More than 200 people came together March 29 at the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul for the 13th annual Muslim Day, to connect with representatives and speak on issues concerning the community.
Muslims and non-Muslims who attended said this year’s event was different than previous years. Representatives received concerns on Islamophobia, bigotry and hate crimes in addition to topics like health care, the economy and education.
Governor Mark Dayton spoke at the event about the Minnesota hate crimes and bigotry that have occurred in St. Cloud after desecration of a pharmacy, the destruction of a childcare center in Shakopee and anti-Muslim speech made by a Colombia Heights School board member.
“This is not Minnesota, we are better than this,” he said. “Those who practice hatred, discrimination or any other form of bigotry are not welcomed.”
Dayton urged Minnesotans, Muslim and non-Muslim, to come together and represent the state together.
“It’s important that we are gathered here today at our state’s capitol,” Dayton told the crowd. “A gathering place for all Minnesotans to reaffirm that we are all Minnesotans. We are all Americans and that we all have equal rights to our country’s promise of the pursuit of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Khalil Houri, of the Northwest Islamic Community Center in Plymouth, expressed his concerns on safety to his representative, as hate crimes against Muslims increase nationwide.
“Muslim Day is important now because of all that is going on,” Houri said. “There’s increased hatred and fear of Muslims generated by pre-election and post-election things. Muslims are recognizing and feeling that. This time more Muslims and more friends of Muslims have decided to come and join.”
Joanne Sylvander of St. Paul attended to express her love and support for her Muslim neighbors.
“I feel totally convinced that we’re here to be together and we grow from being with each other, learning and developing friendships with Muslims, she said. “We have so much to learn and share with one another and we’re here to be together. I’m here to show our representatives that.”
The legislative agenda for Muslim Day at the Capitol included a call to remove the marriage disincentive for families on Minnesota Family Investment Program. In addition, organizers also wanted to oppose firearms proliferation and support the religious holiday recognition bill, which allows students and employees to be unexcused two days per year for any religious holiday.
Rep. Ilhan Omar, DFL-Minneapolis-DFL, is working to pass the holiday recognition bill, is urging Muslims to get more involved in politics and make their concerns known to their local representatives.
“Muslim Day provides a counter narrative,” she said. “I think people want us to hide but we’re showing up in bigger numbers and we’re seeing our allies stand with us in solidarity, and we’re as much Americans as anyone else. This is our House, our Capitol and we are here to advocate for ourselves, and let people have the opportunity to get to know us and hear about the issues we care about just like every Minnesotan. We care about health care, the economy and taxes. These our are issues as well.”
Among those who attended, 39 mosques, schools and centers were represented at Muslim Day.
“This is the largest crowd we’ve had in a few years,” said Syeda Tarannum, of the Northwest Islamic Community Center in Plymouth. “It’s important now more than ever because of the representation. We were always a part of the community, but it’s called upon now more (as) our presence is questioned as Muslims. Now more than before because of certain leaders and certain motions or ideas are emboldened that Muslims are not there. I think now it’s important to show this is our House. We represent, we’re citizens and we belong in this country as much as anyone else.”
Tarannum urged constituents to make their opinions known to their local representatives. “It’s important that our representatives represent what is important to us,” she said.
Contact Paige Kieffer at [email protected]