Mosque Fire Outcry

Several Minnesota lawmakers, other elected officials, and community leaders gathered at the state Capitol Wednesday, April 20th 2023 to show solidarity with the Muslim community after two Minneapolis mosques experienced fires this week.

Some expressed concerns that mosques are being targeted in hate crimes, and many noted that the attendees at Wednesday afternoon’s news conference showcase the state’s true spirit. Dozens of people, including several local imams, packed the event.

“This is how we show up for each other,” said DFL Representative Hodan Hassan, who represents the area in south Minneapolis where the fires occurred. “This is the Minnesota that all of us believe in. This is the Minnesota that we want. In this room is the real Minnesota, but out there, there is some notion that we don’t belong.

“I belong in Minnesota—I’m a Minnesotan, but I’m also Muslim Minnesotan and I’m also Somali American, and I am proud of all of my layers… And no one should be afraid to go and pray at their most sacred space.”

A fire broke out Sunday evening in a bathroom of the Masjid Omar Islamic Center and was quickly extinguished by congregants before it could spread. Another fire broke out Monday at Masjid Al Rahma in the Mercy Islamic Center building less than a mile away from Masjid Omar Islamic Center. The Monday fire caused about $50,000 in damages to the second and third floors, according to Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Minneapolis police have said they are investigating the fires as potential hate crimes, and that the FBI and other federal authorities are assisting in the cases. There were no arrests in either case as of late Tuesday.

“Again, at this point, we do not know if today’s fire was arson,” Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O’Hara said in a written statement released earlier this week. “We are assuming that it is arson and that both fires are connected until proven otherwise. We will evaluate any possibility of biased or hate crimes provided under the law, and because this occurred in an occupied place of worship, potential prosecution for a federal offense.”

DFL Representative Mohamud Noor called the fires acts of hate, and said there have been several other “attacks” on mosques.

“Those are deliberate actions,” he said without elaborating on the other incidents. “We need to call hatred what it is, and we’re better than fear. We will show that we will stand shoulder to shoulder to defeat those who among us are creating violence in a place of worship.”

O’Hara said Tuesday that the same person identified as a “possible suspect” in the Sunday fire at the Masjid Omar Islamic Center is also a suspect in prior unreported vandalism that occurred at 24 Somali Mall, where the mosque is located. The chief said police learned of those incidents during their fire investigation, but did not elaborate further.

Several state lawmakers who spoke at the press conference cited a bill they’re sponsoring that would increase penalties for some hate crimes. The bill would also expand the definition of hate crimes in state law to include a “person’s gender, gender identity, or gender expression.”

The bill would require the state Department of Human Rights to track data on crimes “motivated by bias” and direct the department’s commissioner to solicit and compile reports from community organizations, schools, and individuals about “crimes that members of the community believe are motivated by bias.” Language from the bill is currently included in the Senate’s public safety omnibus bill.

“We need to make sure we document what is happening and who it is happening to,” said Representative Samantha Vang, DFL-Roseville, a co-sponsor of the House version of the bill.

House Majority Leader Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis, who also spoke at the press conference, dismissed criticism voiced by Republicans on the House floor earlier this week that the bill would create a new state database to track noncriminal activity and infringe on people’s First Amendment rights.

“That is absolute nonsense,” Long said. “They’re talking about Big Brother. We’re talking about brotherhood, sisterhood, and community.”

Some of the lawmakers at the press conference also denounced a recent editorial cartoon from the Star Tribune that addressed the Minneapolis City Council’s April 13 vote to allow the public broadcast of the Islamic call to prayer five times a day year-round. The broadcast was previously limited due to city noise ordinance requirements, since the Islamic call to prayer, also known as the adhan, can occur before sunrise and after sunset.

The Star Tribune cartoon features a man saying, “Broadcasting the Muslim call to prayer at all hours will make Minneapolis too noisy.” The next panel depicts a woman asking, “What?” as several criminals shoot guns outside their house.

“When you put hate out there, there are idiots that act on it,” Hodan said in reference to the cartoon.

DFL Senator Omar Fateh said Wednesday’s outpouring of support “means a lot to us.”

“As your elected officials and as your neighbors, it is incumbent on us to denounce this and to say that that hate has no place in our state,” he said.