR Photo/Laura Yuen

The mosque invited neighbors, journalists, police officers and anyone else with an open mind to join them for food and prayer at an open house. Hundreds turned out for a chance to mingle across religion and culture. 

Khodro Ahmed, 18, is a high school student. But last night, she was a teacher of sorts.

Open house
Volunteers with the Abubakar As-Saddique mosque carry a "welcome" sign to the entrance.
MPR Photo/Laura Yuen

"You have any questions?" she asked a man seated beside her at a table. "What do you know about Muslims?" 

Khodro and her friend, Samia Mohamed, were talking to a young husband and wife whom they see just about every day at their Minneapolis charter school. 

Star Weivoda is the school's janitor. His wife, Monica, is the Spanish teacher. Khodro invited the couple to come to the mosque's open house. 

It was the Weivodas' first time inside a mosque -- so of course, they were curious. They took the girls up on their offer to ask them anything. The conversation quickly turned to the girls' headscarves. 

Do the girls feel hot in summertime when wearing the traditional Muslim veil, called the hijab? How do they wear their hair underneath the headscarf? Do Somalis wear a special kind of pajamas? Does Calvin Klein make a kind of hijab? What happens if Muslim women choose not to wear the hijab?

Unoffended, the girls politely answered every question. "What's next?" Khodro said.

Explaining Islam
Samia Mohamed, 14, and Khodro Ahmed, 18, entertain questions about Islam from Star Weivoda. The girls attend Augsburg Fairview Academy, where Weivoda works as a janitor.
MPR Photo/Laura Yuen

The event organizers couldn't have scripted scenes like this. Similar exchanges of cultural understanding played out again and again throughout the night. 

Mosque director Omar Hurre says it was important for outsiders to see that his center was a place of calm. 

Hurre says he wants to hold the open houses at least twice a year "so we can let people see what's going on in here, that our message is clear and peaceful," he said. "It's not violent. We don't teach anything that's illegal." 

Earlier this week, the director of the FBI announced that his agency believes a Minneapolis man Somalia became the first American to carry out a suicide bombing, in Somalia -- and that he was probably indoctrinated in Minneapolis.

The FBI didn't name the Abubakar mosque, but family members of the missing say their sons and nephews spent time there before they vanished. 

Hurre says the community has suffered a "double tragedy." First, the strange disappearances. And secondly, the individuals who pointed a finger at Abubakar. 

Women pray
Girls and young women pray at the Abubakar As-Saddique mosque before a dinner at the mosque's open house. It's one of five prayers devout Muslims do every day.
MPR Photo/Laura Yuen

But for most of the evening, there was little talk of terrorism. It was more like a show-and-tell, as if to say, "This is who we are." 

Just before dinner, outsiders stood respectfully in the back of a large carpeted room to observe a prayer.

The night ended with a questions and answers. A standing-room-only crowd listened as one Minneapolis neighbor, Aisha Gomez, took the microphone. Gomez told the mosque leaders that it was hard to make sense of what she had read or seen in the media. 

"I'm interested in whether the young man who the FBI director said was indoctrinated in Minneapolis -- I'm wondering if he was part of this congregation," she said. "If he was part of this community, and it was a transformation that happened when he was here, if that was something that was being addressed?" 

Hurre responded:

"Yes, that man was part of this community. That does not mean he got his ideologies from this community," he said. "It's up to law enforcement to investigate what really happened." 

Afterward, Gomez said maybe she didn't ask the question in the right way. 

"I do work in this community, and I do understand there can be a disconnect between generations, and it can be hard to manage, of course," Gomez  said. "But it seems strange, and it seems sad, if stuff like that is going on here and people don't know about it." 

Indeed, many of the Abubakar supporters say they're just as baffled as to how or why the missing men left. Naima Bashir says she was glad to see the mosque responding to rumors and reaching out to the broader community. 

"It's not like we're hushing about it and we don't want to talk about it," she said. "If you just keep quiet, that's also sending a message, right?" 

In a packed room buzzing with chatter, it seemed clear that Muslims and non-Muslims, and a mosque and its neighbors, were talking to one another -- at least for a night.