Lessons from a Mosque: Dealing with Negative Stereotypes

February 26, 2009 by

In Minnesota, the heavily Muslim Somali community has been rocked by recent terrorist associations. In October, Shirwa Ahmed, a Somali man from Minneapolis, returned to Somalia and killed himself in a suicide attack. The FBI claims Ahmed was indoctrinated in extremist beliefs while living in Minnesota. Ahmed attended the Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center, which has received a barrage of nasty voice mail messages and accusations that the mosque is a recruitment center for terrorists.

So what does a religious institution under attack do? Abubakar officials threw the doors open last night and invited the community. The mosque sought to embrace neighbors, educate the curious about Islam and dispel rumors.

“If people don’t know one another, they may think something is not good,” said Abdirahman Sheikh Omar, president of the mosque. “We are part of the Minnesota community. We are good citizens. We are taxpayers working for the good of Minnesota society. We are not here to harm anybody.”

My first thought was good for them. It seemed like a good way to respond and I was about to move on when I came across this paragraph:

John Ratigan and his wife, Kristin Green, who is eight months pregnant, were thrilled with the center’s open house invitation and brought along their 5-year-old daughter, Tona Ratigan Green. “There are a lot of bad stereotypes out there,” Green said. “I came here to say I don’t share those. … The people here are real friendly to let all these strangers in here. Our church has never done this.” (emphasis mine)

“Our church has never done this.” Ouch. Granted your church probably hasn’t had allegations of terrorist connections and had the need to do something like this. But that doesn’t excuse your church from being invisible in the community.

Terrorists give Islam a bad reputation, and many Muslims are working to overcome those negative stereotypes and explain that terrorists have twisted Islamic beliefs. While not nearly as extreme (though we have our own brand of extremists), it reminds me of the damage Christians have done to our own faith and the work we need to do to overcome negative stereotypes. Whether it’s something vast and far-reaching like the Catholic abuse scandal, something more limited like Ted Haggard, or something personal like day to day actions that aren’t consistent with our faith.

A Minneapolis mosque has figured out how to reach out and overcome a bad reputation. Are there ways your church needs to do the same?

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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3 Responses to “Lessons from a Mosque: Dealing with Negative Stereotypes”

  • Paul Prins
    February 27, 2009

    Well that is part of the story. As a Minneapolis Native and current resident the story is much deeper than that. It hasn’t just been one young man, there have been several who just disappear. They appear back in Somalia fighting without warning to anyone (including family). There is no doubt that someone is indoctrinating these youth, but the question is simply who. Then no one is talking about it, not even the family’s whose sons go to fight. MN opened their doors to the these refugees over a decade ago, and there is growing concern that some of the hatred came with and could eventually lash out here in the US.
    So yes, the mosque needed to do something, and they need to do more. We would have rather them fully cooperate with the FBI and Homeland Security than hold an open house.

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  • Stephen James
    February 27, 2009

    I’m all for churches throwing doors open. We have ESL classes that build bridges, but most people I talk to about church have a “been there, done that” response. I often feel I have to shock people to get them interested in faith.

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  • Paul Prins
    August 25, 2009

    The following story illustrates the hidden story behind what you illustrated. It is sad that this is only coming to light 6 months later. But it has been know by the local twin cities community for a long time.
    Somali Militants Lure Americans for Recruitment

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