'Spiritual center' of Cedar Riverside closes after fire; a leader looks ahead

Members of the Somali community
Members of the Somali community affected by yesterday's fire, including Hawo Daqare, left, whose ex-husband is missing, and Abukar Ahmed, right, holding a photo of his missing cousin Ahmed Ali, listen during a news conference Thursday, Jan. 2, 2013 at the Brian Coyle Center in Minneapolis.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

More than 300 Muslims who attend Dar Al-Hijrah, the mosque adjacent to the Cedar-Riverside building damaged by an explosion and fire Wednesday morning, will hold Friday afternoon prayers at the nearby Brian Coyle Center.

Abdisalam Adam, a board member of the mosque, was at the scene after the fire. He said people quietly stood for hours at a time nearby to pray for the building next door.

"It was good news that it wasn't completely destroyed; a lot of people were praying for that," Adam said. One person was in the mosque during the explosion, but he was able to escape unharmed, Adam said.

• Abdisalam Adam also spoke with MPR's Morning Edition. Click on the audio link above to hear the conversation

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Abdisalam Adam
Abdisalam Adam, board chair of Dar Al-Hijrah, the mosque adjacent to the Cedar-Riverside building damaged by an explosion and fire Wednesday morning. He spoke with MPR News Friday morning, Jan. 3, 2013.
Hart Van Denburg/MPR News

The mosque closed because of water damage from putting out of the fire, and the basement is flooded with water at about knee-high levels, Adam said. The building is not a total loss, he said. Leaders are still investigating the extent of the damage.

Prayer areas have already been set up at the community center for the five daily prayers that attract more than 100 people at a time, Adam said. The community Friday prayer is set for 1 p.m. at the community center, at 420 15th Ave S. in Minneapolis.

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Dar Al-Hijrah is the first Somali-operated mosque in the Twin Cities. Opened in 1998, it's one of the busiest mosques in the Twin Cities because it's walking distance for many of the predominantly Somali community members. Minnesota is home to the largest Somali population in the nation, with more than 32,000 statewide and 12,000 living in Minneapolis, according to the Census Bureau. Many are concentrated in Cedar-Riverside.

The mosque offers classes about Islam, Qur'an, and Arabic, and is a meeting space for community groups. Parents are being notified that classes will be canceled this weekend.

"It's a very heavily-used center for prayer, for healing and for spiritual well-being," Adam said. "It's a very vibrant mosque, very much a part of the community." He said it's so well-known that people from other states and overseas called Twin Cities community members to check on the mosque when news surfaced.

Community members are most concerned about those who may have been injured in the fire and a secondary concern is the mosque, he said.

"Right now, our main concern is the people missing, and the injured people to be attended to," Adam said. "This is a time of grief. People need to come together and support one another."

Mallerie Shirley, 27, of St. Louis Park, attends Friday prayer at the mosque when she's in the area. She also meets there regularly as part of a group for deaf Muslims trying to connect with the East African community.

She said many in the Muslim community heard about the explosion and thought it was at the mosque.

"And my first thought was like, 'Oh my gosh, somebody fire bombed the masjid,' " she recalled. She went to the scene, took pictures and posted them on Facebook to let people know the mosque was not in the fire.

The mosque is busy because it's centrally located between downtown Minneapolis and the University of Minnesota. "The congregation is huge because there are so many Muslims who live within walking distance," she said. "Friday prayer is always packed. Every corner and every room in the building is used."

Small business owners in the area who walk over for prayers on Fridays will be affected, she said.

The closest mosque is about one block west -- Darul Quba Cultural Center, where the old Bedlam Theatre was located. It's too small to house both congregations, she said.

She said there were so many people who wanted to get to the scene of the mosque, that police eventually blocked off access from the nearby Cedar-Riverside Apartments.

"It's just really shocking. Like a lot of other people, I have a lot of questions," Shirley said. "We're waiting for the leadership to let us know more about the water damage. We're so worried about the people who are hurt."

She said anyone who frequents the area knows that the damage to the mosque will have a huge impact on the community.

"It's the spiritual center of the community, of the Cedar neighborhood," she said.