The sign outside the doors of Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center read “No Entry. All activities inside the building have been suspended … ”
But two days after an explosive was hurled into the imam’s office at the Bloomington faith center, the opposite was happening: Families still brought their children for Arabic language lessons. Security and insurance agents toured the place. Hundreds of calls poured in to a tired receptionist staffing the front desk.
Mohamed Omar, the center’s executive director, was daunted by the prospects of hosting a community event Tuesday night expected to draw thousands of supporters. But he was also very grateful.
“We believe people don’t have a clue what we do here,” said Omar. “We want to clear up misconceptions. We tell people, ‘Come and see what we’re doing.’ ”
The Saturday morning attack forced the center into a balancing act of both preparing for the influx of children at its school next month and dealing with the aftermath of a suspected hate crime drawing international attention.
The scene there Monday reflected that tension between the ordinary and extraordinary. As children gathered in a classroom to recite their Arabic vocabulary words to their teacher, the imam’s office just down the hall was a scene from a war zone — a blasted-out window, light panels dangling from the ceiling, wet carpet and shrapnel marks on the wall.
An insurance representative scrutinized the molding mess with Omar, promising to make things right, even as a Menards truck pulled in to deliver a pallet of drywall and paint for an already-underway school spruce-up.
Amid the debris-covered table in the center of the imam’s demolished office sat a basket full of bright pink notes from Pax Christi Catholic Community in Eden Prairie — among the many faith groups sending support.
Omar pulled a few from the basket and read them.
“Hope you can find peace and safety again,” he read. “My prayers and support are with you.”
“The Muslim community is feeling a little vulnerable right now,” said Asad Zaman, executive director of the Muslim American Society of Minnesota, who was accompanying Omar. “But having our interfaith allies, elected officials and others speak out for the Muslim community is tremendous.”
Even so, Omar admits the situation can feel formidable. He spent the day with mobile phone in hand, fielding endless phone calls and messages from journalists and well-wishers across the country, as well as the center’s own members. That’s in addition to overseeing the blast repairs and installation of a new security system.
“I’m having to do things I’ve never done before, like live TV,” he said.
Omar offered a tour of the center, a large brick building that had been a public elementary school. The building houses classrooms for 200 to 300 students, after-school programs, Arabic and Islamic studies, homeownership classes for parents, nutrition classes, and women’s networking on weekends — among other programs.
“They have so many activities — like a Sunday school,” said Anab Amin, a Minnetonka mother waiting inside the classroom where her children were studying Arabic. “They have a big gym where they can play basketball or soccer.”
And of course, the center holds a spacious carpeted room used for daily prayer. That room was closed Monday because it was across the hall from the blast. The faithful were directed to the gym, which Tuesday night is expected to host a crowd of several thousand.
On Monday, about 30 chairs were set up in the gym for an unrelated event. Omar worried aloud about the strain on his already overworked volunteers.
“All these are logistical things that we could use help with,” he said. He added that the center has a GoFundMe page to raise money to repair damages.
The Rev. Mark Keeler was among the religious leaders who stopped by the center Monday. The pastor at Plymouth Creek Christian Church in Plymouth said he felt compelled to show his support.
“I cannot imagine what it would be like to worship in fear,” said Keeler, after offering an embrace to Omar. “Faith communities are one community.”
Meanwhile a group of at least 50 clergy and church members from Bloomington happened to be holding a meeting Monday evening about initiating “respectful conversation” about immigration. The mosque bombing was expected to be front and center.
“Over the past year, the clergy in Bloomington have noticed it’s increasingly difficult to talk about these issues in our polarizing society,” said the Rev. Arthur Murray of Transfiguration Lutheran Church, one of the event’s organizers.
“We’re not rural red or inner-city blue,” he said. “We’re right in the middle. If we start speaking of political issues, one way or another, it can be divisive.”
The FBI issued a statement Monday indicating many questions remain. FBI special agent in charge Rick Thornton described the investigation as “our top priority, and we continue to work to determine who carried out this crime and why.”
Thornton said dozens of agents, analysts and others are staffing an FBI command center in the bureau’s Minneapolis division while drawing on special agent bomb technicians and the FBI laboratory in Quantico, Va.
The FBI is seeking any information to bolster its investigation, directing anyone who knows anything to call 1-800-CALL-FBI.
“The FBI recognizes the pain and anger of our communities anytime a place of worship is attacked,” said Thornton, “and we will work hard to hold those responsible accountable.”
Staff writer Stephen Montemayor contributed to this report.