Over the past 150 years, Minnesota has received immigrants from various countries. While it is well-known that Germans, Swedes, and Norwegians comprised the bulk of the state's earliest immigrants, few are aware that some of the Minnesota's earliest immigrants were Muslims. In fact, historical records indicate a Muslim presence in the state going as far back as the 1880s 1.
This is not surprising, considering that the country's first mosques were built here in the Midwest, right in Minnesota's backyard. The Ross Mosque in Ross, North Dakota was built in 1929 and the “Mother Mosque” in Cedar Rapids, Iowa was built in 1934. Minnesota's rich history of welcoming immigrants from all corners of the globe, along with Minnesota's indigenous American Muslims, has given shape to a Minnesotan Muslim population represented by a diverse range of ethnic and national backgrounds.
Yet the diverse and unique backgrounds of this vibrant community are not well known by the larger society. In order to fill this gap, the Islamic Resource Group (IRG) received a grant from the Minnesota Historical Society to capture and convey the Muslim experience in Minnesota through oral interviews and photographic portraits. The project documented 40 Minnesota Muslims chosen carefully to represent a diverse collection of experiences.
Minnesota Muslims are making an ever growing impact on the affairs of the state and the nation - from the first Muslim Congressman (Congressman Keith Ellison) to the largest Somali Muslim population in the United States. Capturing the experience of Minnesota Muslims through their own voices is not only crucial for relaying an integral part of Minnesota history to future generations, but will also provide an invaluable tool for educating the broader community, thereby developing a sound religious and cultural understanding of their neighbors.
This oral history project provides greater insight into Minnesota's Muslims by answering questions like:
Where did they come from? What brought them here? What do they have to say about life Minnesota? And what does it mean to be a Muslim in Minnesota?
I plan to share these stories with fellow Minnesotans in coming weeks.
1 “They Choose Minnesota: A Survey of the State’s Ethnic Groups” edited by June D. Holmquist, Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2003.
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