In a small computer room at the Brian Coyle Community Center where the women went to pray at sunset Thursday, a quote from Dr. Seuss hung on the wall: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.”
The quote seemed to sum up the reason that about 120 members of the Somali community had come together on the first day of the new year — to raise more money to finally repair the Dar Al-Hijrah mosque. The mosque in Minneapolis’ Cedar-Riverside neighborhood was heavily damaged by a large apartment-building fire on New Year’s Day 2014 that killed three people.
“In our neighborhood, it feels like we’re in a dark place,” said Wali Dirie, executive director of the mosque and the organizer of the fundraiser, which also served as a memorial to the victims.
“People feel that they lost their space,” Dirie said. “They don’t have the place they used to pray five times a day, the place they gathered the month of Ramadan for fasting, for holidays. It impacted their lives.”
Anab Ahmed, 34, moved from Minneapolis to St. Cloud six years ago but until the fire struck, she still drove to the mosque every Friday. It was more than a place to worship, she said. It was a place to talk to her friends and reconnect. It unified the Somali community.
“We really, really need to get open again,” she said.
The rebuilding of the mosque began in October, and organizers hope to reopen in February, said board chairman Abdisalam Adam. About $150,000 has already been raised, but at least $125,000 more is needed.
Adam believes the fire is the largest disaster that has struck the Twin Cities Somali community. “I don’t recall anything that’s had that much impact,” he said.
In addition to repairs, the money will go toward expansion and necessary updates to the 105-year-old building, Dirie said. “We are hoping something positive comes from this,” he said.
The gym at the community center was filled with metal folding chairs Thursday. Attendees trickled in more than an hour before the fundraiser started at 5:30 p.m.
Among the speakers who roused the crowd to make donations were mosque board members, a former resident of the apartment building who was injured in the fire and City Council member Abdi Warsame. Warsame said he would pledge $500 toward the cause.
When the mosque had to close, Trinity Lutheran Church stepped up and offered its space for prayers. Out of the tragedy came friendship and a common purpose — to come together in faith, said Fardosa Hassan, whose uncle was a victim of the fire. She hopes that relationship will continue and flourish.
Despite the open arms of the church and help from nearby Augsburg College, the mosque needs to be rebuilt, she said. The community is just not the same without it.
“They opened their doors, but at the end of the day it doesn’t have the same … It’s great, but the setting is different, the culture is different,” said Hassan, who is coordinator of the Interfaith Youth Leadership Coalition at the St. Paul Area Council of Churches. “You say, ‘You can stay at my house,’ but … there is a limit to it.”
The mosque, she said, is needed. “It’s essential for us. It’s a landmark. To let it go, it’s letting go of history in a sense.”