Hundreds of Minnesota Muslims are currently in Saudi Arabia to perform the Hajj as part of the several thousand strong contingent from the United States. Hajj is the fifth pillar of Islam and is a religious obligation that must be performed at least once in a person’s lifetime if one is financially and physically capable.
My wife and I went to the Hajj in 2012. I clearly remember the excitement I felt about undertaking the journey of a lifetime, about which so many Muslims dream. One of the realizations I had after deciding to do the Hajj was that I was in fact preparing to walk into the footsteps of not only Prophet Muhammad but also into the footsteps of Prophet Abraham. I simply cannot describe my feelings when this realization dawned upon me.
Abraham is considered a monotheist par excellence and the Qur’an accords him the title of Khaleelullah – a friend of God. The Qur’an, time and again, mentions Abraham as a way to highlight the monotheism that he practiced and to encourage Jews, Christians, and Muslims to follow his way.
“And who is better in religion than one who submits himself to God while being a doer of good and follows the religion of Abraham, inclining toward truth? And God took Abraham as an intimate friend.” (Qur’an 4:125)
As we reached the city of Mecca, I could only think of how this once-barren stretch of land with its harsh climate is now teeming with millions of people coming to commemorate Abraham and his family’s struggles and their perfect dedication and devotion to God.
Abraham is said to have left his wife Hagar and his first-born son Ishmael in Mecca at God’s command. In order to find water for Ishmael, Hagar ran between the two hills called Safa and Marwa seven times. As she sat exhausted after a futile search, Angel Gabriel caused a spring to burst forth near her and this is called the Zam Zam spring. Abraham returned to the valley to visit his wife and son and, according to historical accounts, Abraham and Ishmael built the sacred Kaba, a cubical structure, as a house of worship of One God.
Before starting the rituals of Hajj, I was dressed in simple two-piece, white garment called Ihram. And so were millions of others around me. My wife and I entered the Haram Al Shareef (the sacred sanctuary) and with great anticipation and trepidation, we set our eyes for the first time in our lives on the Kaba. It was a sight to behold! We simply could not take our eyes off the Kaba, the symbol of pure monotheism. We said our prayers following the tradition of Abraham and Muhammad and set out to do the Tawaf (walking around the Kaba) along with millions of others, all the while reciting praises of God. After the Tawaf, we drank water from the spring of Zam Zam and set out to walk into the footsteps of Hagar by walking between the two hills of Safa and Marwa.
As part of the rituals of Hajj, we encamped in the tent city of Mina for five days. It was like an extreme camping trip. Unmindful of food or comfort, millions of people were focused on their spiritual growth. The trip to the plains of Arafat, which Muslims believe will be the place where the Day of Judgment will be established, was just surreal. The whole area was covered with pilgrims praying to God in the most amazing expression of submission and sincerity.
Abraham was tested by God in profound ways. Ishmael and Issac were born when he was very old. He was tested further when he was asked by God to sacrifice his son Ishmael. The absolute Muslim (one who submitted to God) that he was, he set out to fulfill God’s command. According to Islamic historical sources, Satan tried to dissuade him from obeying God three times before he reached his destination. At each of these three places, Abraham is said to have thrown pebbles at Satan to reject his temptations. As Abraham was ready to sacrifice his son, God replaced him with a ram and elevated Abraham’s stature forever.
From the tents of Mina, millions of pilgrims walk a few miles to reach the place where there are three pillars a few meters apart from each other. These signify the locations that Satan tried to sway Abraham’s resolve. Muslims copy the actions of Abraham and throw small pebbles at these three pillars to symbolically reject Satan and his insinuations. It is a tradition to sacrifice a lamb or goat (or a cow or camel) to follow and honor Abraham’s example, which since has become an Islamic ritual for all Muslims for all times to come.
After finishing Hajj, I felt closer than ever to Abraham and other prophets of God including Issac, Ishmael, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad (peace be upon them all).
This unique gathering of human family truly signifies the brotherhood and sisterhood of people from every race and nationality. Malcolm X’s words kept ringing in my ears:
“"Never have I witnessed such sincere hospitality and overwhelming spirit of true brotherhood as is practiced by people of all colors and races here in this ancient Holy Land, the home of Abraham, Muhammad and all the other Prophets of the Holy Scriptures. For the past week, I have been utterly speechless and spellbound by the graciousness I see displayed all around me by people of all colors.
"During the past eleven days here in the Muslim world, I have eaten from the same plate, drunk from the same glass, and slept on the same rug - while praying to the same God - with fellow Muslims, whose eyes were the bluest of blue, whose hair was the blondest of blond, and whose skin was the whitest of white. And in the words and in the deeds of the white Muslims, I felt the same sincerity that I felt among the black African Muslims of Nigeria, Sudan and Ghana."
In a world plagued with the cancer of racism, I found the Hajj’s clarion call to efface the artificial distinctions of race, color, nationality, economic background, or any other man-made factor to be a powerful motivator. The takeaways from Hajj were far too many and striving to walk into the footsteps of these great messengers of God is by no means an easy task. However, God raises the rank of human beings above the angels precisely because humans have free will and angels don’t. And to utilize their freewill to obey God by choice is the pinnacle of human pursuit.
The United States finds itself in a peculiar situation with the impending arrival of India's newly elected Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, on September 27, 2014. Indian prime ministers have always received red carpet welcomes in the United States due to our shared democratic ideals and an increasing cooperation in the economic and military arenas. The camaraderie between the world's oldest and the world's largest democracies is no surprise. However, the current prime minister of India was a persona non grata in the United States until just a few months ago. He was denied entry into the country in 2005 on the grounds of a religious freedom violation under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the first and only time such a denial had been issued. Modi was the Chief Minister of the Indian state of Gujarat when violence against minorities was carried out under his watch in the Gujarat pogroms of 2002.
Honoring the diplomatic protocol, President Obama has extended an invitation to Modi to visit the United States. President Obama most certainly is aware of Modi's dubious past and Modi is also acutely cognizant of being kept away from the shores of the United States until recently. The United States and India have an unshakable bond and most certainly need to move ahead with cooperation on economic, security, technology, and military fronts. However, the United States should not overlook the poor record of religious freedom and the dismal human rights violations of Modi's party, which finds its ideology in a Hindu supremacist group called the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). As the US discusses bilateral cooperation on various fronts, it must also address guarantees of religious freedom and safety of minorities.
It is a cause for concern that India's increasingly strident Hindu right and its ever lengthening shadow on India's polity has engendered a sense of insecurity and vulnerability for its minorities, such as Muslims and Christians. The BJP, Modi's political party, has so far failed to assuage the feeling of apprehension among India's minorities because of its provocative positions and hateful propaganda. In an apparent subversion of India’s constitutional guarantees, the BJP and its allies are banning people from converting to Christianity or Islam. These elements are also indulging in forceful reconverstion of Christians back to Hinduism.They are creating an atmosphere of hate and fear between Hindus and Muslims by spreading the myth of “Love Jihad” that accuses Muslim men of marrying Hindu women merely to convert them. Freedom of speech has taken a severe beating as many people have been arrested for Facebook posts that were critical of Modi and his party members.
In an interview with Fareed Zakaria of CNN on September 21, 2014, Modi made an uncharacteristic, albeit welcome, remark regarding Indian Muslims, “If anyone thinks that Indian Muslims will dance to their (Al Qaeda) tunes, they are delusional. Indian Muslims will live for India, they will die for India. They will not want anything bad for India.” Since becoming prime minister, Modi's deafening silence regarding the deadly rhetoric from some extreme elements in his party is a reason to be cautious about his above statement.
Modi ought to be focusing on the life of Gandhi for guidance as opposed to his current fascination with the RSS and its leadership. It might be relevant to remember that Gandhi's life was cut short by a member of the RSS and this organization was banned for a period of time in the aftermath of Gandhi's assassination.
India's minorities have real fears and concerns. Modi must make a clean break from his past and embrace all Indians and ensure the safety of their life, property, and dignity as enshrined in India’s constitution.
The Minnesota Muslim community will be hosting a day-long seminar for law enforcement personnel titled “Muslims, Somalis, and Law Enforcement in Minnesota: Building Effective Relationships.” This seminar will emphasize community engagement and the enhancement of mutual understanding between law enforcement and the Muslim community in Minnesota.
This seminar is POST-accredited and is organized by 15 Muslim community organizations, in collaboration with law enforcement officers statewide. This seminar is approved for 6 Continuing Education Credits (POST Course Number: 10382-001).
The seminar is open to all law enforcement officers, crime prevention specialists, administrative and support staff in government and law enforcement departments, investigators, community outreach personnel, and any related positions. Individuals interested in registering can visit: www.mnpolicetraining.net or call 612-206-3360.
WHAT: Muslims, Somalis and Law Enforcement in Minnesota: Building Effective Relationships
WHEN: Wednesday, September 24, 2014, 9:00 am to 3:30 pm
According to CAIR-MN Countering Islamophobia Coordinator Amber Michel, “This seminar has been prepared to meet the unique needs of the law enforcement community in our state and will feature officers and community experts as presenters throughout the day.” The program will also feature a panel of Muslim police officers and a networking lunch with the Minnesota Muslim community leaders.
The training will present factual and thorough information about Islam, Muslims and the Somali community; present specific strategies for building effective relationships with the Muslim and Somali communities; provide participants with techniques for practical application of these strategies in the law enforcement setting; and facilitate positive classroom discussion that enhances understanding.
This event is a joint initiative of Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center, the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN), EngageMN, Islamic Center of Minnesota, Islamic Civic Society of America, Islamic Resource Group, Jaafari Islamic Center, Masjid An-Nur, Minnesota Dawah Institute, Northwest Islamic Community Center, Sisters Need a Place, Somali Action Alliance, and Somali Resources & Associates.
A coalition of major American Muslim organizations issued the following press release denouncing the ISIS for the murder of American journalists.
(WASHINGTON DC - 09/03/2014) - The US Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO), a coalition of several national and local organizations, today condemns a terrorist and anti-Islam group for a video purporting to show the gruesome beheading of American journalist Steven Sotloff.
The murder of innocent civilians is immoral, illegal, barbaric, and in direct contravention of the major tenets of Islam and Islamic law. No cause or purpose is served by this heinous act other than a clear manifestation of this group's cruel and un-Islamic nature.
"We are outraged that we once again find ourselves in the position to condemn this organization that calls itself the "Islamic State", also known by the acronym ISIS, for killing Mr. Sotloff, especially so soon after its members murdered journalist James Foley," said Oussama Jammal, USCMO secretary general.
"We recognize that all innocent life is sacred and so we also denounce this group for the rampant violence, terror, murder and mayhem it is spreading throughout the region against Muslims and non-Muslims alike. They do not represent me, American Muslims or the world's 1.5 billion Muslims. ISIS must know that such dreadful acts will never be condoned and will be strongly deplored," Mr. Jammal emphasized.
During these difficult days, the USCMO also reminds the public to avoid spreading Islamophobia by using the actions of ISIS to characterize and demonize all Muslims, globally and here in the United States. We unequivocally denounce ISIS, its mentality, and tactics under any circumstances.
"We at the USCMO offer our heartfelt condolences to Mr. Sotloff's family. We pray they find solace and we pray that Mr. Sotloff's murderers will be brought to justice," Mr. Jammal said.
The USCMO also demands the immediate release of British hostage David Cawthorne Haines, who was seen in the current video and whom the group threatened to execute as well.
“Tracks in the Snow – Minnesota Muslim Experience Since 1880” exhibit has received tremendous response from Minnesotans. Most recently, this exhibit was on display at Walker Art Center until August 8. The exhibit is remarkable for the richness of diversity that it highlights from among Minnesota’s Muslims. If there is a sequel to the exhibit, one Somali-American Minnesotan who is sure to make the cut is Siad Ali.
Siad Ali was born in Somalia. During the civil war that gripped the nation in the early 1990s, he found himself heading toward India for higher education, where he attended Hyderabad’s famed Osmania University. He went on to earn a Bachelor’s degree in Commerce and Computers, a MS in Commerce from Bundelkhand University in Jhansi, and a MBA from University of Pune.
During his time in Hyderabad, he soaked up Hyderabadi culture and learned to speak both Urdu and Hindi. It is thus little wonder that he’s a popular figure in American Indian-Pakistani circles, where he easily connects with people.
After coming to Minnesota in 2000, Ali found his calling in education, where he worked as a Bilingual Educational Assistant for the Minneapolis Public Schools. He also served as an adjunct faculty member with the Riverland Community College in Owatonna. In 2007, he received his Master’s degree in education from the University of Minnesota.
Ali exudes a deep love of education. He speaks with great passion about topics that are close to his heart – addressing the achievement gap for Minneapolis students, increasing pay for teachers, and nurturing partnerships between schools and neighbors.
Now as a senior staffer and community outreach specialist for U.S. senator Amy Klobouchar, Siad Ali has a pulse of the community’s concerns. He plans to utilize this community-outreach experience as he runs for the Minneapolis School Board in the 3rd district. Siad Ali has picked up endorsements from both the DFL and Sen. Amy Klobouchar.
As a father of four young children, Ali is committed to sending his children to the Minneapolis Public Schools. Perhaps his uncontested candidature for the Minneapolis School Board is a sign of great things coming for this district.
Minnesota based world renowned hip-hop recording artist and rapper, Brother Ali (a.k.a. Ali Newman), shared his thoughts on the ongoing Palestinian/Israeli conflict. His words are reminiscent of the famous words of Malcolm X when he said, "I'm for truth, no matter who tells it. I'am for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I'am a human being, first and foremost, and as such I'm for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole."
I am reproducing some of Brother Ali's thoughts below.
“I've received a lot of questions about Palestine and I don't think anyone would be surprised about my sentiments. I'm against all forms of domination, anywhere, at any time and by anyone. “
“People with massive material power, money, weapons, propaganda and influence are tortured by what they've done to others. They rot from within, drowning in fear of what might happen to them if their victims ever get on their feet. Oppressors' guilt drives them to use every tool in their wretched arsenal to erase entirely the human proof of their own frail and unloving hearts.”
“So yes, my heart moans for the people being brutalized in Gaza. Israel should listen to its courageous Jewish humanitarians who are protesting their actions around the world. Anyone doing anything in sincere solidarity with oppressed people have my complete support. “
“Muslims shouldn't have to repeat this over and over again, but Islam doesn't condone terrorism or killing of innocent people. Human despair on the other hand makes powerless, humiliated, suffering people do anything in their limited reality to grab some semblance of action. As a Muslim, our religion teaches us to be patient and faithful in the face of oppression, but I've never been in those people's shoes, I've never even been to visit them. I'm not in a position to judge them.”
“If you're compelled to send money, send it. If you're called to protesting, do it well. If you're praying for peace, keep praying. If you're studying and raising awareness in your own sphere of influence, be eloquent and direct. I'm rockin with you. “