Somali-Americans worry about how to help their loved ones in Somalia


Many in the Somali community worry that they may be accused of supporting terrorist organization as they try to help families, relatives, and friends in Somalia. “If you send even as little as $100 to a relative… you might be accused of supporting a terrorist group,” said Said Sheik-Abdi, a Minneapolis-based Somali writer.

Members of this community will now have to be extra careful when giving donations or sending money to Somalia.

About three days prior to the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan, two Somali-Minnesotan women were arrested on suspicion of supporting a terrorist group. They are accused of sending donated money to the Somalia-based terrorist group Al-Shabab.

Some Somali-Americans are questioning the timing of this indictment. Families living in Somalia largely rely on the remittances and donations sent from the West, United States, Canada, and Europe for their livelihood. Paradoxically, while Al-Shabab is a terrorist group, it rules a large portion of Somalia — and thus dictates what happens in these areas and the lives of those under the group’s control. Any hindrance to the flow of these resources may result in tragedy for already suffering Somalis.

“Remittances are the only thing that is keeping these families a life,” said Somali-American activist Abdirahman Jahweyn.

The month of Ramadan is the most important month of the year. Not only do Muslims seek to strengthen their Iman, or faith, and remove evil and purify their hearts, the rewards for good deeds are multiplied during Ramadan. Additionally, Muslims are required to pay small amounts of their wealth on those for whom they are responsible, Zakat al-fitr, and on their wealth or belongingness, Zakat al-Mal. The Zakat al-Fitr will have to be paid before the end of Ramadan, whereas Muslims are encouraged to pay their Zakat al-Mal during Ramadan.

“The indictment couldn’t have come any worse time – just one week before the beginning of Ramadan, the month of worshiping and giving. Why at this time?” Sheikh Hassan Mohamud asks.  “The prophet said Ramadan is the best month to pay the Zakat. …This is an example that all Muslims would like to follow, but it’s going to be very difficult.”

“The law is clear and strict- if you send any amount of funds or goods that ends up going to a person or organization designated by the U.S. as a terrorist organization, you could be charged with supporting a terrorist organization.” said Zahra M. Aljabri, Assistant Civil Rights Director of CAIR. “The best and safest option is to send funds to a known charitable organization rather than an individual. The organization should be a registered 501(c) 3.”

While there aren’t many registered charitable organizations, charity organizations do not collect and remit money intended for family members. It’s unclear how Somalis will support immediate family.

“If nothing changes, soon we will not be able to send money to even immediate family members,” said Ali Egal of the Somali Justice and Advocacy Center.

Unlike other religious institutions, mosques don’t collect membership fees or charge services. For the most part, these institutions are run with volunteers and donated money. To support these institutions, community volunteers roam around the Somali mini-malls and other gathering places to collect donations. However, since the news of the missing young men from Minnesota broke, mosque donation revenues and congregations have been thinning, particularly in the Twin Cities.

“Volunteers told me that the community is worried and is not willing to give for fear of negative repercussion,” Sheikh Hassan said. “We are lucky. Our volunteer pool has grown, but other mosques are struggling.”

Despite overly worried, some in the community are relieved that there has not been mass arrests or indictments. “I am glad that everything that has been happening in last two years ended with only two ladies and less than $10,000. … This is a relief for us,” Egal said.

Conversely, everyone agrees that something need to be done. “This is a very important thing. Community leaders must rise up to the occasion and provide leadership,” Egal said. Except for sporadic discussions, the community does not have a plan to face up to this dilemma.

The community must work with the rest of America to find a solution to this dilemma. Until then, while practicing their religion, they must give with good care and delicacy.