The last time so many outsiders had come to the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, it was to console a community rocked by an early-morning bombing attack, waves of which rippled across the nation.
The reason for their visit was different Wednesday night. More than 100 people came together to celebrate the finished renovation of the school and mosque, damaged by that Aug. 5 explosion.
Mohamed Omar, the center's executive director, said the event provided a chance to thank people who came together to show support in the days immediately following the bombing.
"Even though they witnessed all the bad reports and bad incidents that happened there, we just want to share the happy times we're having now," he said Wednesday. "Right now we are gaining our hopes and feeling that we are moving on."
Arriving in small groups, they entered the office of imam Waleed Meneese, who was inside to greet them with a smile and a quiet word of appreciation.
Meneese's office was the room that took the direct hit from what the FBI called an "improvised explosive device." Although no one was injured in the attack, the room's windows were smashed, its floor, ceiling and walls destroyed. Shrapnel had ripped through the furniture.
Sam Heimlich with the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters was soon called down to assess the damage. The carpenters union then offered to repair the office for free, the floor panels and electrical work donated by different companies.
"They made the room look amazing, almost five times better and more beautiful than it looked before it was bombed," Omar said.
Visitors were awed by the renovated office, complete with new couches, an oak desk and a conference table, topped with a red wooden finish. The room still had a brand-new smell.
"I'd like to think that they know that we're their neighbors," Heimlich said Wednesday. "They can ask for help. They can rely on us."
When reflecting on the difference between the old and new space, Meneese said it was the "same idea, but everything is blessed."
Bloomington resident Kaye Aho, who had come previously to Dar Al-Farooq, came Wednesday night with other members of the city's chapter of the League of Women Voters.
The initial attack, she said, "was very unsettling. And those are the times when you really want to pull together as a community."
Congregants and visitors mingled inside the center's small gym. They munched on samosas and baklava, taking photos in front of the center's sign, which displayed the words "Learn, Serve, Connect."
Jacquie Henderson, who works at the nearby Walmart Supercenter, signed her name on a sheet labeled as the "Solidarity Wall" posted inside. She said she came to the first community gathering immediately after the bombing as a way to make a statement of support.
"We can't allow attacks on anyone for what religion they are," she said. "We need solidarity with each other, not to see each other as enemies."
Elected officials including Bloomington and Richfield City Council members and state DFLers Rep. Peggy Flanagan and Sen. Melissa Wiklund stopped by to check out the renovations.
The repairs inside and outside the office cost "thousands of dollars," according to Omar. The center had raised more than $98,000 through a GoFundMe campaign, with part of the funds going toward reconstruction.
"We are so grateful that we have so many good people that are out there who see we are human like them," Omar said. "We deserve the same peace that everybody has in this country."
Few leads in the case
The investigation into the bombing has yet to reach a satisfying conclusion for mosque members.
The FBI, which quickly took over the case, has yet to announce leads on a suspect. The agency put out a $30,000 reward for information leading to an arrest just weeks after the explosion.
The Star Tribune reported this week that Bloomington police had not reported the incident as a hate or bias crime, with the deputy police chief, saying the investigation was primarily handled by the FBI.
Dar Al-Farooq's congregants were hit by smaller showings of misfortune in the months following the bombing.
They came together in October to mourn for Ahmed AbdiKarin Eyow, a mosque member who was killed with hundreds of others by a suicide bomber in Mogadishu, Somalia. Later that month, the center was robbed by two people wearing monkey masks who attempted to leave with a safe that was later recovered by officers.
Yet the mood was joyous on Wednesday night. Dar Al-Farooq's main goal, Omar said, is to have everything go back to normal.
"We just want to continue our daily, normal lives," he said.
Miguel Otárola • 612-673-4753