Zafar Siddiqui

Zafar Siddiqui is a co-founder of the Islamic Resource Group (IRG), an educational outreach organization dedicated to building bridges between Muslims and people of other faiths. He currently serves as the director of interfaith and civic relations at IRG. Read more about Zafar Siddiqui.

Somali Imams Condemn Terror Attacks in Kenya

Posted by: Zafar Siddiqui Updated: September 23, 2013 - 10:28 PM


Somali Imams and Community Leaders Condemn Nairobi Westgate Mall Attack

The Somali Imams and community leaders in Minnesota held an emergency meeting on September 22nd, 2013 at Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center in Minneapolis. The leaders have agreed on the following points:

1. We, the Somali community Imams and leaders in Minnesota hereby strongly condemn the heinous act that took place at Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya on Saturday September 21st, 2013 in which many innocent people lost their lives.

2. This outrageous act of violence has no place in Islam. The perpetrators of this barbaric act do not share our Islamic values. In fact, extremist groups such as Al-Qaida and its affiliate Al-Shabab have done more harm to Islam and Muslims.

3. We extend our condolences to the victims and their families who lost loved ones in these indiscriminate killings.

4. We reiterate that this form of extremism is a menace to world peace and requires collective cooperation amongst the world community to counteract it.

5. The safety and security of United States is of utmost importance to Somali-Americans and we are committed to be in the forefront of defeating extremism.

6. We call on Muslim youth to shun and reject the trap of being lured to or recruited by extremist groups like Al-Shabab.

List of organizations:

-  The North American Council of Somali Imams (National)
-  Islamic League of Somali Scholars in America (National)
- Abubakar as-Saddique Islamic Center, Mpls
- Islamic Civic Society of America (Dar Al-Hijrah), Mpls
- Al-Ihsan Islamic Center, St. Paul
- Umatul Islam Center, Mpls
- Darul-Qalam Islamic Center, Mpls
- Minnesota Da’awa Institute, St. Paul
- Rawdah Islamic Center, Mpls
- Masjid Omar (24 Mall), Mpls
- Masjid Shafie , Mpls
- Masjid Khalid Ibn Al-Waleed, Mpls
- Eden Prairie Islamic Center, Eden Prairie
- Burnsville Islamic Center, Burnsville
- Abubakar As-Siddique Islamic Center, Faribault
- Muslim Society of Owatonna, Owatonna
- Masjid As-Sunnah, St. Paul
- World Peace Organization, Mpls
- Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota, Mpls
- Somali Action Alliance, Mpls

Muslim Veterans Honored for Making a Difference

Posted by: Zafar Siddiqui Updated: September 19, 2013 - 12:18 AM

Mohammad Zafar (L) and Sakinah Mujahid (R) after receiving the "25 Veterans' Voices Awards"

Two Minnesota Muslims, Sakinah Mujahid and Mohammad Zafar, were among those who were honored at the 25 Veterans’ Voices Awards ceremony at the Minnesota Humanities Center on 9/11/2013. The 25 Veterans' Voices Award highlights veterans who have made “exceptional contributions to the community, in business, health care, public safety, education, the arts, government or any other endeavor which merits recognition.” It features young veterans who “have not merely returned to civilian life but are thriving and giving back to their Minnesota communities.”

Sakinah Mujahid receiving the award from Governor Mark Dayton

Sakinah Mujahid, a US Army veteran who served for 13 years, uses her own experiences and has become a leader in Minnesota’s Muslim community. She has worked in social services for six years and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business and certificates in Financial Literacy Training and Dispute Circle Training.  She is the founder and active participant in a Minnesota advocacy organization for Muslim women—Sisters Need a Place—that assists Muslim women and children by finding secure housing and employment opportunities. Mujahid’s work with the Muslim community is not only inspirational, but also dispels stereotypes of Muslim women.

Mohammad Zafar with his family

Mohammad Zafar, a US Marine Corp veteran, exemplifies a veteran who is giving back to his local community by working to promote a better understanding of the Muslim community and building bridges between Muslims and other Minnesota communities. In addition to teaching a Health & Wellness class to Somali youth and adults in Eden Prairie, he created a running event. Through Zafar’s event, Running 30 Miles in Ramadan, he motivated Muslims to run one mile each day during the 30 days of Ramadan. Zafar, who lives in Oakdale, serves and interacts daily with returning veterans, assisting them with the Minnesota GI bill through his job at Metro State.

Commemorating 9/11: Dignity Out of Tragedy

Posted by: Zafar Siddiqui Updated: September 11, 2013 - 6:15 PM

On the 10th anniversary of September 11, 2001, Minnesota based Islamic Resource Group (IRG), along with four of its sister organizations, took part in local and national events commemorating the victims of 9/11 through interfaith cooperation, rejecting violence in all its forms, and highlighting constructive responses to tragedy through outreach, volunteerism, and community service. This was a multi-year effort held in coordination with the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). The CNCS is a federal agency that engages more than five million Americans through programs such as AmeriCorps and leads President Obama's national call to service initiative, United We Serve.

This year, as an extension of this multi-year project, the Islamic Resource Group worked on a project titled "Commemorating 9/11: Dignity out of Tragedy" to gauge the public opinion on various topics relating to how people are coping with the impact of the 9/11 tragedy in their lives. The survey was conducted during the “Third Annual Day of Dignity” event  that was held on August 25, 2013 at Masjid An Nur in Minneapolis.

The people who took part in the survey included both Muslims and non-Muslims. 

The most common response to the question of what people lost because of 9/11 and its aftermath was, apart from the tragic loss of life, a loss of trust. Some lamented losing freedoms and peace of mind. Some others pointed to the continuous erosion of civil liberties in our country.

To the question relating to whether they are hopeful about the future, it was heartening to note that an overwhelming number of responses leaned toward being hopeful about the future. Faith in God, in humanity's resilience to rise from setbacks, and having a positive outlook constituted a major portion of responses. A few of the respondents were cautiously hopeful, citing the unpredictable nature of the course of events taking place in the world. Some of the outstanding responses were:

"Yes, I have hope for my children and their dreams!"

"There are many things that make me hopeful about the future in regards to changing attitudes about race and religion. I feel that with each generation, our tolerance and acceptance is starting to improve. I only hope to see this continue."

"Yes, because I have faith in humanity and I believe all people to have good in them."

Respondents had great practical answers about what we could do locally to promote human dignity. Some of these were as follows:

"Keep education going and work for peace."

"Keep peace, love all."

"Increase volunteer efforts for various causes. Random/small acts of kindness."

"Partner and build trust."

"Allowing persons to maintain their dignity by offering opportunities where they can be their best."

This survey gives us reason to be optimistic about the future. While the pain of those who lost their loved ones cannot be lessened, as a country we are a resilient people. We have dreams for ourselves, our children, our families, our communities, and our nation as a whole. I pray that this dream includes working toward peace, harmony, and friendship.

The following verse from the Qur'an is a great solace in times of distress and gives hope for the future:

"Verily, after every hardship there is relief. Verily, after every hardship there is relief." (Quran 94: 5,6)

Pope Francis Adds a Personal Touch to Eid Al-Fitr Greetings

Posted by: Zafar Siddiqui Updated: August 7, 2013 - 11:27 PM


Pope Francis is pressing ahead with his efforts to strengthen ties between Muslims and Catholics. In his personal message for Eid al-Fitr, the holiday that comes at the end of Ramadan, the Pope touched upon the theme of “Promoting Mutual Respect Through Education.” I find this particularly exciting because it speaks to the effort that I and other Muslims have been involved in the Twin Cities through the Islamic Resource Group (IRG) and other organizations. The IRG’s mission is to build bridges of understanding through education, one very similar to the Pope's call. 
The Pope’s renewed call for dialogue is another opportunity for the Catholic community to take the dialogue with Muslims to the next level and I am confident that the Catholic leadership will find the IRG and several other Muslim organizations willing partners in this effort to promote mutual respect through education.
Eid Mubarak to all who are celebrating.
Below is the text of Pope Francis’s message to Muslims worldwide:
To Muslims throughout the World

It gives me great pleasure to greet you as you celebrate ‘Id al-Fitr, so concluding the month of Ramadan, dedicated mainly to fasting, prayer and almsgiving.

It is a tradition by now that, on this occasion, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue sends you a message of good wishes, together with a proposed theme for common reflection. This year, the first of my Pontificate, I have decided to sign this traditional message myself and to send it to you, dear friends, as an expression of esteem and friendship for all Muslims, especially those who are religious leaders.

As you all know, when the Cardinals elected me as Bishop of Rome and Universal Pastor of the Catholic Church, I chose the name of “Francis”, a very famous saint who loved God and every human being deeply, to the point of being called “universal brother”. He loved, helped and served the needy, the sick and the poor; he also cared greatly for creation.

I am aware that family and social dimensions enjoy a particular prominence for Muslims during this period, and it is worth noting that there are certain parallels in each of these areas with Christian faith and practice.

This year, the theme on which I would like to reflect with you and with all who will read this message is one that concerns both Muslims and Christians: Promoting Mutual Respect through Education.

This year’s theme is intended to underline the importance of education in the way we understand each other, built upon the foundation of mutual respect. “Respect” means an attitude of kindness towards people for whom we have consideration and esteem. “Mutual” means that this is not a one-way process, but something shared by both sides.

What we are called to respect in each person is first of all his life, his physical integrity, his dignity and the rights deriving from that dignity, his reputation, his property, his ethnic and cultural identity, his ideas and his political choices. We are therefore called to think, speak and write respectfully of the other, not only in his presence, but always and everywhere, avoiding unfair criticism or defamation. Families, schools, religious teaching and all forms of media have a role to play in achieving this goal.

Turning to mutual respect in interreligious relations, especially between Christians and Muslims, we are called to respect the religion of the other, its teachings, its symbols, its values. Particular respect is due to religious leaders and to places of worship. How painful are attacks on one or other of these!

It is clear that, when we show respect for the religion of our neighbours or when we offer them our good wishes on the occasion of a religious celebration, we simply seek to share their joy, without making reference to the content of their religious convictions.

Regarding the education of Muslim and Christian youth, we have to bring up our young people to think and speak respectfully of other religions and their followers, and to avoid ridiculing or denigrating their convictions and practices.

We all know that mutual respect is fundamental in any human relationship, especially among people who profess religious belief. In this way, sincere and lasting friendship can grow.

When I received the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See on 22 March 2013, I said: “It is not possible to establish true links with God, while ignoring other people. Hence it is important to intensify dialogue among the various religions, and I am thinking particularly of dialogue with Islam. At the Mass marking the beginning of my ministry, I greatly appreciated the presence of so many civil and religious leaders from the Islamic world.” With these words, I wished to emphasize once more the great importance of dialogue and cooperation among believers, in particular Christians and Muslims, and the need for it to be enhanced.

With these sentiments, I reiterate my hope that all Christians and Muslims may be true promoters of mutual respect and friendship, in particular through education.

Finally, I send you my prayerful good wishes, that your lives may glorify the Almighty and give joy to those around you. 
Happy Feast to you all!
From the Vatican, 10 July 2013

Your Date with Minnesota Muslims

Posted by: Zafar Siddiqui Updated: July 14, 2013 - 11:57 PM
On Monday, the Minnesota Muslim community will be completing the first week of fasting during the month of Ramadan. Many non-Muslims are curious about why, how, and when Muslims fast. Here are some details about the month of Ramadan and the nature of fasting, which is common to many religions and traditions.
  • The fourth pillar in Islam is Sawm, or fasting, in the month of Ramadan.
  • Ramadan is the 9th month in the Islamic calendar.  Because it is a lunar calendar, it rotates around the seasons, moving back eleven days each year.
  • In the month of Ramadan, Muslims all over the world abstain from food and drink from dawn until sunset for a period of 29 or 30 days.
  • Muslims begin their fast before dawn, when families wake up for a pre-dawn meal and morning prayer.
  • Muslims break fast at sunset and many break it with fresh dates or water followed by the evening prayer and dinner.
  • Fasting is part of many religions. For Muslims, fasting is meant to be a means of learning self-control, God-consciousness, and sympathy for those less fortunate.
  • By controlling one’s physical desires and avoiding negative behavior such as lying, gossiping, backbiting, and fighting, fasting trains a person in self-control.
  • Ramadan is also a month of intense spiritual rejuvenation, during which Muslims spend extra time reading the Qur'an (the holy book of Islam) performing special prayers, and doing good deeds.
  • Muslims are to be especially charitable and generous in Ramadan, sharing food and money with those in need, and inviting others to share in the breaking of the fast.
  •  It is common to go to the local mosque after dinner for special night prayers, during which the recitation of the entire Qur'an is completed by the end of the month.
  • In the United States, many mosques serve dinner every night and these dinners are open to the community at large.
  • Since fasting requires good health, those who are physically unable to fast such as the elderly, sick, pregnant or nursing women, travelers, and children are exempt from fasting.
  • Those adults who are able to fast but miss their fast are advised to either make up their missed fasts on later days, or feed a poor person for days equal to all the missed fasts.
  • Fasting is a very special time of the year, which Muslims look forward to and enjoy as a chance to renew their faith, give up bad habits, cleanse themselves physically and spiritually, and do extra worship and good deeds.
People of other faiths are invited to observe and take part in Ramadan by visiting their local mosque for a fast-breaking meal.
Fifteen mosques from around the Twin Cities and surrounding areas have opened up their doors to their neighbors with an open invitation to join them for Iftar (fast-breaking dinner). The following are the mosques that are taking part in this project that is coordinated by the Minnesota Council of Churches and the Muslim American Society of Minnesota.
Please register at the following link to attend any of these free iftars.
Wed. July 10 8:00PM:
Islamic Center of Minnesota, Masjid Abu Khadra, 4056 7th St. NE, Columbia Heights
Sun. July 14 8:30 PM:
Anjuman-E-Asghari, Ja'afari Islamic Center, 10301 Jefferson Hwy., Brooklyn Park
Mon. July 15 8:00
Dar Al Hijrah,504 Cedar Ave. S, Minneapolis
Thu. July 18 8:00 PM:
Muslim American Society of Minnesota, Blaine Community Center, 12175 Aberdeen St., Blaine
Fri. July 19 7:30 PM:
Masjid Al-Ihsan, 955 Minnehaha Ave. W, St. Pau
Sat. July 20 8:00 PM:
Imam Hussain Center, 6120 Brooklyn Blvd, Brooklyn Center
Sat. July 20 8:00 PM:
Islamic Center of Twin Ports, 145 West Winona St., Duluth
Mon. July 22 8:00 PM:
Masjid Al-Iman, Islamic Community Center of MN, 1429 2nd St. NE, Minneapolis
Tues. July 23 8:00 PM:
Abu Huraira Islamic Center, St. Anthony Village Community Center,3301 Silver Lake Rd., St. Anthony
Tues. July 23 8:00 PM:
Al Farooq Youth & Family Center (AFYFC) 8201 Park Ave. S, Minneapolis
Wed. July 24 8:00 PM:
Burnsville Masjid,1351 Riverwood Dr., Burnsville
Thu. July 25 8:00 PM:
Muslim American Society of MN, Inver Grove Center, 4100 E 66th St., Inver Grove Heights
Wed. July 31 7:30 PM,
Masjid An Nur, 1729 N Lyndale Ave., Minneapolis
Thu. August 1 8:00 PM:
Masjid Al-Rahman, 8910 Old Cedar Ave., Bloomington
Sun. August 4 7:30 PM:
Northwest Islamic Community Center, 3300 Plymouth Blvd., Plymouth

Pope Francis Opens a New Chapter in Catholic-Muslim Relations

Posted by: Zafar Siddiqui Updated: May 23, 2013 - 6:45 PM



My relationship with the Catholic community goes back to the time when I was 3 years old. My parents sent me to a Catholic school, a 150 year old institution in Hyderabad, India. I studied there from preschool to high school. This was an experience that would shape my view of Catholics and Christians at-large. I cherish the time I spent at the Catholic school and remember vividly the positive interactions I had with the Catholic Brothers, teachers, and fellow students. During the moral science class at the school, even though I was a Muslim, I was very much on a common ground due to the many similarities that Islam and Christianity share. This provided me with an enriching experience that would spur me on to pursue interfaith relations as a priority.
Growing up, someone I admired for his bridge building efforts was Pope John Paul II. He set the tone for bringing Muslims and Catholics closer. In Casablanca, Morocco in 1985, while addressing the Muslim youth, he said, "Christians and Muslims, we have many things in common, as believers and as human beings. We live in the same world, marked by many signs of hope, but also by multiple signs of anguish. For us, Abraham is a very model of faith in God, of submission to his will and of confidence in his goodness. We believe in the same God, the one God, the living God, the God who created the world and brings his creatures to their perfection."
This absolutely resonates with the Muslim belief that the God of humanity is one and that we worship the same one God. We find in the Qur'an the following verses:
"... and say, “We believe in what has been sent down to us and sent down to you and our God and your God is one, and to Him do we submit." (Qur’an 29:46)
“Say, ‘O people of the book’! ‘come to common terms as between us and you; that we worship none but God; that we associate no partners with Him; that we erect not from among ourselves lords and patrons other than God.'"   (Qur’an 3:64)
Muslim-Catholic relations and interfaith initiatives made great progress during Pope John Paul II's time. However, this relationship hit a rough patch when Pope Benedict XVI became the pope. His ill-considered comment questioning Islam's contribution to world civilization threatened to undo the great ground work laid out by Pope John Paul II.
It is a testimony to the strength of these two communities that out of this apparently challenging moment, a project - "A Common Word Between Us and You" - was born. Thanks to the cool-headed initiative of world's major Muslim scholars who reached out to Pope Benedict XVI and sought dialogue with him, to which he responded to positively.
During this time of strained relationship, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, then Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina and now Pope Francis disagreed with Pope Benedict XVI's comments saying, "Pope Benedict's statement[s] don't reflect my own opinions. These statements will serve to destroy in 20 seconds the careful construction of a relationship with Islam that Pope John Paul II built over the last twenty years."
It's no wonder that on the election of Pope Francis there was tremendous energy and positivity felt in the Catholic-Muslim circles. Major Muslim scholars and religious institutions welcomed Pope Francis’ election. The new pope has lived up to his reputation of humility, compassion, and a believer in dialogue. In a meeting with ambassadors from 180 countries, he called for more inter-religious dialogue - "particularly with Islam."
This should serve as an encouragement to the Minnesota Catholic and Muslim communities to take Catholic-Muslim dialogue to a new level. The Catholic and Muslim communities in Minnesota already enjoy a great relationship. The Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, The Most Reverend John C. Nienstedt, attended the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Islamic Center of Minnesota. The Muslim Christian Dialogue Center (MCDC) at the University of St. Thomas has one of the most vibrant programs in the Twin Cities to promote inter-religious dialogue between Muslims and Catholics. Several Muslims sit on the advisory board of MCDC. The Islamic Center of Minnesota and Al-Amal School enjoy a great relationship with Totino Grace High School and share each other's playing fields and parking lots. The Islamic Resource Group (IRG) has built a strong relationship with dozens of area Catholic churches and key leaders of the Catholic Church are regular invitees at events organized by the Muslim community. The positive interactions between Muslims and Catholics are far too many to list here.
Muslims and Catholics together comprise over half of the world's population. Increased cooperation and joint efforts by these two communities can bring about a positive change in the world. There are many values shared by both communities. In these challenging times, when humanity is beset with poverty, hunger, illiteracy, broken families, materialism, etc., Catholics and Muslims must draw upon their shared commitment to their mutual love of God and love for the neighbor to help make the world a better place for future generations.
I also exhort the Catholic community to stand against Islamophobia and stand united against hate and bigotry which can destroy the moral fabric of our society. The Islamic Resource Group and other Muslim organizations look forward to greater co-operation and joint projects with the Catholic Church.
Lastly, I would like to end with these great words of wisdom from Pope John Paul II:  
"Christians and Muslims, in general, we have badly understood each other, and sometimes, in the past, we have opposed and even exhausted each other in polemics and in wars. I believe that, today, God invites us to change our old practices. We must respect each other, and also we must stimulate each other in good works on the path of God."




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