Mother’s Day celebrations were saddened in the Twin Cities Somali community by news of the death of Abia Ali at age 54.
The community organizer died Saturday in Mogadishu, Somalia, and word reached Minnesota quickly through social media.
“Our sister, known to many as Mother Abiya, who was well known … in Minneapolis has lost her fight with cancer and returned to her Lord,” said the announcement of her death on Facebook.
Ali — mama or sister Abia to many — was known as a tireless contributor to the community. In 2008, she was the first Minneapolis Somali woman and the first Muslim woman to win the Minneapolis Police Department’s Teresa S. Ruhland Youth Award, which recognizes volunteers who engage young people in building community.
Mourners who called KALY 101.7 FM, a Somali radio station, on Sunday evening said Ali’s life was built on volunteerism that sought no recognition. She dedicated herself to helping needy people in the United States and Somalia.
Sheikh Hassan “Hassan Dhooye” Jama, executive director of the Islamic Association of North America and former executive director of the Abubakar As-Saddique mosque, said Ali organized fundraising events to help orphans, displaced families and young girls who were rape victims.
“These kids had severe health conditions,” Jama said. “They could not get help in Somalia. She would bring their pictures to the mosque to find help.”
Ali was a case worker for Hennepin County and a day care coordinator for Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center.
“Abia babysat kids whose families were attending the mosque or the Convention Center so that their families could benefit,” Jama said. “She did it for free. All her work in the community was free.”
Ali was a pillar of the Karmel Square Somali mall in Minneapolis, where she urged shoppers to contribute financially to the poor.
“I lost someone that the community needed. She inspired me and reminded me to help people,” said Roble Jama, a member of the security staff at Karmel Square.
Members of the Karmel mall have proposed naming the spot where Ali sat in her memory.
“We will call it Abia’s Corner,” said Roble Jama, who is no relation to Hassan Jama.
Ali was born in Mogadishu in 1962 and left Somalia in 1988 before the civil war. She came to the United States in 1995 from Canada.
Despite her avid humanitarian work in Minnesota, Somalia remained her home. She often said with a smile, “I am happy we are Somali.”
In 2014 Ali learned she had cancer. In March of this year, she left the Twin Cities for Mecca, Saudi Arabia, where she performed an umrah pilgrimage before returning to Mogadishu last month. Her funeral services there drew a huge assemblage of mourners, according to one who described the service on Facebook.
“Mama Abia Ali (May her soul rest in peace) had the opportunity today of more than 2,000 people performing her janaaza prayers,” said Abdifatah Ali. “She was indeed one in million.”
Ali is survived by her husband, Adan, and three children, Abdullahi, Fardowso and Abdirahman. Somali community members and mosques plan to hold an event later in the Twin Cities to commemorate her years of service.
A collection to assist with hospital and funeral expenses is available at www.gofundme.com/mamaabia.