North Mpls mosque lets its light shine in the face of intolerance

Masjid An-Nur targeted by White protester, but has support of community

Masjid An-Nur mosque Photo by Stephani Maari Booker

On Friday, August 20, around 2:45 pm, I was driving to the Cub Foods supermarket on West Broadway Avenue North. Taking the back way to the store, I drove north on Lyndale Avenue to turn west onto 18th Avenue to enter the store’s parking lot on its south side. Masjid An-Nur, a copper-domed mosque, is on the corner of 18th Avenue and Lyndale, across the street from Cub Foods.

As I turned onto 18th Avenue, I saw a White man in his mid-30s standing at the entrance gate to Masjid An-Nur’s parking lot holding a large picket sign on a pole that was raised it above his head. The sign read on one side, “The Lord Jesus Christ is ready to forgive and abundant in mercy to all those who call upon his name. God, be merciful to me a sinner!” On the other side: “Jesus died. Jesus was buried. Jesus arose. Jesus was seen. Believe in Jesus Christ. You shall be saved.”

Man with sign in front of mosque Photo by Stephani Maari Booker

As the man stood with his sign on the sidewalk, Masjid An-Nur’s parking lot was full of people in traditional Islamic dress and Western street clothing, as the mosque was doing a food giveaway on the lot. Additionally, Friday is Islam’s day of jumah, the weekly worship service, and so many people may have been leaving after attending the jumah that started at 1:30 pm.

One woman in full-length black attire that covered her body except for her face argued with the picketer, saying, “We’re waiting for Jesus to come back too, but you didn’t know that, did you?” Some men in the parking lot were verbally engaging with the picketer as well. People passing by and in cars were disturbed by the picketer as well; one woman pedestrian remarked to another that “Jesus loved everybody.”

Cars passing by mosque with picketer in front of entrance Photo by Stephani Maari Booker

Masjid An-Nur (“Mosque of the Light” in Arabic) was founded in North Minneapolis in 1990 and has been at its current location since 1995. A new, larger building was constructed at the site in 2007 that has a copper dome and copper-topped minaret tower, making the building more distinctive and recognizable as a mosque.

I’ve lived in North Minneapolis since 1999 and am very familiar with the mosque. That’s why I was so surprised to see any anti-Islamic activity at Masjid An-Nur — I had never seen it before.

Wanting to know if this was part of a new surge in bigotry since the bombing of Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington on August 5 and the deadly Charlottesville, Virginia White supremacist rally and counter-rally on August 12, I asked to speak with an imam (prayer leader and scholar) of the mosque about the picketer.

Imam Makram El-Amin of Masjid An-Nur is a member of a family of distinction in North Minneapolis. For years, the family operated the now-closed El-Amin’s Fish House on Broadway Avenue North, and the iman’s brother Khalid is a former prep basketball star who made it to the NBA and has had a long career playing with overseas teams. Additionally, his mother Arlene El-Amin is the director of community outreach programs at the mosque.

When asked about the picketer, the imam confirmed what a mosque parishioner told me: This man or sometimes another older man using the same sign has picketed in front of the mosque a few times a year for years.

“He has an opinion of Islam that is it a threat to society,” El-Amin said, “and he wants to voice what he feels is his constitutional right to freedom of speech to say that. In many respects, I think he thinks he’s doing us a favor by helping to ‘save our souls’ and ‘call us back to the way of the righteous.’”

El-Amin added that the picketer also “makes disparaging remarks about Islam, about the religion, about the Qu’ran, about Muhammad the prophet of Islam, and Muslims in general and what our true quote-unquote motives are.

“However, as I’ve shared with my congregation and our supporters, we want to engage [with] him in a respectful way,” he continued. “As long as he doesn’t cause a problem with any kind of threatening manner, we wouldn’t come against him in any kind of aggressive way. We just ask him not to block our entrance or harass any members of our congregation.”

The imam added that he thinks it’s no coincidence that one of the two infrequent anti-Islam protesters has returned in the wake of the recent spate of hate violence locally and nationally and that that the protesters are White: “I do think there is a religious bias, but also [there’s] an overtone of racism in there too, quite frankly.”

As for any other visible anti-Islamic activity directed at Masjid An-Nur other than the single White picketers, El-Amin says there has been none in recent memory. “We’ve lived here; I’ve grown up here in North Minneapolis. The mosque has evolved over time, so we enjoy a very good reputation and respect of the community. We have folks who are doing meaningful work in the community,” including U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, who is a member of the mosque.

Besides the parking lot food giveaways, Masjid An-Nur is involved with other community service work such as affordable housing and helping formerly incarcerated people re-enter society successfully.

The mosque also opens its door for group dialogs, including a recent group of professors who were attending a conference at the University of Minnesota. The educators came to the mosque to “talk to us about Islam and the landscape of Muslims in the United States,” El-Amin said. “These are the kind of exchanges that generally happen” at Masjid An-Nur, El-Amin emphasized.

As for the lone anti-Islamic picketer, his presence is “very sporadic, but the open positive engagement” like what the mosque had with the group of professors is “a regular mainstay. That is a staple here for us.”


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