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Minnesota Muslim women turn to self-defense courses after hate crimes rise

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Iftou Yoya practices her punch
Iftou Yoya practices her punch at a self-defense class at the Al-Amal School in Fridley over the weekend.
Max Nesterak | MPR News

With the number of hate crimes targeting Muslims on the rise in the U.S., some Muslim-Americans are responding by taking self-defense courses.

Nausheena Hussain organized a self-defense class last weekend in Fridley because she wanted her fellow Muslim women to be prepared for the worst. 

"Given the sort of negative national rhetoric around Muslims we've been seeing across the nation ... we wanted to make sure we could prepare the women just in case something were to happen," said Hussain, executive director of RISE (Reviving the Islamic Sisterhood for Empowerment). 

FBI statistics show the number of assaults on Muslims in 2015 was the highest it's been since just after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. And the Southern Poverty Law Center recently reported 867 hate incidents in the 10 days after the presidential election. 

The Saturday class at Al-Amal School class was taught by Brooklyn Park police Sgt. Toni Weinbeck, who demonstrated basic self-defense strategies like punching, elbowing and kicking. She described simple safety precautions like being aware of your surroundings and staying in well-lit areas. 

Many of the group of about 20 women who attended the class said they have already had experiences that make them feel unsafe. 

Paige Ingram said a man once tried to pull off her hijab. Amina Gouse said she was chased through a parking lot. Hussain said she's been yelled at from passing cars. 

Other women said they've never been attacked or intimidated, but they've begun to feel less safe in recent weeks. 

"I've never actually felt threatened or unsafe until after the elections," said Iftou Yoya, a new executive board member for RISE. "And I feel like a lot of people have those same sentiments now."

During a visit to a mosque in Virginia Monday, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch railed against the spike in hate crimes against Muslims, saying they "stain our dearest ideals and our nation's very soul." 

Hussain says she plans to organize more self-defense trainings since so many women showed interest in the class.