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Minn. officials, religious leaders promise unity against Islamophobia

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State Auditor Rebecca Otto
State Auditor Rebecca Otto attended a meeting Monday night about preventing a backlash against Muslims following the terror attacks in California and Paris.
Doualy Xaykaothao | MPR News

Hillary Clinton is scheduled to speak at the University of Minnesota Tuesday. The Democratic presidential front-runner plans to outline her plan for fighting radicalization in the United States, in response to the mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif.

On Monday night at the Dar Al-Hijrah mosque in Minneapolis, faith leaders and politicians gathered to talk about preventing a backlash against Muslims following the terror attacks in California and Paris.

Men and women of diverse racial and religious backgrounds packed a community room, with their shoes off. Imam Abdirahman Sharif welcomed the crowd and said the purpose of the meeting was to confront hate and fear of Muslims.

"Our faith, Islamic faith, demands us to follow the message of tolerance, co-existence, and to publicly condemn violence, extremism, any form of that," Sharif said.

Over two hours, imams, as well as other religious leaders, elected officials and law enforcement shared personal stories. When it was her turn, Nadifa Mohamed Osman, a former Somali government minister and Minnesota transplant, shared what life was like for her immediately after Sept. 11.

Community members address Islamophobia
Faith leaders and politicians gathered to talk about Islamophobia in Minnesota.
Doualy Xaykaothao | MPR News

"Everybody around me was looking at me differently, because I dressed differently," she said. "I was characterized as one of those who committed the attacks, even though I was trying to build peace around the world."

She said this moment, again, is a difficult time for Muslim Americans.

"Hate words or hate crimes or hate acts are not going to help us. We need to come together and be united."

State Auditor Rebecca Otto said some of her friends who wear the head scarves, known as hijabs, are afraid.

"Some don't want to leave their homes and they're not sure that they can go out and be safe," she said. "That's wrong in the state of Minnesota."

It was a sentiment shared by many of the invited guests, including Rabbi Amy Eilberg with the Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning in St. Paul.

"When I hear this language, this language of hate, that's been all too present in our public discourse, I am profoundly offended, and so is my community," Eilberg said. "Please know that the Jewish community stands with you."

Minnesota U.S. Attorney Andy Luger wrote a commentary in early November saying his office would bring civil rights suits as needed, and that he would continue to speak out.

Community members address Islamophobia
Several hundred people attended the gathering to show support for Muslims.
Doualy Xaykaothao | MPR News

"In these difficult, strenuous times of fear and hatred, we really are together, sharing the same common experience, and speaking out against something that has no place in our country, in our state, in our city."

The president of the Somali American Citizens League, Jibril Afyare, helped to organized this gathering of clerics and officials.

"There's no hate in our hearts. We love our neighbors, we love our brothers and sisters, but we wanted to feel that we have felt some pain within the last few days," Afyare said.

Afyare is also a spokesperson for the Somali-American Taskforce, which has been working directly with Luger's office to try to prevent the recruitment of Somali youth into extremist groups overseas. He said a rise in discrimination against Muslims could hurt their goal of reducing the radicalization of young Somali men from the Twin Cities.

"This really, really undermines and really emboldens the enemy's message for recruitment," he said.