BLOOMINGTON, Minn. – On the day Muslims around the world began to celebrate Eid al-Adha, Fatuma Mohamed was at the Mall of America (MOA), far away from where she would normally say her prayers.
But she and other Muslims needed to take time from the activities of the mall and find a quiet area to pray as Muslims do during the festival that commemorates Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his only son for God.
“I said my prayer right at that corner,” Mohamed said, pointing to the spot.
Another Muslim, Amran Ali, did the same.
“I had to say my prayer at a corner,” Ali said. “I was stared at, but no one bothered me.”
Every year, as Muslims in America are compelled to engage in business, work and shopping during the holidays, many find themselves away from mosques and other places where they can hold prayers without interruption. They are forced to seek privacy in corners and alleyways, places that often subject them to unwanted attention. Some Muslims also worry that their repetitive calls of “Allah akbar!” (God is great!) during prayers could be misconstrued as calls for Jihad.
“Of course, out curiosity people will stare at you but don’t say anything,” said Shuuriye Ali. “I wish they would ask. I would love to educate them about my peaceful religion.”
This year Muslim leaders from the Twin Cities area were able to persuade MOA, the largest enclosed mall in the United States, to set aside a room for prayers.
“I learned quite a bit from my last meeting with the community,” said Douglas Reynolds, MOA’s security director.
But Mohamed and other Muslims did not know there was a prayer room, even though MOA and Muslim volunteers had intended to have eight posters in three languages, (English, Somali and Arabic) to be displayed at all entrances to the mall.
“I didn’t notice any signs,” Mohamed said.
Reynolds said many might have missed the signs because MOA and the Muslim leaders did not advise the community about the prayer room before this week’s observance of Eid al-Adha. The signs also went up too late in the day, Reynolds said.
“It would have been nice to get the message out to the community earlier,” Reynolds said. “The signs were also not available until 4:30 p.m.”
He promised that MOA would “do a better job next time.”
Regardless of the glitch, many Muslims appeared excited that the MOA reserved prayer space for them and promised to continue doing so in the future.
“It is about time,” Jamad Barrow said. “I’m happy to hear that the mall is trying to accommodate and appeal to the Muslim community.”
Sheikh Neelain Muhammad, an imam at the St.Paul-based Da’wa Islamic Center, and five other volunteers from the center were among the many volunteers who were at the mall to make sure that day went on without incidents, especially from teenagers.
Reynolds, the MOA security director, said that community volunteers were very helpful.
“At one point, Sheikh Neelain Muhammad and his team were spotted talking to the youth and telling them to behave … and so, they did.”
The presence of culturally competent volunteers at the mall avoided the law enforcement solution that often leads to the arrest of Muslim youths.
“No one youth that was acting out that didn’t change after we talked with him or her,” Sheikh Muhammad said.
Mahmood Kanyare, one of the community volunteers, said the volunteers reminded the youth about good manners in Islam.
“They were all responsive to our messages and behaved well as a result,” Kanyare said.
The day ended with a positive note for both MOA and the Muslim community. No one was arrested and only few were asked to leave.
Reynolds, the director of security, said he hoped to continue building MOA’s relationship with the Muslim community.
Related Reading: Muslim leaders meet with Mall of America administrators.
About Mohamed Hassan
Mr Hassan is a recipient of the 2006 Hennepin County Government Management, Administration and Policy (MAP) Fellowship and the 2007-2008 Hubert H. Humphrey Policy Fellowship. He has a B.S. from Metropolitan State University and M.A. from Saint Mary's University of Minnesota.