Flying Imams’ Ship Comes In

October 22, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Paul Walsh and James Walsh

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Imams in Minneapolis airport.

A settlement has been reached in the “Flying Imams” federal lawsuit that was filed by six Muslim men who claim they were falsely arrested on a US Airways jet in the Twin Cities three years ago because of their religious and ethnic backgrounds.

According to federal court records, the settlement was reached Monday and filed with the court today.

A New York attorney for the imams, Omar Mohammedi, this afternoon called the settlement “satisfactory to the plaintiffs.” Mohammedi added that money is involved, but he declined to elaborate.

Another attorney for the imams, Frederick Goetz of Minneapolis, said a few details remained to be resolved before the settlement is finalized.

One of the imams, Marwan Sadeddin of Phoenix, told the Associated Press that the settlement does not include an apology but he considers it an acknowledgment that a mistake was made. He said he couldn’t divulge the terms because both sides had agreed not to discuss them publicly. “It’s fine for all parties. It’s been solved. … There is no need for a trial,” Sadeddin said.

Officials with the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC), which operates the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and is a defendant in the suit, issued a statement Tuesday afternoon announcing the settlement.

“Law enforcement officials did what they believed was appropriate to ensure the safety of travelers based on the information available at the time,” said the MAC’s general counsel, Tom Anderson. “We will continue to be vigilant in maintaining the security of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and the safety of travelers who use it.”

According to the statement by the MAC, “the commission’s liability insurance policy limits potential financial exposure in such cases to $50,000. The insurer has the right to assume control of the defense or settlement of claims and exercised that right in this case.”

Arizona-based U.S. Airways also is a defendant in the suit. The airline has yet to comment today.

CAIR, the Washington-based civil rights organization that took up the imams’ cause soon after they were removed from the plane, hailed the settlement.

“[This] is a clear victory for justice and civil rights over fear and the phenomenon of ‘flying while Muslim’ in the post-9/11 era,” said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad.

The case sparked ongoing debate about the power of law enforcement to override personal rights in the name of security.

The imams were arrested in November 2006 while returning from the North American Conference of Imams on a jet bound for Phoenix. A passenger had passed a note to a flight attendant noting what he considered suspicious activity.

FBI Special Agent Michael Cannizzaro and airport police officers had argued that the arrest and removal of the imams was valid because there were reasons to be suspicious of a crime.

In July, U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery ruled that the suit could move forward.

“The right not to be arrested in the absence of probable cause is clearly established and, based on the allegations … no reasonable officer could have believed that the arrest of the Plaintiffs was proper,” Montgomery ruled then.

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Community News (V11-I33)

August 6, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Muslim women’s shelter in Charlotte

CHARLOTTE, NC–Sa’idah Sharif-Sudan, an advocate for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, is starting a shelter for Muslim women in Charlotte. She had earlier started a shelter in New Jersey in 2003.

At a luncheon sponsored by the Domestic Violence Advocacy Council this week Sudan said the shelter, the first of its kind in Charlotte, would be officially would be launched in the coming months.

Sudan says she would also like to sensitize social workers to the needs of Muslims. “I’d like to educate the social workers, the police departments,” she said. “They don’t know much about the Muslim community and domestic violence.”

For starters, she said, it is important to keep in mind that domestic violence is not just a problem in the Muslim community.

“Domestic violence has no religion, no color, no face – it’s everywhere,” Sudan said. “If Muslim husbands beat their wives, they are not practicing what they say they believe (as Muslims). But neither are Catholics or Baptists when they beat their wives.”

Syed Muzzamil wins scholarship

SOMERVILLE,NJ–Syed Muzzamil is a recipient of the 2009 New Jersey Center for Tourette Syndrome’s 2009 Children’s Scholarship in the amount of $500. Muzzamil, who graduated from North Brunswick Township High School, was selected for his academic achievement, community service and accomplishments as an individual with Tourette Syndrome.

Muzzamil served as student government president; played varsity golf; participated in the Model U.N. program; was a member of the National Honor Society and was a member of his school’s robotics team. Muzzamil took part in the Robert Wood Johnson Mini-Medical Seminar and volunteered at St. Peter’s Hospital in New Brunswick, the physician office of Dr. Saleha Hussaidn and the Muslim Center of Middlesex County.

NJCTS congratulates Syed Muzzamil on his achievements and wishes him continued success in his academic and career endeavors.

The NJCTS Children’s Scholarship Award is given to outstanding high school seniors in the state of New Jersey who have excelled in their schools and communities in the face of living with Tourette Syndrome.

Miss. group gets initial OK for mosque

CANTON,Miss.–The Mississippi Muslim Association has been granted the initial permission required to build a mosque in the city of Madison. The county supervisors voted 3-2 for the zoning exemption. Opponents have fifteen days to appeal the decision.

The mosque when constructed will be called Magnolia Islamic Center. Muslim association spokesman Azzam Aburmirshid says more than 100 families who attend a mosque in south Jackson want to worship closer to their homes in Madison County, north of the capital city.

Before the mosque can be built, the Muslim association must show building plans to county officials. It also must verify water and sewer service are available.
Islamic school to open in Minneapolis.

Minneapolis private school to open

MINNEAPOLIS,MN–The Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center, the largest mosque in the state, will open a private school this fall.  The leaders of the project say the mosque will fight the ‘youth crisis’ among local Somalis by teaching students to embrace their unique identity.

The mosque has raised about $760,000 in private donations to help pay for the school.

The Islamic school is expected to open in September with classes for kindergarten and first grade, but the mosque hopes to expand the offerings as the school grows. In addition to core subjects such as math and English, the school will also offer classes teaching the Somali language and Islamic studies. “Iqra” means “read” in Arabic.

The renovated space will also house the mosque’s weekend Islamic school and summer programs.

The mosque needs to raise an additional $173,000 to pay for the project.

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Despite FBI Investigation, Minnesota Mosque Has Support

July 9, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Ramla Bile, Mshale, New America Media

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File:  A member of Minnesota’s Somali community

Despite fears of distractions from the missing Somali youth saga that has engulfed the Somali community in Minnesota, the Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center held its 9th Annual Convention at the Minneapolis Convention Center over the weekend where thirty speakers addressed 10,000 people over three days.

Participants said it was encouraging to see the number of attendees, the breadth of topics, and the scope of talent.

Despite a tumultuous year, the mosque saw increased attendance at this year’s convention and a spike in monetary support. Since last fall, the mosque has come under fire for the “missing youth” debacle, a connection that the mosque administrators and its supporters continue to deny. People close to the mosque did not believe the annual event would occur this year, they feared that the need to address the allegations would distract the administration and volunteers from organizing the convention. But after successfully meeting fundraising goals and having a record attendance with the help of 200 volunteers, the Abubakar community believes it maintains the trust and love of the Somali community. “This crowd and their energy is a testimony to their commitment to the mosque and its respected leaders,” attendee Ali Abdi said.

People travelled from Columbus, Nashville, Toronto, Kansas City, and across the United States and Canada to listen, learn, and meet. Hundreds of others logged-in to a live broadcast through several websites that serve the Somali community. Twenty-year-old Anab Ibrahim travelled from Seattle to attend the convention. “We came because my aunt was impressed with the line-up. When we arrived, we were amazed with the number of people we saw standing and sitting around in the lobby… we were even more shocked to see the packed auditorium,” she said. At the peak of the event on Saturday, an estimated 7,000 thousand people filled the two auditoriums. Anab said she especially enjoyed the English lectures. “Other conferences are only about the politics of Somalia, and often make us feel hopeless. This was applicable to our lives here and our faith. It showed me what we could do for our community and ourselves.”

Speakers addressed a wide range of topics, including the future of Somalis in the diaspora, the prevalence of autism, the importance of knowing your rights, the danger of gangs and extremism, the notion of Islam as mercy among others.

The only wrinkle on the conference was keynote speaker, Sheikh Mustafa Harun, being denied entry to the United States upon landing at Newark airport. He ultimately addressed the audience via webcam the following day. Participants expressed outrage over their revered scholar being denied entry. Harun said he checked in with the U.S. Embassy in Norway weeks prior to his scheduled flight and was told he should not encounter any issues. Norway has a visa waiver program with the United States. Despite his attempt at planning ahead, he did not make it to the convention. After a 9-hour flight, he was questioned for 3 hours and was told that although his identity was cleared, he must leave the country. He was allowed to make a call before boarding another 9-hour flight back to Norway.

Other speakers included imams from around the U.S. including Minnesota, among them Sheikh Abdirahman Sheikh Omar, Sheikh Abdirizak Hashi, Sheikh Jamel Bin Ameur, and others. Audience members were astounded by the knowledge and wit of 12-year-old Mohamud Ahmed Mohamud, who was introduced as “Sheikh Mohamud.” He related the story of Salman Al-Farisi, a historic figure in Islamic history, and spoke on the importance of seeking knowledge and asking questions. He shared the Somali proverb of regret where a person says, “when I had youth, I did not want to learn, and when I had age, I wished I had learned during my youth.” Mohamud says he wanted to send a strong message to the youth, and encourage them to take advantage of their time. “I want young people to step up to the plate because I see so much good in them and it’s time for the youth to rise,” he said. Mohamud spent the past three years helping in the bookstore of the mosque, reading and writing as he could.

Gubernatorial candidate Steve Kelley, and Constituent Advocate to Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Siad Ali spoke on the health, education, and anti-immigration sentiment. Klobuchar addressed the audience by video where she touched on the cultural and intellectual wealth Somalis bring to Minnesota. Minneapolis welcomed Abukar Arman, the President of the CAIR chapter in Columbus who did a “know your rights” presentation in Somali, while members of the local chapter of CAIR did a program in English. “It’s important for people to understand their legal rights and the implications of their actions – intentional or not. Wanting a lawyer is not an omission of guilt. We want people to cooperate with law enforcement and we want them to know their rights,” he said. Arman also addressed the allegations against certain mosques in the city, saying that, “we’re finding that people are being judged by public opinion, which is ridiculous because this is a nation of law and order, and rumors should not absolve or condemn people or institutions of allegations. Rather, this should be determined by an established legal process.”

Poets Sara Mohamed and Maryam Warsame made their début at the convention. Warsame is one of three organizers for the mosque’s “Youth to Youth” group, a mentorship program for young women. Sara is a student in the program, and the two began writing together this winter. They rhymed about the situation of women in their homeland, and shared the stories of those who did not find relief. “We don’t want to be famous, we just want to get message out and not forget about those who are suffering,” Warsame said. She added that the convention was a good opportunity for students to share their work.

In addition to the poetry and lectures, the convention also included a fundraising component. In a little over an hour, participants pledged $150,000 to help cover expenses incurred over the construction of the second floor of the mosque, as well as to jump-start the next phase of development. The administration hopes to complete the parking lot and make the exterior of the building more visually pleasing.

It is difficult to imagine that this is the same institution that operated from a garage in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood – the epicenter of the city’s newest wave of immigrants. Founding member Abdulaziz Sugule says this vision for a mosque comprehensively serving the community started over a decade ago and the organization began operations in 2000. Then called the Imam Shafi’i Mosque, the name was changed to the Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center and the organization moved to an abandoned warehouse in South Minneapolis. “Today, that vision is a five million dollar project,” Sugule said. “The mosque plays a major role in advancing the community; it consists of all kinds of social services including providing family counseling, settling community disputes, celebrating Islamic holidays, working with local and national government leaders, mentoring youth, and providing a place of Islamic worship and education,” he said.

Looking up with a smile, he added, “Contrary to what some people are saying, they (the mosque administration) are trying to build a healthy community with good people… they’re starting a movement for positive change and people love the place and its people.”

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Somali Woman’s Illness and A Family’s Quest for Healing

June 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Joel Grostephan, New America Media

NAM Editor’s Note: A 31-year-old Somali woman goes missing after she’s diagnosed with psychosis, and her family is baffled when the county won’t tell them where she is so they could begin the spiritual healing treatment they believe will help her, writes NAM contributor, Joel Grostephan.

ST.CLOUD, Minn. — Samira Iman was missing for nearly two years. The 31-year-old Somali didn’t run away. She wasn’t kidnapped. She didn’t go to Africa to fight in Somalia’s decades-old civil war. She was living in St. Cloud, Minn., in a group home for the mentally ill. But Samira’s family lost track of her, and mental health officials did not help them locate her.

One day in the fall of 2007, Samira fainted at the poultry processing plant where she had begun working. She was taken to a hospital, where she was diagnosed with mental illness, according to her family. After she was discharged, she was either sent to a group home or released on to the street, but not to her family. When her younger brother, Yahya Iman, tried to find out where she was, Stearns County Human Services cited government privacy laws and would give no information.

Then, earlier this month, Samira reappeared as mysteriously as she disappeared. Now she’s living with her family. But in the two years she was away, she got herself into trouble. Samira faces felony assault charges for allegedly hitting staff members at the group home last fall. Given her mental state and the nature of the crime, she is likely to be convicted of a less serious offense. She missed her court hearing scheduled for February 2009, so Judge Paul Midwick issued a warrant for her arrest. Yahya doesn’t understand that.

“It don’t make sense how they would charge someone who is mentally ill with something,” he said.

Since the family arrived in the United States in 2001, many things haven’t made sense to them. They still are trying to figure out why the county didn’t allow the family to care for Samira for two years. Why would they not let them know where she was so she could be taken to an Islamic priest to treat her mental illness? Why would the county let Samira make decisions for herself when she wasn’t well?

The Imans are among 30,000 refugees from the civil war who have settled down in Minnesota. It wasn’t long after they came here that they realized that freedom from persecution comes with a price. Many have found that their culture and values don’t have a place in the United States. In Somalia, family takes care of family. Not being able to take care of them is considered shameful. Samira’s family is upset that for the past two years, they could not use traditional Islamic healing practices to help her.

“It’s a huge stigma when a family is unable to take care of one’s own,” said Abdirizak Bihi, a Somali community activist and former interpreter at Hennepin County Medical Center. “People in the community will feel that the family abandoned its own, and the family will feel it’s been robbed,” he said.

When Samira was in a county hospital in Willmar last fall, she was diagnosed with psychosis, and her doctor noted she was delusional. Psychosis is a broad diagnosis that could include anything from post-traumatic stress disorder to schizophrenia. In discharge papers obtained by New America Media, Dr. Richard Kokkila wrote about Samira’s violent outbursts at the facility, including throwing hot coffee at staff.

“She has been mocking staff, staring at staff, laughing hysterically at times,” his report stated. He also noted that “she doesn’t want anyone involved in her life,” including her social worker, group home providers or her family, who she believed tried to poison her food.

The emphasis on individual rights, including privacy, is a foreign concept for Somalis, said Dr. Abdirahman Mohamed, a Somali-born family doctor in Minneapolis, who treats mental illness. Somali culture is still communal, he said, and no one would decline help from family. “Her interest to be left alone doesn’t supersede the interest of the family’s need to help,” Mohamed said.

Health officials do not have statistics on the rate of mental illness in Minnesota’s Somali community, but a 2004 study of 1,134 Eritreans and Somalis in the state found that as many as 47 percent of Somali women and 25 percent of men had been tortured before they arrived in the United States. Many Somalis could therefore be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Few Somalis want to follow up with treatment because they are wary of authorities.

“You don’t share your problems with professionals,” said Dr. James Jaranson, a psychiatrist and author of the study. “You talk to family or religious leaders or traditional healers.”

Jaranson said if problems are severe enough, Somalis utilize both western and traditional medicine.

Since the 1990s, when Somalis started to arrive in Minneapolis, some mental health professionals have tailored treatment to fit with Somali culture, said therapist David McGraw Schuchman.

“What family means in the Somali community is different,” Schuchman said. “It is a source of identity, strength, comfort, and protection.”

Doctors and therapists describe patients are routinely accompanied by their family members — sometimes four or five of them.

Then there are other cultural beliefs in the community. About 90 percent of them believe spirit possession, or jinn, causes mental illness, according to Mohamed.
Mary Bradmiller, a psychologist who works with refugees at Hennepin County Medical Center, said being comfortable talking about religion is critical for health providers. She frequently hears about jinn possession, which her Somali patients insist can be treated by a priest.

“Reading the Koran might bring symptom reduction for a period of months,” Bradmiller said.

Samira’s family believes she is suffering from jinn possession. In the past, the family used a number of different priests to read the Koran over her. Samira would be fine for about six months after that, Yahya maintained.

Hassan Mohamud, head priest of the Dawa Center in St. Paul said jinn are invisible to humans. Some of them are neutral – they don’t mean any harm — but some of them are evil. Mohamud acknowledges that western medicine can help treat mental illness, but he believes Islamic traditional medicine should be tried first.

A priest’s exorcism of jinn involves reading certain prayers and verses from the Koran. “We ask the jinn: ‘Who are you? What’s your name? Where are you from? And, why are you harming this person?’” Mohamud said. That generally sends the jinn away.

The religious support may also encourage patients to take their medication.

When Samira joined her family in the United States in 2005, she refused to eat for nearly a month, her brother, Yahya, said. Sometimes Samira would get angry and have fainting spells, but her condition was remedied through prayer, her brother recalled.

When she was gone, contact with her was sporadic. In the fall of 2008 her younger sister, Bisharo Iman, said she met with Samira at a motel where she was staying temporarily. At that time, her sister didn’t want to come home to the family and declined their offer to rent an apartment for her.

For the Iman family, language and cultural barriers made it even more difficult in dealing with the bureaucratic challenges many families face in caring for a loved one with mental illness.

About a month before Samira returned home, Yahya spent the day trying to find his sister at her last known address: a church-run shelter. A worker there told him Samira’s social worker placed her in a group home for the mentally ill. He went downtown to find her. But like other trips to Stearns County Human Services, he came up empty. He said that he was told by Stearns County Human Services officials that privacy laws prevented them from discussing her case with the family. His mother had been there the day before and was told the same thing.

Sue Abderholden, of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Minnesota, said releasing some information against the client’s wishes is not against the law. She said many counties believe it is, but even so, they could still help the family. But on the other hand, if someone has dementia, the hospital will make efforts to contact the family.

It is unclear what steps the county took over the past two years to put Samira in touch with her family. When asked about this, Stearns County Human Services Community Support Division Director Janet Reigstad said she was “unable to give any information on this case due to restrictions of government data privacy act.”

After Samira returned home, her mother, Mano Dhuhul, began the process of getting legal guardianship of her. That would give her a say in her daughter’s life when dealing with social workers and health providers. Dhuhul speaks a little English, but relies on her kids to interpret for her. She sometimes regrets coming to the United States. “Back home, we had the power to do something,” Dhuhul said.

Dhuhul knows her daughter is not well. She paces around and around and laughs inappropriately. She doesn’t eat “normally,” the family says. In some ways, her condition seems worse than before she went missing, Dhuhul said. Despite all this, Dhuhul is hopeful that she will recover and be able to work again.

Yahya visits his sister regularly. The family hasn’t taken her to a priest yet, but everyday Samira listens to a CD of an priest reading the Koran.

“I feel good now, she’s safe in our hands,” he said.

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Community News (V11-I26)

June 18, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Minnesota Somali Community Rallies to Support CAIR-MN

MINNEAPOLIS, MN–On Saturday, June 13, representatives of more than a dozen Twin Cities Somali civil, religious and political organizations held a rally demonstrating their support for Minnesota’s only Muslim civil rights organization, the Minnesota Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN).
Representatives from local Somali organizations voiced their support of the work CAIR-MN has done in the Somali community and addressed the importance of civil rights education for all Americans. The coalition gathered to represent the collective voice of the Twin Cities Somali population, estimated to be between 70,000 and 80,000.

“CAIR has been the only organization to come into the Muslim community, the Somali community, to help them understand their civil rights,” said Somali Community Link Radio Host Zuhur Ahmed. “They’ve been here educating us about our rights as Americans since long before any men left for Somalia.” Ahmed added that, in addition to know your rights trainings, CAIR-MN has been promoting cooperation with law enforcement.

The group also stressed that Somalis are not represented by one or two media-seeking individuals who refer to themselves as activists.

“We’re here from dozens of active organizations working with the people on the issues important to Somalis,” said United Somali Movement Vice President Aman Obsiye. “We represent the true voice of the tens of thousands of Somalis living in the Twin Cities.”

Prosecutor sues over alleged discrimination

YOUNGSTOWN, OH–An assistant in the Youngstown City Prosecutor’s office claims he’s being discriminated against — and now he’s taking the city to court.

Attorney Bassil Ally claims he was denied the ability to attend weekly Friday prayers as required by his faith — and when he complained about it the Ohio Civil Rights Commission he was harassed.

In documents filed in federal court in Cleveland this week, lawyers claim Ally has been ostracized by co-workers — creating an intimidating work environment and fostering what’s described as “an atmosphere of harassment and retaliation.”

Groundbreaking ceremony held for Islamic school

SOUTH BRUNSWICK, NJ– The Islamic Society of Central Jersey (ISCJ) broke ground for the construction of a new school building with hundreds of area residents and officials present. The Noor-ul-Iman school currently serves about 500 full time and another 500 weekend students.

The first phase of the projects is expected to take two years to finish. Foundation will be be laid and the parking lot is going to be expanded from 194 to 650 spaces.

The group earned approvals for the entire project and the school is going to be constructed as an 86,000-square-foot facility during the second phase.

Top Cleveland neurosurgeon gets coveted job at OSU

CLEVELAND, OH– Dr. Ali Rezai, Cleveland area’s top neurosurgeon, is all set to joining Ohio State University Medical Center later this year. He will be named the vice chair of the Department of Neurological Surgery with a pay package of $600,000 per year.

Dr. Rezai holds seven patents and has helped launch three life sciences companies. His strength is in deep brain simulation.

He is presently working for the Cleveland Clinic.

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