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Challenges as African Immigrants, Challenges as Muslims
Although members of the Somali community are generally very happy to be living in Faribault, they do face daily struggles and challenges, both as African immigrants and as Muslims.
CHALLENGES AS AFRICAN IMMIGRANTS
Faribault is a small, rural town and has fewer and lower quality social services available for immigrants in comparison to places like the Twin Cities or other large, urban areas. In speaking with a group of Somali women, they mentioned that certain caseworkers could be very difficult to work with. The Somali women were recent immigrants to the United States, they had not been in Faribault long (five years or less), and they did not speak much English. The caseworkers, they said, often do not answer their phone nor do they return calls, even when the Somali women leave a message. When one of them is able to contact her caseworker, she needs to find an English translator because the caseworkers do not speak Somali. Because of these communication difficulties, it is very challenging for these Somali women to obtain help or services from their caseworkers. Although the women acknowledged that not all caseworkers fit this description, they expressed acute frustration with how they, and how their family and friends, have been treated by particular caseworkers in the past.
Additionally, some Somalis in Faribault report to have faced housing and employment discrimination, although this was much more common when large numbers of Somalis first started moving to Faribault in the mid-1990s and is less prevalent today in 2014. According to Marcia Morris-Beck of United Way of Faribault, other issues Somalis encounter as immigrants include difficulties integrating into the Faribault community, the language barrier, a lack of resources (especially resources regarding how to become a citizen, how to deal with social services, how to qualify as low income, and how to register their kids for school), and a lack of transportation options (because many of Somali immigrants do not have their driver’s licenses). Somali residents of Faribault that do not speak or understand English have encountered obstacles to gaining social acceptance, making friends, obtaining a driver’s license, and finding housing.1 Additionally, as African immigrants especially, Somalis face difficulties in being grouped into the same category as African Americans by educational and service programs. For instance, Minnesota school enrollment does not make the distinction between Africans and African Americans. Therefore it is difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of existing immigrant services or identify areas where more or different services are needed for the specific African populations in schools.2
Minnesota school enrollment does not make the distinction between Africans and African Americans. Therefore it is difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of existing immigrant services or identify areas where more or different services are needed for the specific African populations in schools.
CHALLENGES AS MUSLIMS
“Are we going to be discriminated [against]? Will people hate us?” —Maryam
Somalis in Faribault also face certain challenges as Muslims. Living as Muslims in post-9/11 America, the Somali Muslim individuals I spoke with are forced to navigate considerable religious prejudices on a daily basis. Many of the high school girls at the Faribault mosque recalled instances of being associated with the terrorists of 9/11. “There is a class called World History that I took last year and we studied a topic called ‘Islam.’ We talked about the bombing and 9/11 and literally everyone looked at me, and I’m like, ‘Why are you looking at me? I’m not a terrorist!’” One high school Somali student shared that while she and her mom were shopping at the Faribault grocery store for the Islamic holiday Eid, which happened to take place on September 10th of that year, a boy at the store said to her, “I know why you are celebrating. You are celebrating because this weekend is September 11th.”3 Other girls were bullied and teased because of their Islamic clothing. One younger Somali girl recounted that in gym class, the American boys would pull off the girls’ hijabs (headscarves) and run around with them without being stopped or reprimanded by their gym teacher. Maryam, a Somali girl who regularly attends dugsi (Qur’an school), once disclosed that the Islamophobia she daily encounters at high school “makes [her] feel fear” and causes her to constantly wonder, “Are we going to be discriminated [against]? Will people hate us?”
There is a class called World History that I took last year and we studied a topic called ‘Islam.’ We talked about the bombing and 9/11 and literally everyone looked at me, and I’m like, ‘Why are you looking at me? I’m not a terrorist!’. —FHS Somali student
Other challenges surround daily religious concerns, such as the inability to find the time and space to pray during the day. The American work and school schedule does not make room for prayer five times a day and it also considers Fridays a working day, which for Muslims is the day of group worship and prayer held just after noon. Consequently, many Somalis cannot attend Friday prayer at the larger mosque in town because they have to be at work. Islamic and Quranic school for the children and youth also must be held over the weekend because the Somali teachers work throughout the week. Lastly, Somalis cannot participate in certain activities that are prevalent in American society, such as drinking alcohol and going to bars, eating non-halal food, and interacting across gender lines outside of family and marriage (especially in party or sports settings) because they do not consider these activities to be permitted in Islam. The older Somali women I talked to expressed the difficulty in finding a space to exercise because all of the exercise gyms in Faribault were open for both men and women. They want a special exercise space for just women so that they can remove their hijab (headscarf) and wear work out clothing without worrying that men will see them.
Dianna Shandy and Katherine Fennelly, “A Comparison of the Integration Experiences of Two African Immigrant Populations in a Rural Community,” Journal of Religion & Spirituality in Social Work 25.1 (2006): 16. ↩
Dianna Shandy and Katherine Fennelly, “A Comparison of the Integration Experiences of Two African Immigrant Populations in a Rural Community,” Journal of Religion & Spirituality in Social Work 25.1 (2006): 24. ↩
Muslims have two major holidays: eid al-fitr, the festival marking the end of Ramadan, and the greater of the two holidays, eid al-adha, the festival marking the Prophet Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Ishmael. Ramadan is the month of fasting that occurs during the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, when the Qur’an was believed to have been revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. During Ramadan, Muslims abstain from all food, drink (including water), and sexual relations throughout the daylight hours. However, the fast is broken at sunset each day and usually Muslims consume a pre-dawn meal before resuming the fast the next day. Devotional activity is also increased, through participation in the additional nighttime prayer and recitations of the entire Qur’an, during Ramadan, especially during the last ten days of the month. Eid al-fitr is the festival that marks the conclusion of this month and the celebration, which includes gift giving, prayer, and visiting among friends and family, lasts for three days. ↩