Muslim Americans in the Twin Cities, a decade after 9/11

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The decade since the September 11 terrorist attacks has been tough for many Muslim Americans. They’ve reported threats, harassment, and scrutiny by law enforcement authorities at airports and mosques.

In a new poll released by Pew Research Center two weeks ago, more than half of Muslim Americans said government anti-terrorism policies scrutinize, discriminate and single them out for increased surveillance and monitoring.

Some Muslim Americans in the Twin Cities said they face similar experiences from officers and angry Americans.

The basic human rights of Muslim Americans have been denied since the attacks, said the Imam of Da’wah Islamic Center in St. Paul, Hassan Mohamud.

“After the attacks of September 11, Muslim Americans have been targeted at the mosques, schools, workplaces and any place you can think of,” said Mohamud, who is also an Islamic law professor at William Mitchell College of Law. “Muslims do not expect fairness in this country unless there is a change [in the policy makers in Washington D. C.]”    

Harassment at airports

Since the hijackers slammed jetliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon a decade ago, there have been drastic security changes at U.S. airports.

Muslims fall victims to airport security, said Mohamud, who is known as “Jamici,” which means “the educated” in Somali language.

“A man returned from Africa,” Jamici said of a case he is handling as an immigration lawyer. “He was singled out and led to a room where he was questioned. They treated him like a criminal,” he said of the man whom the officials hit in the stomach during the interrogation, according to documents.

Muslim Americans, especially young people, are reluctant and even fearful to travel out of the country.

Burhan Mohumed was in fourth grade in an elementary school in north Minneapolis when the terrorist attacks occurred the Tuesday morning of September 11, 2011. His teacher showed the smoking towers on television, but Mohumed, then 11, thought it was a movie.

What he then thought was a movie today affects each move the 21-year-old University of Minnesota student wants to make.

“I wanted to go to Kenya for a study abroad program,” Mohumed said. But after consulting with people, he was told he might face problems with the authorities at the airports. “To save myself trouble and to save my family some trouble, I’d rather just go to some other places like Europe.”  

Mosques under scrutiny

After the September 11 attacks, mosques, which are the most sacred places for Muslims, became the center of investigations, Jamici said. “We feel our houses of worship have been mistreated.”

“Over 80 percent of the mosques in this country are controlled by radical imams,” Representative Peter King (R-NY) said last March at a hearing on radicalization of Muslims in America.

Jamici said the King’s statement “has no base.” The mosques serve to better the community and to keep the young people off the streets, he said.

Two years ago, about 20 Somali youth from the Twin Cities mysteriously disappeared and were presumed to have joined an Islamist group, which the United States government later designated a terrorist movement. The majority of the missing men are believed to have attended Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center in Minneapolis, some families of the missing men said.

But officials have yet to prove that any of the disappeared was recruited from the center.

Some of the Twin Cities mosques have been under FBI investigations since 2009. Students who participate in Islamic classes at Da’wah Islamic Center have spotted officials observing the mosques, Jamici recalled.

“We feel threatened by those who are watching them,” Jamici said in an interview at Da’wah Islamic Center office. “The kids tell their parents that they’re under control.”

Muslim women in the spotlight

Though Muslim men in Minnesota have seen their share of bigotry and violence, Muslim women feel more vulnerable in the aftermath of 9/11.

Unlike Burhan Mohumed, who is quick to say he has never experienced any discrimination for the 15 years he has lived in the U.S., Iman Warsame said she has encountered people who called her offensive names.  

The difference: Mohumed can’t be differentiated from any African-American man. However, Warsame wears the traditional hijab — the head covering that is a sign of modesty for a Muslim woman — which makes her stand out as a Muslim.

When she visited Woodbury High School six years ago, “some students called us ‘terrorists’ just because we’re Muslims,” said Warsame, who said she feels the cities are safer than the suburbs.

A St. Louis Park resident who commutes to the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus, Warsame said she is fearful to take the bus or walk by herself on days like the September 11 anniversary.

“There could be angry people who may attack any Muslim they see,” said Warsame, a senior English student. “I’m extra cautious at every 9/11 memorial.”