ASK A SOMALI | Keeping Muslim traditions alive in Minnesota?


Are the Somalis in the United States interested in keeping the Muslim tradition of their parents?

We the Somali people would like to tell you, “Of course — how could you even doubt that?” But in honesty, our actions say otherwise. You have to understand that a lot of us went through a hell before we got here that nobody can even began to imagine. From the outside, we look healthy, happy and even successful, but many of us have demons we need to come to terms with.

Within the huge population of elders and youth who have come to America (and to other Western countries), two populations struggle in our community.

Our elders feel frustrated and alone. Many of our elders live in public housing, where they depend on the system, but do not understand the rules and regulations. They have lost the freedom they used to know. In Somalia, you walked all over. Here you are afraid of getting run over by cars, so they are fearful of going out, and just feel confined to their high rises. They do not have a lot of mobility — they don’t have cars.

In Somalia, people respected elders. They had the wisdom, and everyone looked up to them. We didn’t have a court system — they were the court system. Here, their kids put them in an apartment, and they are no longer in a position of respect and involvement. And, because talking about depression is a big taboo in our country, they struggle alone.

Our youth have other responses to life’s harsh reality. Many people are familiar with the Lost Boys of Sudan, or the child soldiers of Uganda, but they may not know about the Cast-away Children of Somalia. First, be glad that you never lived through war and its aftermath. You should be glad because many parents make sacrifices. Parents do whatever they can to save their children. Somali parents are no different, and as a result, they sent many of their children with relatives who were leaving Somalia in hopes of providing their children a safe place and future. Then, some of those entrusted families abandoned these children for one reason or another.

These cast-away children often went through unimaginable horror trying to survive in a strange foreign land with no one to help. Some of them ended up being violent. Some joined gangs and used drugs and drink. Others found different and creative ways of dealing with their issues. Mental health, depression and mistrust of establishment are not strange to these youths.

However, everybody who was sent away to Western countries didn’t turn out the same. There are, out of this phenomenon, a new generation of stars. Because of the hardship, the confusion, the abandonment of everything they ever cared for, there came out a strong, shiny and energetic youth who are ready to take on the world. And that is who we can say without a doubt will keep the Muslim tradition, abolish the clan system that destroyed things we cared about most, and will stand united for the sake of our people.

So to answer your second question about keeping our parents’ traditions — some percentage of our youth (however small a percentage this is, I don’t know), cannot imagine themselves being interested in keeping the Muslim/parental tradition. Let’s just say they have a lot on their plates.

Overall, I think the Somali people, however many generations it will take us, will always keep practicing Islam. It might not be exactly the same way it used to be practiced in Somalia, but some of us will definitely keep the tradition going.

(Please send me your questions —