Muslim Sheroes of Minnesota: Stories
Ayan Omar: Transforming Hate Into Harmony
Understanding, acceptance, and empathy are values that Ayan Omar lives and breathes. She is on the forefront of social change in St. Cloud, Minnesota — a city infamous for its vocal, often violent network of anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant residents.
But when you ask Ayan about the best moment of her work, she’ll tell you about a question that epitomized those exact ideologies.
“Do you want to kill me?”
Suad Ismail: Fighting Cultural Stigma, Finding Compassion
What Suad wanted was to create transformative culture change.
“The majority of the Somali community just doesn’t understand the issue of mental health. They push it away, either minimizing it or assuming that it doesn’t affect our spiritual community,” she says.
If one simply prays more or worships more, any struggles with their mental health will be whisked away, Suad kept hearing. By the time that she graduated and got a job, she had grown frustrated with this “religion-cures-all” argument.
Amina Baha: Curating a Life of Creativity and Compassion
As Amina’s art deepened her connection with the Minnesota Afghan community, she grew increasingly aware of the lack of culturally-specific resources across the state. Since emigrating as a young girl, she had seen the population grow throughout her lifetime, but she was shocked to realize as an adult that no association existed to represent those with Afghan heritage.
At first, Amina thought that a website may be an appropriate medium to put community members into contact. But when she introduced the idea and received an outpouring of enthusiasm, she realized that her community needed her to do what she had done so many times before — believe in herself and take a risk.
Ruqia Abdi: Reclaimer of Space
At the time that she pulled her oldest daughter out of public school, she was pursuing a medical degree, but she switched to child development. She was intent on becoming a professional educator, though not a classroom teacher “because then you’re confined to teaching 25 or 30 students.”
Ruqia yearned for a broader impact, an impact that would reverberate throughout her neighborhood, throughout the next generation of her community. With her characteristic spunk and her enthusiastic smile, she says, “I wanted to teach hundreds and thousands of children!”
Farhiya Farah: A Career of Intention, A Life of Excellence
This time, instead of finding a new job, Farhiya fashioned one from the ground up. For some time she had been doing projects on the side to supplement her income, but now she chose to take this small consulting business and turn it into her full-time job. “It was a huge risk,” says Farhiya, “but it paid heavily. It really did.”
Farhiya called her new firm GlobeGlow. As principal consultant, she found herself with ample opportunities that allowed her to pursue her passion — health equity.
Fardousa Jama: Bridge Builder
When Fardousa Jama’s father suggested that she establish a nonprofit organization, she hesitated.
Along with her cousin, Fardousa had brought together a group of young women and began a collaborative effort to raise money for their Mankato masjid. They called themselves the Barwaaqo Girls, borrowing a Somali word that means “abundance” or “prosperity.”
Although the group was well-known in their community, Fardousa was uncertain about taking on the responsibility of running an organization. However, as she says with warm reflection and tempered faith, “God definitely had a different plan.”
Amina Ghouse: Turning Her Hometown Into Her Home
“I realized that this election cycle proved how uninvolved we were as citizens,” she remembers. “We got motivated to get more involved.” It was a turning point for Amina. The next day, she went down to city hall, filled out an application to become an election judge, and handed it in.
Amina spent two weeks counting absentee ballots, and on the day of the election, she worked for 15 hours to register first-time voters. She loved every second.
Nemeh Al-Sarraj: Disability Justice Advocate
Nemeh Al-Sarraj doesn’t shy away from sharing her story. She’s a dedicated advocate for disability justice whose mind never strays far from the issue closest to her heart — autism awareness. She’s candid about her diagnosis, conversational about her journey.
But the sincerity that Nemeh practices was once secrecy and shame.
“For a while, we decided to hide my diagnosis. We actually did not want to share with anyone that I had a disability,” she says.
This is the first year CPHS has implemented uniform policy changes that embrace the values of inclusion and understanding, creating custom Rebel Tennis sports hijabs that proudly bear the school emblem. This policy change comes as a result of our Sheroes: Four brave Muslim girls loved tennis enough to go out for the team, and now the whole team is stronger, more welcoming, and has learned an important lesson in inclusion, as a result.
Rabia Mumtaz: Woman Power
Rabia doesn’t fit the profile of a traditional leader. She doesn’t like talking about herself or her accomplishments. She visibly blushes when placed in a spotlight, and is quick to share that she doesn’t see herself as a leader the way others might. And because she doesn’t see herself as a ‘Shero’, she leads with even more authenticity: by example, through hard work, commitment to others and her deep sense of service and integrity.
Dr. Mona Minkara: Reviving the American Dream
Even with a strong faith tradition and a deeply loving family, being a blind first-generation immigrant was challenging. Because of her new diagnosis and deteriorating eyesight, Mona was placed in Special Education classes in the Massachusetts public school system. “We were the only Muslim family in a very white town. My parents didn’t know how to navigate the school system,” she recalls, “And the school didn’t know exactly what to do with me because I was blind.” Until tenth grade, school was a mismatched environment for Mona, one that lacked rigor and challenge.
Anse Tamara Gray: Building Brave New Spaces
When we picture a Muslim scholar, we generally imagine a bearded male elder. What we don’t imagine is a sparkly blue-eyed and hijab-clad Minnesota-born mother of three who is pursing her PhD in Leadership at the University of St. Thomas.
But here we are, an honored Muslim scholar is exactly what she is, so we should remember to check our stereotypes at Daybreak’s doorstep. Anse (a Syrian colloquial Arabic term for ‘teacher’) Tamara, one of North America’s most revered Scholars of Islam, is grabbing a snack in the back room.
Kenya McKnight Ahad: Building Economic Power for Black Women
Kenya now understands that the role she must play is in building collective economic capacity through education, skill and direct wealth-building opportunities. “It’s imperative to my people’s survival,” she shares. Her 2012 Bush Fellowship allowed her to explore the regional landscape and focus on the area where she can make the most impact. Borrowing from her community’s most valued skills of sharing and entrepreneurship, she imagines a female community that comes together to get a member out of debt or to purchase a meaningful asset, like a business franchise or a bank.
Fardosa Hassan: Living an Accidental Calling
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.