Hijab-clad and bundled up one evening in winter, Fardosa Hassan trudges through the fresh and shimmering snow on the Riverside Campus of Augsburg College. The building is dark but maintains the calm and musty serenity of a well-loved house of worship, even after hours. She unlocks the Chapel doors as if she owns the place and welcomes our crew without fanfare. It’s no big deal to her to unlock these doors on this snowy evening.
After all, she practically does own the place. She is Augsburg’s celebrated inaugural Muslim Chaplain.
The Best of planners
But to an outsider, that simple act of unlocking Augsburg’s chapel door is both amazing and metaphorically barrier breaking, demonstrating the best of what America offers us.
Let’s take a moment to absorb that. It’s an amazing thing, unprecedented and extraordinary.
Although both entrepreneurial and an extremely hard worker, this role wasn’t exactly part of Fardosa’s plan. In fact, she has somewhat fallen into this trailblazing role, and yet performs it with matter-of-factness, undeniable excellence, love and unencumbered light.
But how this has come to pass is largely by accident - Divine Accident, that is. And the fact that it’s by accident makes her no less our Shero.
Fardosa, a 26-year-old, first-generation Somali immigrant, is honest and at home here. Aside from a silver necklace, a friendly smile and a bit of light makeup her sisters insisted she put on, Fardosa is all business, representative of the strength of Somali-American women and their deep commitment to both hustle and God-guided entrepreneurialism.
Fardosa imagined she would land in international relief work after college, but according to her, God had other plans. “I ask that question to myself a lot of times, “Why am I here [instead]? What is my calling?” And she always arrives at one answer, that her calling is to serve God. And as Muslims like to remind themselves from Surah Al-Anfal, “But they plan, and Allah plans. And Allah is the best of planners.” [8:30]
Protective and Proud of Community
“I am from a typical Somali-American family, where we’re proud of our culture and our American heritage,” she shares. “I come from South Minneapolis. I am an alum of Washburn High School, and I loved it there.” Her roots are strong in South Minneapolis. Her young childhood was spent in Kenya, but her real story truly starts at around age 9 in fourth grade in her beloved Minneapolis.
Fardosa is careful. She has good boundaries. She doesn’t want to share too much about her family or her upbringing, she’s fiercely protective of her privacy and her people.
At 26, she has already been interviewed in a beautiful piece by the New York Times, who also wanted to know just a bit too much about her private life. But she held strong, keeping it, as she calls it, ‘about the work.’
As a young professional and the wife of a prominent advocate in the Muslim community, she is street smart. She knows it’s risky to share too much about one’s whole self. It takes a while for her to open up. We talk about her life in high school, her upbringing in South Minneapolis, her daily work at Augsburg college, and her winding path to Chaplaincy.
A home at augsburg
Talking about her life at Augsburg is where Fardosa’s story begins to blossom. A natural connector, she values building bridges across differences. This makes good sense given her strong and undiluted dual Somali and American heritage, and the warm welcome that Augsburg has given her. “I have laid my groundwork with Augsburg,” she shares with love in her voice. “Augsburg saw my potential, my capabilities and my abilities.”
As a student at Augsburg, Fardosa spent the bulk of her free time cultivating a rich tapestry of interfaith work, serving as one of the funders of an interfaith scholars program. “I loved being part of the Muslim Student Association, but I wanted something else where people of different faiths could share their values and their beliefs together.”
Today, she works with the Muslim Student Association, helping to connect them with resources. Her daily activities involve interfaith bridge building inside Augsburg’s walls and externally. In partnership with Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul (formerly St. Paul Area Council of Churches) Fardosa’s role at Augsburg includes targeting Minnesota’s suburban and greater Minnesota congregations to come into urban Minneapolis and learn about Islam. Her day-to-day job means meeting with with students, congregations and mosques in addition to building and running an Interfaith Ally Training program.
Sheroes at Home and Abroad
Her work at Augsburg wouldn’t look the same without two important female mentors in her life.
Sophia Abdi Noor is a force to be reckoned with as a Member of the 10th Parliament of Kenya. Born to a Somali pastoralist in Northern Kenya, Abdi Noor fights for the rights of marginalized women in her country. She was one of the few women from her community to receive a high school degree and attend college. After acquiring a diploma in Community Development, she began to serve that community through her work with several international organizations such as CARE International, Oxfam, UNHCR, and World Vision. She now serves as a powerful member of parliament.
As a sophomore in college on a four-month international exchange, MP Abdi Noor had a profound impact on Fardosa. Fardosa worked closely with MP Abdi Noor as her intern in Garissa, a large city West of Nairobi. Fardosa remembers her time with Abdi Noor as formative and dynamic.
As a reflective and powerful mentor, Abdi Noor forced change as Fardosa absorbed her example, demanding both justice and equity in spite of gender and religious discrimination. Fardosa was struck with how one woman was nearly-single-handedly changing lives. Her example
gives Fardosa a model to build upon, and supports her ability to be strong and dedicated
in her role.
“My experience with Sophia Abdi inspires me to work for the students because they are the future. I am planting seeds.”
And the second mentor in her life? Well, when she’s asked where her ability to listen deeply and lovingly, and where her sense of spiritual guidance comes from, she quietly utters one sentence in a tone of deference, one used by only the most appreciative of children:
“That comes from my mother.”
IF THE DOOR DOESN’T OPEN, IT ISN’T YOUR DOOR
While she’s busy breaking ground as Minnesota’s first female Muslim Chaplain, Fardosa is still a young leader with time to change course and try something new. Yet she doesn’t see herself shifting her sights back to international relief work anytime soon. She is deeply embedded in her work at Augsburg and as an activist and vocal advocate for racial justice in the Midwest. Over the last year, she and her husband have spent time outside the fourth precinct in Minneapolis protesting the injustice of police brutality against black and brown bodies. They have also joined the water protectors at the Oceti Sakowin Camp at Standing Rock to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline.
She knows Augsburg students, and the people of Minnesota, will need her gifts and her voice even more in the coming months and even years. So, true to herself and to her unintentional calling, she’s here to serve.
What is the common thread of her life? “Being true to my culture and true to my religion.” Fardosa, it shows. You inspire us with your personal compass, with your boundaries and strength, with your sharp determination and with your incredible dedication to being the mentor and guide that is so needed by all of our students today, both Muslim and otherwise.
May God always guide you to service and bridge-building.
Correction 1/11/2017 3:30pm: An edit has been made to correct the original article which incorrectly referred to Minnesota Council of Churches as Interfaith Action Alliance. Please note that the author was referring to Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul, formerly Saint Paul Area Council of Churches.