In the early morning of Saturday, August 6th, 2017 an “improvised explosive device” heavily damaged the office of the imam at the Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, Minnesota.
The bombing occurred shortly after morning service and hours before children would have started arriving for class. A series of fundraisers and solidarity gatherings emerged quickly as the shock of the incident settled. The support for the the center culminated in Wednesday night's open house celebrating the renovation of the imam’s office. The event emphasized appreciation for volunteers from North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters (NCSRCC) who were responsible for coordinating the rebuild.
North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters (NCSRCC) Executive Secretary-Treasurer John Raines explained their involvement: “Like everyone, I was both shocked and dismayed when I first heard about the bombing at a place of worship,” he said. “Fortunately, our union has a long history of volunteering assistance to our communities, and as professional carpenters, we were in a position to offer our help in righting this wrong.”
Abdulahi Farah, Director of Programs and Services at the center, explained that before the bombing the pervasive Islamophobia of the Trump era led members of the mosque to conclude that it was safest to keep their heads down and avoid attention. People were living in fear and isolation. The bombing shook that too. The presence and acceptance of building trade volunteers were essential to Farah’s observation that rebuilding the physical aspects would also lend itself to rebuilding a sense of security to community members; realizing that trying to be invisible was a harmful strategy. The open house was an extension of the Mosque community's resolve to form deeper ties in the local community. Farah explained, “If we are afraid of each other, we are still not safe.” Farah was jovially embracing the support received during the open house.
ISAIAH’s Director of Communications and United Church of Christ minister, JaNaé Bates, believes that the attack against the mosque is a “reflection of the hate rhetoric in the state.” ISAIAH has been working closely with the center which resulted in the imam of the mosque becoming a leader with Isaiah. For Bates, the community building means that the bombing, “won't turn into just another tragedy.” From her experience, and echoed among many gathered at the open house, the difficulty of what's happened is overshadowed by the power of the collective response and support.
Sam Heimlich, a member of the carpenters union, explained that at first, it took some time to, “gain trust and develop a plan.” He observed that the damage was extensive; "shrapnel in the walls, the cinder block wall between the hallways in the office got pushed back a quarter of an inch, the entire ceiling was gone.” The extent of the damage necessitated the support of a variety of union building trade members who donated materials and their time. Members of the plumbers union, for example, donated a bathroom sink and toilet.
Gov. Mark Dayton immediately described the bombing as an act of terror. In contrast, the silence from President Trump was notable.
“We are wondering why President Trump has not tweeted about this,” Asad Zaman, director of the Muslim American Society of Minnesota, told BuzzFeed News. “He seems to want to tweet about security and terror issues.”
“This has empowered those who harbor anti-Muslim views,” Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said of Trump’s rhetoric and policies. “But he really needs to speak out against these type of things, because those who support him take his silence as tacit support.”
The invisibility of the hate-motivated crime extends locally. Recently the Star Tribune reported that the bombing was not included in the 2017 hate crime reports that are compiled for the FBI. The absence of data on this and other incidents suggests ongoing confusion over what constitutes a hate crime. The lack of data complicates the ability of residents and advocates to understand the scope and depth of hate in their communities.
Not everyone in the community embraced the efforts and activities of the Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center. On the agenda of a January 11th the Bloomington Planning Commission hearing was a vote on, “a conditional use permit to expand the maximum number of students from 64 to 84 from an existing elementary charter school.” The hearing featured neighbors of the center objecting to the permit over their frustration about traffic conditions.
Sally Ness has been and was the most vocal critic drawing attention to her perception of parking issues. Her advocacy against the Center dates back to at least 2012. With the enthusiasm of an amateur lawyer, Ness described her interpretation of zoning laws that she argued were habitually violated. Furthermore, armed with an array of photos taken seemingly at all hours of the day Ness explained to the committee members how city staff misled them about the severity of the traffic. In her remarks, Ness argued that there is bias against her. Ness's evidence was a document with a handwritten note by city workers allegedly describing her as, “Silly Sally.”
In a letter submitted to the planning commissions Brittney Widel articulated her concerns:
"In my experience as the building next to Smith Park became occupied, the traffic rose to a horrendous level. Our once quiet neighborhood became overrun with traffic and too many distracted and careless drivers. I am a mother of two young children, and I do not feel safe walking my kids to the park. I have had one too many terrifying experiences walking my kids to the park I once cherished. I stopped WALKING one block and rather would load the kids up in the car and DRIVE after nearly being hit several times by distracted drivers and drivers who could not see around all the cars parked on the streets.
Reflecting on the committee hearing, Mike Poke, resident and executive board member of SEIU Local 284, argued that “this is racism and harassment and that cannot go through.”
Bates argued that statements made at the commission hearing from critics of the mosque are, “a reflection that people can be afraid of things they do not understand.” In contrast, Bates is focused on developing and sustaining a relationship with the Muslim community while simultaneously calling out and standing against the “few small voices that are loud.”
The Bloomington Planning Commission unanimously passed the conditional use permit.