ND Muslims sad Koleilat legislative prayer canceled

FARGO -- The abrupt cancellation of a Muslim leader's prayer before the state House earlier this week hasn't made much of a wave in the Muslim community here.

Abdul Hameed prays Friday
FNS File Photo by Michael Vosburg Abdul Hameed, right, and other members of the North Dakota State University Muslim community pray on Dec. 14, 2012, in the attic of the Alba Bales House on campus in Fargo.

FARGO - The abrupt cancellation of a Muslim leader’s prayer before the state House earlier this week hasn’t made much of a wave in the Muslim community here.
“What happened in Bismarck this past week was barely a blip on the radar of a lot of my community members,” said Yahya Frederickson, a member of Fargo’s largest mosque tasked with speaking to news media.
When TV crews showed up during Friday prayers at the Islamic Society of Fargo-Moorhead, he said, many mosque members wondered what had happened. Many are too busy with jobs and raising families to pay attention to the news, he said, and he suspected they would be “saddened” when they find out.
What happened was North Dakota House Republicans found out their opening invocation on Wednesday was going to be delivered by Nadim Koleilat, president of the Bismarck Muslim Community Center, and they canceled his appearance.
GOP leaders said some members complained about a Muslim leading prayer on Ash Wednesday. It was seen as an insult by Democratic leaders and by many Muslims who heard about it.
The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations sent out a news release Friday asking GOP leaders to apologize.
“Lawmakers of any political persuasion should reject religious bigotry and exclusion,” Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter, said in a statement.
Ahmed Kamel, a Concordia College professor, said he felt there was “an element of insult” when he heard about what happened from a reporter. “I can understand it’s a Christian holiday, you want a Christian preacher. But then the time to do this was before inviting someone.”
Newzad Brifki, a Muslim who heads the Kurdish Community of America in Moorhead, said it disturbed him that lawmakers put their religion ahead of their country and rejected a fellow American who worships the same god.
House GOP leaders who spoke of the matter said their main sensitivity was a Muslim leading prayer on the first day of a solemn Christian observance that ends with Easter. They said they invited Koleilat to pray another time.
Frederickson said he can understand some Christians would want to have a Christian prayer on the holy day. He said he hoped a Muslim would be invited to lead prayer on a Muslim holy day.
The backdrop to all this was District 24 Republicans’ Facebook page, where a volunteer posted a now-deleted comment criticizing Koleilat’s invitation as “political correctness at its worst.” The volunteer then accused “the enemy our country has been perpetually at war with since Sept. 11, 2001” of using the Koran to slaughter Christians and other non-Muslims.
Koleilat was invited by one of the Christian pastors who lead prayers at the Legislature.
Brifki took issue with the lumping of all Muslims in with the minority who are violent extremists.
In fact, he said, more than 1,000 Kurds, many of them Muslims and three of them his cousins, have died fighting the so-called Islamic State, known around the world for beheading Westerners and, most recently, Egyptian Christians.
While Sept. 11 caused some Americans to become fearful and suspicious of all Muslims, Kamel said it’s not all bad. “There is a certain rise of people who are becoming anti-Muslim because of events of the world. And there is a parallel rise of very enlightened understanding of others, regardless of who the others are.”
Frederickson, a professor at Minnesota State University-Moorhead, said he has not observed anti-Muslim attitudes here. Many Muslims feel accepted and safe, he said.
“They often have relatives in other cities, certainly in Minneapolis and St. Paul and a lot of other parts of country,” he said. “But they chose to remain here and raise family because of some sense of security and general tolerance. So when they hear about what is happening in Bismarck, I think they’ll be saddened by that.”


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