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More Somalis in Minnesota Turn to Islam

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More Somalis in Minnesota Turn to Islam

Religion

More Somalis in Minnesota Turn to Islam

More Somalis in Minnesota Turn to Islam

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Minnesota is home to one of the nation's largest populations of immigrants from the East African nation of Somalia. Until recently, religion didn't play a big part in their daily lives — but now, more Somalis are returning to their Muslim faith and becoming more religious. Sea Stachura of Minnesota Public Radio reports.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

Minneapolis has one of the nation's largest Somali communities. Some 25,000 Somalian immigrants have settled there. A month ago, Islamists took control of Mogadishu, Somali's capital, and while opinion about that development is divided among Minnesota's Somalis, religion is playing a larger role in their community. Sea Stachura of Minnesota Public Radio has our report.

(Soundbite of car)

SEA STACHURA reporting:

Zina Hassan(ph) settled into her car. She has a few errands to run before boarding a plane for Somalia to visit family. Hassan has lived in the United States since 1983, when she enrolled in college. Growing up, she observed Ramadan, wore pants, listened to Voice of America, and went to school with boys. She doesn't wear a hijab or the long gowns called abayas, but Islam is taking on more significance for both her and her family back home.

One of her sisters still lives in Mogadishu. Hassan says on one visit, she and her sister were about to leave for the market, and her sister told her to wash up, as she would before prayer.

Ms. HASSAN: And I said, you know, afternoon prayer is not until 12:30. Why do I need to do it now, you know? And she was saying, no, no, no. Every time, you know, we go out, it's good to do it. And then afterwards, I thought about it, and I realized people are actually uncertain of death. When people step outside, they do not know if they are coming back alive.

STACHURA: Hassan has a similar fear. Each time her phone rings in the middle of the night, she wonders who has just died. She lost one of her sisters and her father in the war, and she says she's turned to Allah for comfort. But seeking solace is only part of her motivation.

Ms. HASSAN: Before 9/11 I never felt different from, you know, any other Americans, but since 9/11 I'm aware of who I am and what I am. And in every single day, when I'm, you know, walking on the streets, I know that I'm different.

STACHURA: She says that's prompted her to learn more about her faith so she can defend it. Ali Galaydh teaches international affairs at the University of Minnesota. He served in the Somali government years ago and sees the closer embrace of Islam as a closing of the ranks.

Professor ALI GALAYDH (University of Minnesota): It's not pan-Islamic. You will not find a lot of Somalis who are going to mosques which are led by other imams. The majority of them will be together, and they'll be Somali imams.

(Soundbite of foreign language)

STACHURA: Friday afternoon prayer at this Minneapolis mosque is packed with men. In the Twin Cities area there are 25 mosques. Imam Hassan Mohamud(ph) says in the last three years he's seen more Muslims attend prayer groups. He says many Somali kids have gotten into drugs and gangs. Their parents see Islam as a solution to what they consider Western problems.

Imam HASSAN MOHAMUD (Muslim Prayer Leader): Islamic identity is important because it is like keeping the faith. For that reason, Muslims here believe - Somalis are the majority of the Muslims in Minnesota - they believe it's important to have, like, our own village, what you can call like Muslim village.

STACHURA: That's beginning to be recognized in government and business relations. Mohamud is a member of the Council of Imams that meets regularly with government and business leaders to discuss respect for Muslim traditions.

Imam MOHAMUD: Last week we went to the airport commissioner's meeting, so there was a dispute among the Muslim taxi drivers, whether they can carry alcohol or not. So as imams, we had a meeting with the administration of the airport and how we can help resolve these problems. So it's a very powerful organization.

STACHURA: Mohamud says taxi drivers may soon be able to deny rides to passengers who are carrying alcohol. Imam Hassan Mohamud says he now consults regularly on work and family issues as they relate to Islam, and that's the real shift in Islam's role in the lives of Somali Muslims living here. Many Somalis are embracing a considerably less Western version of Somali tradition. For NPR News, I'm Sea Stachura, Minneapolis.

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