Category Archives: Muslims in MN

Ramadan Reflections 2017

If people who cherish freedom, who know the importance of mutual respect and are aware of the imperative necessity to establish a constructive and critical debate, if these people are not ready to speak out, to be more committed and visible, then we can expect sad, painful tomorrows. Tariq Ramadan

For the past week Moslems around the world have observed the traditions of Ramadan.  Because the dates of Ramadan are based on the lunar Islamic calendar those who follow the sun-based Gregorian calendar are often confused by the movable feast.  The confusion extends to the cultural and religious traditions – especially fasting – that are shrouded in ignorance as well as mystery.

My understanding of Ramadan is influenced by time spent in Abu Dhabi as librarian at an exemplary women’s college designed to create a liberal learning experience for young Emirati women. The experience of Ramadan at Zayed University reminded me of spiritual retreats that were a feature of my Catholic school experience.   For these beautiful young Moslem women, Ramadan was a quiet time, a time to reflect, to share, to make amends, to create a peaceful environment  in one’s home, community, college and the world.  For me Ramadan fosters thoughts of quiet generosity, love and an aura of deep peace.

In past years I’ve thought and written a good deal about those memories and learnings.  We all need to better understand that there’s more to Ramadan than fasting!  More important, we need to comprehend the deep meaning of the act of fasting.  And so I re-share those posts: 

As I observe the hijabs on the little girls at my grandson’s park I realize how important it is for children to know more about Moslem culture.   Ramadan presents a good time to teach some of the basics:  Recently I came across this excellent piece about books that teach young children about Ramadan.

Just recently I spotted this bit of local lore that reflects our regional heritage of inclusion:  America’s first mosque was built by Lebanese immigrants in North Dakota in the 1920s. The mosque was torn down in the 1970s and later replaced. What’s believed to be the oldest surviving mosque in the U.S. was constructed in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in the 1930’s.

That spirit lives on in countless ways in this community.  Resources abound: Just one of the many worthy  of mention is the Islamic Resource Center, a nonprofit committed “to build bridges of understanding between Minnesota Muslims and the broader Minnesota community through education.   Check them out – their website will lead you to many more resources for learning:




MIA Exhibit Tells Story of Martin Luther, Art and the Reformation

The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship ~ Martin Luther

The capstone exhibition of National Archives Month 2016 for this region is undeniably the Martin Luther: Art and the Reformation exhibition opening the end of the month at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. The exhibition features newly excavated objects that depict aspects of Luther’s personal life as well as Reformation and post-Reformation art. The Luther exhibit is traveling in this country for the first time. This commemoration of the 500th Anniversary of Luther’s 95 Theses offers a once-in-a-millennium learning experience for this community.

Focus of the exhibition is Luther’s support of art as a tool for worship, teaching and propaganda. Of particular note are the paintings of Lucas Cranach the Elder who was inspired by Luther’s preaching to develop didactic and narrative paintings. In addition to paintings the exhibit offers numerous historical objects including sculpture, gold, textiles and works on paper, this last of particular note in light of Luther’s use of the newly invented printing press to share the written word.

Another aspect of the exhibition is representation of Luther’s personal life. The exhibition features archeological finds such as household goods and items found in his homes and studio; artifacts include original furnishings and precious gold and silver objects. The exhibition will also share examples of rarely seen 16th Century editions and a selection of 16th Century publications that offer insight into Luther’s intolerance of corruption and his concern for women.

The Martin Luther: Art and the Reform exhibition opens on Sunday, October 30. The opening day lecture explores “Learning about Martin Luther: How Archaeology Changed the Picture of the Reformer.” (2:00 p.m.) Additional lectures throughout the exhibition:

  • Martin Luther Art and the Reformation (Thursday, November 3, 6:30 p.m.)
  • An Artist during Times of Change: Lucas Cranach between Court, Church and Reform (Sunday, November 20, 2:00 p.m.)
  • Art Illuminating Human Rights: Muslim in Minnesota (Thursday, December 1, 6:30 pm)
  • Martin Luther’s Reformation impact on Nordic Europe: Finland and its evolution to independence in 1917 (January 14, 2:00 p.m.)

In conjunction with the MIA exhibition the Center for Austrian Studies at the University of Minnesota is sponsoring a robust series of programs. The series begins Wednesday, October 12, 7:30 p.m. with an introductory lecture by Thomas Rassieur, Curator of Prints and Drawings, Minneapolis Institute of Arts.   This will be followed by a second lecture by Andrew Pettegree, University of St. Andrews (Scotland) who will discuss “Martin Luther, the Reformation and the Making of a media Phenomenon” and a student tour of the exhibition itself. (

Martin Luther: Art and the Reformation will remain on exhibit at MIA through January 15. More information and updates may be found here:


Sharing Iftar, traditions and gratitude during Ramadan

Thankfulness (Sukrh) is a core value of Islam; Ramadan is a time to reflect on gratitude to Allah and, at the same time, to generous individuals who mirror the generosity of Allah. In the spirit of Ramadan we all owe a debt of gratitude to our Muslim neighbors who are opening their places of worship to friends who wish to share Iftar, the fast-breaking evening meal.

Taking Heart, the Iftar shared experience, has become a tradition in the metro area and is expanding state- even nation-wide. The Ramadan learning and sharing opportunity is coordinated by the Minnesota Council of Churches ( and the Muslim American Society of Minnesota. (

As part of the Taking Heart project Christians and members of other faith communities gather at sunset with Muslim friends, neighbors, co-workers and others. All share the fast-breaking Iftar meal as well as conversation about the Muslim faith; last year nearly 700 non-Muslims in Minnesota attended open house Iftar dinners.

This year we owe additional appreciation to the Minnesota Council of Churches. Since the first day of Ramadan, which began June 6, lawn signs have sprung up all over the TC’s and the state. The message reads “To our Muslim neighbors – BLESSED RAMADAN.” For more about the readily purchasable or reducible signs click here:

Twin Cities media have covered the Blessed Ramadan project well and are just two examples of media coverage.

Sukrh is also due to caring individuals who have helped to share the Blessed Ramadan message in their own communities. For example, in Grand Forks the entire community shared the message when a concerned citizen planted a “Blessed Ramadan” sign in her lawn.

The initiative has merited national attention including this piece in the Huffington Post ramadan_us_573f58b8e4b00e09e89f0061







Ramadan Begins as Bachmann Spews Her Venom

This evening as the sun sets I went for a very long walk – in part to  divest my spirit of the hatefulness that has marked this day.  The tragedy in Colorado is unspeakable beyond written words, of course.  My deepest hope is that we as a nation cope, even as we grieve.

Still, it’s Michelle Bachmann’s vitriol that surpasses even that incident, in part because it is an incident, the act of a mentally disturbed individual who has wreaked havoc on a community and some very good people.  Still, it is an incident.

For me, Representative Bachmann’s  outbursts, representing her deep-seated convictions, are even more disturbing.  They are not only the inane and misinformed utterings of an ambitious woman.  They are words chosen to fuel the flickers of fear that reside within the souls of good people who deserve far better from their leaders.

Bachmann’s ugly comments cause particular pain as they spew forth on the eve of Ramadan, the most peaceful and loving season in which Muslims everywhere celebrate love and generosity and friendship.   Bachmann’s is a mean-spirited slap in the face that speaks volumes of the venom within the Representative and her fellow travelers.


Wiser and more articulate observers of the political scene will eloquently refute Bachmann’s misguided rants.  Though I endorse their views,  I am not willing  to commit  precious time and energy to bashing those who don’t deserve the attention and who will be cussed out by those more articulate.  My thoughts turn instead to those who may be lured by the falsehoods she espouses – and to my friends and neighbors who must rise above – again. 

 My hope is that this Ramadan season will remind us all, including Michelle Bachmann, of Mohammed’s wise counsel:  “Much silence and a good disposition, there are no two works better than those.” 

Ramadan Reflection

A decade ago I lived in Abu Dhabi during Ramadan.  It was a beautiful, peaceful, meaningful experience that has shaped my life.  I rejoice that I live now in a community in which I can share Ramadan with neighbors.

When I googled Ramdan 2010 (which was a foolish thought at the core) I learned that Minnesotans seem more concerned with the rules re. breaking the fast at Electrolux and Viking Hussain Abdullah’s preparations for the season than we are with the essence of Ramadan.  Still, we are learning and willing to learn more.

Admittedly, we have some basic gaps in our knowledge of Muslim practices during Ramadan.  One has to do with the most obvious, i.e. fasting.  Fasting itself is virtually universal among the world’s religions.  It’s not just about avoiding food and water but about mental discipline.  It’s about living a quiet, loving, peaceful life in a very public way.  Muslims are not suffering so much as observing a faith built on peace and good will and a season that is not so much about sacrifice as about joy. Though the fast is from sunrise to sunset, breaking the fast brings family and friends together to enjoy not only a meal but a time of shared celebration of the holy season.

The beginning of Ramadan can be a bit problematic, especially for Muslims in the US and for those of us who try to understand.   In Abu Dhabi we waited until the elders watched the skies for the first appearance of the crescent moon.  Though we were pretty sure of the date, everything was on hold till the word came down.  In this country there is division among Muslims and Islamic organizations about moon-sighting as the determinant of Ramadan’s beginning.  Some ethnic groups want to coordinate their sacred observances with their homelands.  Others want to have a date that is firm, in synch with political and economic realities if a global environment.  It seems clear that the trend is to a global standard – which is why we all know that Ramadan begins August 11, 2010, in spite of when the crescent moon appears.  Personally, I liked the ambiguity of moon-sighting….

As I write this it is Primary Election Day in Minnesota.  Though my thoughts here are tangential to Ramadan, there is a connection.  This election season Muslims are playing a major role as voters and as candidates – and this is new to our state.  There are 150,000 Muslims living in Minnesota now.  Many have roots here that go back for generations.  Others have enriched our community in more recent times as they have arrived from Somalia, Ethiopia, Egypt, Morocco, Lebanon, Turkey and scores of other nations.  Candidates are paying attention.

Even more, Muslims are themselves candidates for office.  Congressman Keith Ellison leads the pack, of course.  Farheen Hakeem is running for Governor on the Green Party ticket.  In District 51A Omar Merhi (DFL) is running for the House of Representatives.  DFLer Trayshana Thomas is running for State Senator in District 67.  Muslims are on the local ballot for city council and school board seats around the state.

And so I think about those quiet days of Ramadan with the young women at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi.  And I think about the Muslims in my Minneapolis neighborhood.  It’s time to go vote, then head for the Holy Land for a cup of good coffee and, with luck, a chance to have a word with Majdi Wadi or his mother who so often greets guests with a smile that radiates serenity and good will.