Community rallies around Bloomington mosque after imam assaulted on the way to prayer

Two men speak on the sidewalk.
Mohamed Omar, executive director of Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center, (left) speaks with members of Neighbors Together in Solidarity on Friday, Aug. 7, 2020 at the Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington. Around 50 people gathered to show support and provide security after an imam was attacked outside the mosque Thursday night.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

Updated: 5:35 p.m. | Posted: 3:45 p.m.

An assault on an imam Thursday night has been a painful reminder of hateful incidents that his mosque has experienced in recent years.

Bloomington police are investigating the attack on the imam, Mohamed Mukhtar, who was walking to the nightly prayer service around 10 p.m. when two people approached and assaulted him outside of the Dar Al Farooq center.

Abdal Ali said immediately after the attack, he saw Mukhtar, who looked like he was in pain.

“I said, ‘What happened, Imam?’” Ali said, who assumed Mukhtar simply fell. “He said, ‘Two white guys attacked me, and my shoes and my hat and my glasses are still in the street. Can you go get for me?’"

Two people stand by a tree in a black and white photo.
A photo of two people of interest shared by the city of Bloomington.
Courtesy of the city of Bloomington

Bloomington police shared a press release Friday evening stating Mukhtar had described his attackers as a white man and a black man, both in their late teens or early twenties. Police say they’ve also determined the suspects had met up with two other men in a nearby area before the assault.

Mosque officials say the imam's shoulder was dislocated in the attack. He was treated at Fairview Southdale Hospital, according to police. No arrests have been made, and the investigation is ongoing.

The incident happened just one day after the mosque marked the third anniversary of another kind of attack. In 2017, a group of men drove from Illinois to bomb the mosque. One who pleaded guilty said they had hoped to scare Muslims out of the country.

Earlier this week, a federal judge again postponed the trial of the alleged Illinois militia leader accused of firebombing the mosque. The trial of 49-year-old Michael Hari, who is facing hate crime and explosives charges for the attack, has been pushed to November 2 because of the pandemic.

A man speaks on the sidewalk.
Abdulahi Farah, a lead organizer with the Muslim Coalition of ISAIAH, speaks with a group of allies of the Dar Al Farooq mosque in Bloomington.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

Dar Al Farooq’s executive director, Mohamed Omar, said the constant discrimination and hostilities toward the mosque has filled members with anxiety. Earlier this summer, Omar said, a man camped out near the mosque with a Confederate flag hanging on a tree. He left after a day.

“Every couple of months something happens,” he said. “You just cross your fingers that this time might not be a big mass shooting or might not be a big bomb.”

A group holding signs that read "neighbors together in solidarity."
Around 50 people gathered at the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center to show support and provide security after an imam was attacked Thursday night outside the mosque.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

Last year, the mosque was the focus on an online video series produced by a right-wing social media website. The videos circulated conspiracy theories suggesting Muslims are in the country to impose Islamic law.

Worshipers became concerned when opponents in the neighborhood showed up to photograph or videotape young children playing in the playground nearby. It wasn't clear at the time how the footage would be used. The city responded by banning filming at the park.

The ordeal made it to federal court when a Bloomington woman sued the city, alleging the video ban violated her first amendment rights. A federal judge dismissed the case last month.

Neighbors and other supporters of the mosque gathered there Friday, as they have in recent months, to show their solidarity. Every Friday since the bombing, this group of mostly white residents has been standing outside Friday prayers to provide some sense of safety.

People wave to a driver.
Community members wave to people coming to pray Friday, Aug. 7, 2020 at the Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

After hearing about the assault last night, about 50 showed up Friday.

“My reaction as a white person is not again. Not again,” said Karen Wills, one of the organizers. “Couldn't this just stop? This particular incident of a man having his shoulder fractured is just a ramped-up level of severity of the stuff that's just going on, day after day after day."

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