Covering Community Special Report: Fear & Faith

By DeeDee Stiepan, KIMT - ROCHESTER, Minn. —  Once per month for the past year, Rochester resident Regina Mustafa has been hosting “The Faith Talk Show,” something she created to help bridge gaps and misconceptions between religions.

Every month, a different faith is featured. For the first time since starting the show, she invited a Muslim guest on to talk about her very own faith, Islam.

It’s a discussion that could potentially stir up controversy, and it did.

“I couldn’t find anything in the Quran that commands Muslims to love people other than their own,” one audience member said during the discussion.

He claimed he read the entire Quran, the holy book of Islam, and it’s left him looking for explanation.

“At least three other verses tell Muslims to fight against non-Muslims,” he continued. “If I’m a person that’s picking up this book, it’s supposed to be self-explanatory and I read in there that my job, mission is to do this. If I was reading this book on my own, I would be a jihadist right now.”

Mustafa says the comments are nothing she hasn’t heard before.

“I’ve had kind of harassing emails in the past with similar accusations and again, that wasn’t anything new. But when someone says it right to your face,” she explains.

Toward the end of the show, Mustafa got emotional. Something that she says doesn’t happen often.

“I would like to say that I picked up the Quran about 14 years ago and I’ve never killed anybody, and I know there’s a number of Muslims in this room and so far nobody is dead. I think that has to say something about what the true meaning of the Quran is and maybe perhaps, perhaps, you’re getting the wrong message,” Mustafa said to the audience member.

“I really felt that there was a true fear in him,” she tells KIMT News 3. “He expressed concern about his grandchildren the kind of world that they’re growing up in, and you know, I have children too and I sympathize with any fear that he might have as a result of people calling themselves Muslim.”

It’s a fear some refer to as “Islamophobia.” While there’s debate as to the validity of the word, some research does suggest an increase in Americans’ prejudice toward Muslim people. A recent Gallop poll shows about half of Americans from other religious groups believe that most Americans are prejudice towards Muslims.

Jaylani Hussein, the most recent Faith Talk Show Guest, responds to that audience member’s comments.

“It has nothing to do with the actual text of the Quran, it’s about the person that’s reading it, why they’re reading it, what they want out of it. So, this is one of the things we’ve notice with both the extremist groups as well as those who want to paint Islam as a violent religion,” says Hussein, who is the executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) Minnesota chapter.

He believes the fear of Islam has grown into an industry where the target audience are those who don’t know much about the religion.

“The market is all of these individuals who are selling this information, they’re not selling it at a free cost, this is not their good will, there is a profit behind it. They’re writing books, their speaking fees are ridiculous and they travel around and say here’s our event and they have a collection right afterward and when someone says I’ve informed you about this group of people, people tend to gravitate toward that.”

He also believes politics are fueling the fear.

“Like Jaylani said during the show,” Mustafa adds. “Having these ‘leaders,’ it kind of makes for the rest of America like it’s OK, it’s OK to have these sentiments too, almost justifies bigotry and the hatred shown towards Muslims.”

But there’s another side of the coin that sees things much differently.

Jim Hagedorn of Blue Earth, is running for Minnesota’s First Congressional District seat, which is currently held by Tim Walz (DLF).

“The first responsibility of anyone in the federal government, particularly a member of congress, is to set up policies that will defend the United States and protect the American people. I don’t think that’s being done right now,” he explains.

But Hagedorn says he has a solution — he wants to propose a policy that would place a temporary time-out on allowing refugees to enter the country. Some may call that policy “Islamophobic,” but Hagedorn says that’s not the case, because the policy is about allowing time to fix the vetting process that he says is not doing the job of protecting the country.

“Nineteen people with 9/11, two with the Boston Marathon bombing, one at Ft. Hood, two at San Bernardino, very few people have inflicted great carnage on our folks, and the job is to make sure the United States and the American people are protected.”

He says he’s confidant he’s not the only one in the area who feels the time-out policy would be effective. Even if he’s not elected in November, Hagedorn knows it’s not an issue that will disappear quickly.

“At this critical point in time, I think most people in southern Minnesota would say this is not the time we should be bringing in hundreds of thousands of new people from countries that don’t like America,” Hagedorn adds.

Perhaps those in the audience at the Faith Talk Show that night would agree with that. But the host says all she can do is trying to get critics of her religion to see her as a community member and look past her beliefs.

“I wanted that human, I wanted that human part that we don’t do very often with our cell phones and social media and just that hug and I told him that look, it’s okay and if you want to talk to me more about this I’d be happy to. I really hope that that made an impression on him and it’s going to start a continuing dialogue where I’m not trying to change his mind, but maybe get him to look at my experiences and maybe he could start to think in a different way,” says Mustafa.

She’s not the only one in the area doing outreach work to attempt to alleviate fear. The Rochester Muslim Community Circle (RMCC) held their first open house over the weekend. They want people who may have questions about Islam or are uncomfortable with the faith to come in and see what it’s like and get their questions answered.

“There is fear on both sides and that’s the biggest concern, what is that real fear that both sides have? So we want to kind of like open up and talk to people and somehow if we can get over that fear and be able to work together,” explains Rashid Fehmi, an RMCC volunteer.

The hope is to have a monthly open house at RMCC where anyone is welcome.