Publish Date:
Thu, 01/26/2017 - 13:57

Minnesota group offers ways for non-Muslims to counter bias

MINNEAPOLIS — Stories about Muslim children being harassed in schools and anti-immigrant statements made during the presidential campaign troubled Sharon Chace.

So when she learned the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations was holding a meeting to show non-Muslims what they could do to help, she decided to attend. Now the St. Paul retiree is taking steps toward helping Somali immigrants, most of whom are Muslim, to learn to read English — and she hopes to take what she learns to be a bridge for others.

"I'm just trying to be a sponge right now," she said.

The meeting Chace attended was part of CAIR-MN's effort to take its longtime advocacy work a step further in Minnesota by providing non-Muslims with concrete opportunities to help. For example, they could join crisis teams that respond to incidents of bias or learn how to teach others to respond to anti-Islamic rhetoric, said Jaylani Hussein, CAIR-MN's executive director.

He said hostility toward Muslims increased during a presidential campaign where Donald Trump talked about creating a Muslim registry and banning immigrants from certain countries. Those comments spurred some, like Chace, to want to get involved.

"A lot of people are upset, a lot of people are frustrated, and they just don't know what to do," Hussein said. "People who were typically troubled by what has been happening are now, for the first time ... willing to stand up and do something about it."

Minnesota, which has the largest Somali population in the United States, has seen several examples of anti-Islamic rhetoric in recent months. In September, after a young Somali man stabbed 10 people at a central Minnesota mall, the owner of a southern Minnesota ice cream parlor put up a sign that said "Muslims Get Out." Days before the election, someone scrawled "ISIS" over a sign promoting the University of Minnesota's Muslim Students Association.

Hussein said supporters can also take simple steps, such as using social media to share stories of positive experiences with Muslims, immigrants or refugees, or donating money. CAIR also created an idea bank for people to connect and share ideas.

Rick Bernardo, an adjunct professor at St. Mary's University, said he got involved because he has several friends and colleagues who are Muslim, including a woman who told him she had to dive away from a moving car when a driver cursed at her and tried to run her over. Among other things, he hopes to dispel stereotypes by talking about the kindness of his Muslim friends if he hears or sees someone paint a negative picture of Islam.

"At some level of friendship, it's almost like family," Bernardo said. "This is what you do for each other."