A hundred or more community members and faith leaders — Muslim, Jewish and Christian — stood together on the risers in the gym at the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington on Thursday evening to decry bigotry, anti-Muslim rhetoric and hate.
One by one, in speeches and by phone, they urged friends, neighbors and fellow Americans to engage in the political process and to participate in Tuesday's precinct caucuses, regardless of party affiliation.
Mohamed Omar, the center's executive director, told the crowd that Dar Al-Farooq has never before gotten involved in politics. But, he said, after the center was the victim of a bombing last Aug. 5, he realized that had to change.
"We love our faith, but after we were bombed, we understood that our very lives depend on claiming our voice with people of faith," Omar said. "We know personally what can happen when powerful people use the language of fear and division to build their bridge to power."
None of the seven speakers at Thursday's news conference named names, but Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota Council on Islamic-American Relations, and others called on people of all faiths "to reject the attack on our community this week by a few GOP leaders."
In a recent Facebook post, Republican state Reps. Cindy Pugh and Kathy Lohmer implied that Muslim-Americans at a mosque caucus training were not actually Americans and have a hidden agenda to enact their own law: "I hope caucus night will be packed by Americans who want to keep American law and only American law," they wrote.
Jeff Johnson, a Hennepin County commissioner and Republican candidate for governor, applauded Pugh on a podcast Thursday.
Abdirahman Omar, head of the Islamic Association of North America, responded, "Muslims are part of American society. We are Americans. What do you mean they are infiltrating? They are already part of America. They don't need to infiltrate."
Imam Asad Zaman, executive director of the Muslim American Society, said the society has been doing delegate training since 2004. "We do this because we believe in empowering our community," he said.
"See, we were told Muslims should assimilate," Zaman said. "If they assimilate, they're accused of infiltrating. If they don't assimilate, they're accused of being separate. So what's a Muslim to do?
"So, here's what this Muslim is going to do," he said. "We're going to call on all people of faith and all people of good will to come out and participate on caucus night. Be part of our democracy. This American democracy belongs to those who show up. Please show up."
Immediately after the news conference, many of the faith leaders and audience members began working the phones.
Pat Pheifer • 612-673-7252