Twin Cities congregations stand together following mosque fire
Updated: 7:53 p.m.
More than 40 faith leaders from different Twin Cities congregations stood in solidarity at a press conference on Tuesday following back-to-back fires at two Minneapolis mosques that authorities are investigating as arson.
Council on American-Islamic Relations Minnesota Executive Director Jaylani Hussein said the Muslim community is “on edge” after the incidents.
“Our Muslim community is extremely vulnerable. We fall into a trifecta of identities that white supremacist groups and groups that hate Muslims and other people of color continue to target. Us being a predominately immigrant community, predominantly a Black community, and predominately a community that is extremely proud of our faith,” he said.
Dozens of DFL elected officials also joined Muslim leaders in denouncing hate at a press conference at the state Capitol on Wednesday.
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“We are here to stand strong to say that hate has no place in Minnesota,” said Majority Leader Rep. Jamie Long. He said they would push for the passage of a bill to improve reporting and data gathering on hate crimes. The measures passed in the state House yesterday as part of a public safety bill.
Fire crews responded to reports of a fire on the third floor of the Masjid Al-Rahma mosque and community center — also referred to as Mercy Center — in south Minneapolis on Monday evening.
One day earlier and just a few minutes’ drive away, worshippers put out a fire in the bathroom of the 24 Mall mosque on Sunday in what police confirmed was an arson attempt by a male suspect. The cause of Monday’s fire is still under investigation.
There’s no concrete evidence linking the two incidents, but Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O’Hara said it’s too much of a coincidence.
“We are investigating this as if this is an arson, as if this is connected, until proven otherwise,” he said at the scene Monday night.
O’Hara said federal law enforcement officials are also investigating the fires. The suspect in Sunday’s alleged arson attempt is still at large.
Bahikoro Kouyate estimated there were about 100 people at Masjid Al-Rahma when he noticed smoke in the hallway on Monday. The three-story building is also home to an event space, offices, and a daycare. He said most of the building occupants on Monday were children.
Kouyate, a private security guard, often volunteers his services to the mosque and had come in for prayer on Monday, he said. When he found the fire on the third floor, he said he alerted everyone in the building, called 911, and ran to the fire station across the street.
Fire crews quickly contained the fire before it could spread to other floors. No injuries were reported.
At Tuesday’s press conference, faith leaders said the latest incidents are evidence of the continued threat against Muslim people.
“I was thinking, we moved as a community and we are now in a safe zone,” said Imam Mohamed Omar, who was at the Dar Al-Farooq mosque in Bloomington when it was bombed by two white men in 2017.
Imam Makram El-Amin said heightened awareness of Muslims brings opportunists. Earlier this month, the Minneapolis City Council voted to amend the city’s noise ordinance to allow mosques to broadcast the call to prayer five times a day, and the Minneapolis School Board added Eid al-Fitr as a school holiday.
“It’s not lost on us that this is happening in the wake of the Adhan being allowed to be called, children being let out of school now for Eid, and other things,” he said.
“Many of our communities find ourselves under attack in these ways,” said Brandon Schorsch, the combating hate organizer with the Jewish Action Committee, who was at Tuesday’s press conference.
"We also would love to be able to go and have that same freedom that folks have in Chaska at a Lutheran or Presbyterian church where we can just attend in peace, be among our families,” he added.
The Jewish Action Committee, CAIR-Minnesota and 15 other organizations make up the Communities Combatting Hate Coalition advocating for the passage of a bill in state legislature that would support better tracking of hate crimes.
O’Hara, the Minneapolis police chief, said many incidents go unreported because people believe them to be minor. He urged the public to share information about any suspicious activity. CAIR-Minnesota is offering a $5,000 reward for information on the fires.
O’Hara said MPD will be increasing both visible and non-visible patrols, in addition to working with law enforcement partners, to help keep people safe.
Despite their concerns, Muslim leaders and community members are moving forward.
“We are a strong and we are a resilient community. We will not let fear dictate our actions,” said Imam Abdirahman Omar of Masjid Al-Rahma.
Masjid Al-Rahma blocked off the fire-damaged area of the building to allow access to the mosque and the daycare.
“If it’s raining or fire, we still get up to qibla, worship God,” said Tukri Baad, a board member of Mercy Center, on Monday night.
“If they think burning the mosque will stop our worship … we’ll keep praying. Five times a day.”
Masjid Al-Rahma will host an event on Saturday, April 29, at 6 p.m. for community members and anyone that wants to support them. There’s also an online fundraiser for the mosque, to cover the cost of repairing fire damage and upgrading security.