Muslim Community On the Rise in South Dakota
GUY RAZ, host:
Picture a map of the United States and imagine a number stamped on each state denoting how many mosques there are in every one. Texas has 67, California 227, and the state of South Dakota, just one.
NPR's Jamie Tarabay traveled to Sioux Falls to see this mosque for herself and to meet the people who pray there.
JAMIE TARABAY: It's a very nondescript building; flat, single-story, facing a football field. Drive past quickly and you miss it among the clump of houses in the quiet street. It's even smaller on the inside.
Mr. ASIF ZABIH (Sioux Falls Islamic Center): This is our female prayer and you're praying separate. And this is a very small area too for a female prayer.
TARABAY: How many women come to pray?
Mr. ZABIH: Approximately maybe 40, 45 on Friday.
TARABAY: Every week in here?
Mr. ZABIH: Every Friday, yes.
TARABAY: You can fit 40 women in this room?
Mr. ZABIH: Yeah, yeah, because of -
TARABAY: They have to be pretty small (inaudible).
Mr. ZABIH: Yeah, really small, you're right. Yeah, we are really small place here. We do have really small place.
TARABAY: Asif Zabih is the director of Sioux Falls Islamic Center. When he first arrived here from Afghanistan in 1981, there was no mosque. He and a handful of other Muslims used to pray in a different family's living room each Friday.
Mr. ZABIH: We bought this building about in 1992, which was really bad shape and we put a new roof and (inaudible) inside of this building. Then since that time we have a place to pray.
TARABAY: Now there are around 3,000 Muslims in Sioux Falls. And there's just not enough room for them all to pray.
(Soundbite of Sermon)
TARABAY: Their young Egyptian Imam preached this Friday about the end of days and warns of false prophets. He says there is no greater evil or test than the coming of the devil who will try to convince everyone he his the true messiah. Around him men sit packed together on the faded green carpet. Others have no choice but to stand against the wall.
Director Zabih says he and other Muslims have traveled to big cities like Chicago and Dearborn to ask larger more profitable Islamic organizations for donations. But each time they came back with less than 5,000 dollars. And the Sioux Falls Muslims themselves can barely afford to give any money. This is a low income group of people. Most of the men work at the local slaughterhouse earning minimum wage. That's because this community is mainly made up of refugees from war torn countries.
Mr. MAQUIM MUSA(ph) (Resident): My name is Maquim Musa, originally from Sudan. I came in Sioux Falls since 2001.
TARABAY: Maquim Musa is 41. He sought asylum in the U.S. to escape Sudan's civil war. Someone somewhere must've had a sense of humor sending him from Africa to Sioux Falls in the middle of winter.
Mr. MUSA: What surprised me when I looked at the snow coming down, I couldn't imagine this tiny pieces coming down could make all this, you know, compilation of snow of six or eight inches or in some cases maybe more.
TARABAY: Seven blistering winters later, Musa and his family are still here. He's part of a thriving African community that includes Christian as well as Muslim refugees from places like Ethiopia, Somalia, and Libya. But making friends with his American neighbor, well, that was a bit harder.
Mr. MUSA: First of all, Americans are more independent.
TARABAY: Musa tells a story about a time not long after he got here when he went next door to say hello to his neighbor.
Mr. MUSA: And then I waited for him to see if he was come and talk to me or he, you know, might - maybe this relation could be developed just to interact, know each other. For three years he never and come and talk to me. That's just the way it is.
TARABAY: There isn't a real divide between the Muslims and the predominantly Protestant residents of Sioux Falls, but there isn't much interaction either. Farewelling friends after lunch on a downtown street are Bob and Tricia Swanhoft(ph). They see the Muslims in their midst quite often.
Mr. BOB SWANHOFT (Resident): I see the veil or the hair covering, but I, you know, I've never had interaction, so…
Ms. TRICIA SWANHOFT (Resident): No, we really haven't, but…
Mr. SWANHOFT: But I see them working.
Ms. SWANHOFT: I see them up in the stores and that, you know.
Mr. SWANHOFT: Yeah, cashier now and then, I think I've seen.
Ms. SWANHOFT: Yeah. And getting their groceries and things like everybody else.
TARABAY: Bob Swanhoft says he has a lot of sympathy for the new arrivals because his father was an outsider when he first arrived here from Germany in 1923.
Mr. SWANHOFT: I don't know if that's a big factor or not, but it sure opens your eyes to how difficult it is when you're the first person or you're in a foreign country, there's a lot of difference.
Ms. SWANHOFT: That's right. You know, it is.
Mr. SWANHOFT: I mean culture wise that's not a huge transition from Europe to America. At that time it was, but it's not as, you know, you talk Middle East or Latin America, that's a bigger cultural transition.
TARABAY: The Muslims who live here like the quiet and most have no plans to go anywhere else. They also like their American neighbors. It's the rest of the Muslim community in America they feel far away from.
Jamie Tarabay, NPR News.