Listen: What it's like to be Muslim in Minnesota

A light snow falls on the Masjid An-Nur mosque.
A light snow falls onto the crescent moon-topped dome at the Masjid An-Nur mosque in Minneapolis Tuesday.
Jackson Forderer for MPR News

They are students, activists, welders and artists. They've grown up in Egypt and Yemen and north Minneapolis. They are daughters and brothers and fathers and mothers.

They are members of the world's fastest-growing religion.

By 2050, they are projected to make up 2 percent of the U.S. population.

In Minnesota, followers of Islam are establishing their place within the state's communities — as leaders and entrepreneurs and innovators — even amid growing tensions from neighbors struggling to adjust to a state whose demographics continue to evolve.

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Hear their voices.

The hip-hop artist: Brother Ali

Ali Newman (Brother Ali)
Nate Ryan | MPR

Ali Newman, 38, is a hip-hop artist who performs under the name Brother Ali. He's a member of the Minneapolis-based Rhymesayers hip-hop collective, and the father of a teenage son and a 7-year-old daughter.

"To me, my faith means connecting to the creator of all people, and thereby connecting to the goodness that's in all people," he said.

Newman converted to Islam in 1993 as a teenager in Minneapolis, where he still lives. His faith, he said, influences his music, his family and all aspects of his life.

"I'm a hip-hop artist, so becoming a Muslim was just one more thing that ... could make me a complete outsider," he said. "But I did it because I believe in it. I really believe in it, and believe that it's real. And believe that there's medicine in it for the world."

Muna Scekomar, 20, of Woodbury
Doualy Xaykaothao | MPR News

The longboarder: Muna Scekomar

Muna Scekomar, 20, is a junior studying communications and nursing at St. Catherine University in St. Paul.

She is the daughter of Sheikh Abdirahman Sheikh Omar Ahmad, the well-known imam of the Abubakar As-Saddique Mosque.

She's also an avid longboarder.

Scekomar is outspoken, sporty, and calls her hijab her super-power cape.

She said she breaks all stereotypes about being Muslim.

"Being a Minnesotan, and a Muslim in America, to me, is not contradicting at all," she said. "It's more [an] intersectionality of my identity. ... It's my way of life, and how I live, and interact with the world."

Scekomar lives in Woodbury, was born in Italy, and considers Minneapolis her hometown.

"Islam teaches you how to live your life in whatever place you are living," she said. "And that's what I am doing as a Muslim here."

Kate Khaled, 33, of Minneapolis
Doualy Xaykaothao | MPR News

The writer: Kate Khaled

Kate Downing Khaled, 33, is an advocate, a writer and the mother of three young boys.

"Religion is integrated into every part of our daily life," she said.

Khaled, who runs a consulting business and lives in Minneapolis, converted to Islam from Christianity on New Year's Day 2007 in a private ceremony — then celebrated with a meal at Quang Vietnamese Restaurant on Minneapolis' Eat Street.

"When you're white and Muslim, people see you as a traitor, in many ways," she said. "They may not be willing to say it outright, but they ask questions, about why I would 'choose oppression' or why I would 'want to be part of a religion that promotes female genital mutilation.'

"I guess I would say that if you're asking those questions you might not know the real spiritual value proposition that Islam offers me."

Khaled, whose husband is also Muslim, said that faith is the foundation of her family, from the moment the boys wake in the morning to the moment they fall asleep.

"When I first became a mom, I made sure that the first thing they heard was the Muslim call to prayer, or 'adhaan,'" she said. "It's whispered into their ears."

Hafsa Abdi, 18, of St. Cloud
Doualy Xaykaothao | MPR News

The student-turned-activist: Hafsa Abdi

Hafsa Abdi, 18, is a senior at St. Cloud Technical High School.

Abdi, whose mother is an active community member and a medical interpreter, was a leader of the students who walked out of Tech in March 2015, when simmering racial tensions at the school boiled over. A Snapchat photo of a Somali girl, labeled derisively as a member of ISIS, began circulating. About 100 mostly Somali students, tired of feeling harassed over their race and religion, walked out during a school day.

Since then, the district has been scrambling to address the criticism.

"I feel like in this day and age it's kind of hard to be a Muslim in Minnesota, especially," Abdi said, adding that St. Cloud hasn't felt like a particularly welcoming place at times.

"There are some people that are not really as welcoming towards you, since there are things in the media that portray Muslims as being bad people, and that doesn't mean that all Muslims are bad people."

Still, Abdi said, the people who show warmth and welcome amid the tension stand out. "I think the good kind of outweighs the bad," she said.

Abdi will graduate in May 2016 and plans to attend St. Cloud State University in the fall to study nursing.

Balqiis Hersi
Doualy Xaykaothao | MPR News

The fashionista: Balqiis Hersi

Balqiis Hersi, 30, is a style maven.

She was born in Somalia, raised in New Delhi, and has lived in the U.S. for 12 years. She speaks Hindi, Urdu, Somali and English. She is one of nine siblings — seven sisters and two brothers.

Hersi hopes some day to have her own clothing line. Her mother runs a shop, designing curtains and women's clothing, and she helps her out when she's not working.

But she's already awfully busy these days: Hersi works as an enrollment specialist for Minneapolis Public Schools, and is taking swimming classes ("Growing up, I always was scared of water," she said.) and learning yoga.

And she's expecting her first child. She's already got names picked out: If the baby is a girl, Zainab, after a wife of Muhammad. If it's a boy: Ahmed.

Abu Ahlam (Steve Rose)
Doualy Xaykaothao | MPR News

The troubled child: Steve Rose

Steve Rose, 35, is from Arkansas. He lives in Burnsville now, and has lived in Minnesota since 2010. He's a mechanic and welder.

Islam, Rose said, saved his life.

"If I would have remained doing what I was doing before, I would either be dead or in prison, for a bandanna, a colored bandanna, that I was willing to die for," he said.

Rose called himself a "troubled child." He was arrested several times — and was convicted of breaking and entering in Arkansas and sentenced to four years in prison. He was 18. It wasn't until a little more than 10 years later that Rose was released from prison after a series of parole violations.

Rose was raised Christian and converted to Islam 13 years ago. He met inmates who were Muslim while in prison, he said, and he "liked their manners." He asked them questions, learned more about the religion, and converted after his release.

"To me," he said, "being Muslim is adhering to the rulings that were given by the scholars, the classic scholars before us, and following the way of life that the Koran and the hadith have laid out for us."

Rose said most people call him Abu Ahlam — father of Ahlam, his daughter — or Ibrahim.

Seng Khan, 29, of St. Paul
Doualy Xaykaothao | MPR News

The military wife: Seng Khan

Seng Khan, 29, of St. Paul, works as an accountant. She is a teacher, a mentor, an animator and a Navy wife. She volunteers to design flowers for Muslim weddings and to clean a mosque in town.

Islam, Khan says, is like the air that she breathes.

Khan, who is Hmong, grew up Mormon, the oldest of six children. She converted to Islam when she was 21.

"I guess the Hmong community, they don't have the knowledge of Islam yet," she said, "and whatever knowledge that they get is only what's displayed on the news. And most of the time the news is very negative, so sometimes I'll get a negative reaction."

Being a Hmong Muslim, she said, can sometimes also make her feel like a rock star from all the attention.

She mentors about eight Hmong girls. Her youngest sister converted to Islam after seeing, and liking, her example.

"My parents, at first, they didn't like it, but later on, they were accepting of it," she said. "It has changed me for the better.

"One of my sisters ... went through a hard time in life, and called out to me," Khan said. "I shared my ideas, my faith, [to] see if that could help her. And, alhamdulillah (praise to God), it did help her. And now she's also a Muslim."

Abdishakur Ali
Doualy Xaykaothao | MPR News

The Vikings diehard: Abdishakur Ali

Abdishakur Ali was born in Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland. He's lived in the United States since 2000.

On a trip back home to Somalia last year, he said, he looked around and saw a lot of young people just like him, but without a clear future.

"Here I am, enjoying a better life because of Minnesota," said Ali, who lives in Brooklyn Park. So he's dedicated much of his time to helping refugees within the Somali community, many of whom he meets through his work helping families with school placement at Minneapolis Public Schools.

"I admire every family that I meet, the parents, the children, some who were born in refugee camp. Most of them didn't have any education. Many of them don't speak English. The adults don't have a lot of skills or training. And many of them are temporary shelters right now. It's a challenge that not many people know about, but that we can overcome with more awareness."

His other passions: Travel — and the Vikings. He won't miss a game.

The good of being in Minnesota, he said — the opportunities, the ability to serve his community, the possibility of a secure future — does come with its challenges.

For a man who loves to travel — he's been to five continents; Australia is next on his list — that means factoring in extra time for additional security at the airport. It means navigating the complex racial and religious differences within Minnesota culture. It means knowing that a lot of his white counterparts don't need to think about those things.

"You live with the good," he said, "and the good is the opportunities, but the bad is also these challenges and knowing that there's an extra eye on you just because of your religion."

Abdisalam Adam
Doualy Xaykaothao | MPR News

The teacher: Abdisalam Adam

Abdisalam Adam, 49, is an imam at Dar Al-Hijrah Mosque in Minneapolis and an English as a Second Language teacher at St. Paul's Central High School.

He lives in Fridley, and has lived in Minnesota for nearly 20 years. He is a member of the Somali-American task force convened by U.S. Attorney Andy Luger and chairman of the Islamic Civic Society of America in Minneapolis.

"For me," Adam said, "being Muslim means balancing life in this world, between worship and work, and also planting whatever good I can do in this world."

He has offered religious counseling to some of the young men from Minneapolis who have been accused of trying to join ISIS.

Jaylani Hussein
Jennifer Simonson | MPR News

The spokesperson: Jaylani Hussein

Jaylani Hussein, 33, is the first Somali president of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a post he holds today.

Hussein, of Roseville, was born in Somalia and arrived in Minnesota by way of Egypt in 1993. He is a community advocate and graduate of St. Cloud State University.

"The first individual we actually had a conversation with when we landed was a taxi driver who was originally from Egypt," Hussein said. "And so he was almost a godsend to give us an ease, to know that Muslims are living here, and there is a history of [an] American Muslim population."

Asha Wako, 19, of St. Paul
Mukhtar Ibrahim | MPR News

The compass: Asha Wako

Asha Wako, 19, has lived in Minnesota most of her life. She is Oromo, a member of an ethnic group from East Africa — and one of 16 siblings.

Asha works at a Caribou Coffee shop in downtown St. Paul.

"My religion is everything," she said. "It helps me make the decisions I make in life. Honestly, I'd be lost without it."

Wako said she covers her head most of the time. "The scarf is important to me because, well, it's part of my religion, and also it just makes me feel good," she said.

Khalid Mohamed, 22, of Minneapolis
Doualy Xaykaothao | MPR News

The newshound: Khalid Mohamed

Khalid Mohamed, 22, is studying political science at Hamline University. He also works as a security guard.

Mohamed lives in Minneapolis. He was born in Yemen, grew up in Somalia and came to Minnesota as a teenager.

The recent arrests of young Minneapolis Somali men on terrorism-related charges has changed how he operates in the world, he said.

"That really puts us at a spot where you have to be extra cautious what you say, what you post on Facebook or what you tweet, what you tell others," said Mohamed, who said he loves to stay up-to-date on current events.

"Sometimes I'm afraid of viewing videos on YouTube if it has anything related with ISIS. I just stand back because I'm afraid that once you watch it and view those YouTube videos, I'm afraid that the Feds might think that I may be thinking about joining ISIS, may be thinking that these acts are OK with me."

MPR News editor Meg Martin contributed to this report. | Editor's note (Jan. 27, 2016): The story has been updated to clarify the approach to prayer that Kate Khaled has embraced in her family.