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A packed event Thursday at the Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center caused attendees to faint as rescue crews struggled through “deadlock” traffic to help them.
Fire crews were dispatched to medical emergency calls at the south Minneapolis mosque, 2824 13th Ave South, about 6:58 p.m. Thursday, according to a press release from the Minneapolis Fire Department.
“Upon arrival in the area, fire and ambulance crews could not gain access due to deadlock of traffic and parked cars blocking access,” said the department’s news release. “Fire crews and ambulance crews had to walk into the area on foot to gain access to patients.”
More than 10 people in and outside of the center required medical emergency treatment, and many patients were transported to a local hospital for further care, the fire department said. Other attendees transported themselves to the hospital.
“It was reported that adults and children were fainting and getting injured due to the building being filled over capacity,” according to the fire department.
Thursday’s event featured scholar and speaker Abu Taymiyyah, who has a following among younger Muslims. The Stronger Together Minnesota group organized a number of events with Abu Taymiyyah that were advertised on its website as running from 6 p.m. Thursday to 10 p.m. Friday.
Stronger Together Minnesota describes itself as, “A weekly gathering that creates a space for young [Muslims] in the Greater Metro Area to grow in faith, community and brotherhood!”
An attendee at Thursday’s event, Samira, told Sahan Journal she went with family to hear a message that would help her in her faith. She said Abu Taymiyyah speaks honestly about issues impacting young Muslims in the West, while other sheikhs might sugarcoat their messages.
“I was like, this is a great opportunity. I want to learn so much and to be woken up,” she said. “I do struggle with society and how view me and how I should be.”
Samira arrived at the mosque around 3 p.m.
“It was kinda getting a little bit fuller, so we ended up sitting right on the front and… it was going so smooth until everybody started coming in and start getting packed, and as soon as everything started getting packed we noticed it was just getting hot,” she said. “Everybody was not able to breathe and we were trying to like open doors. It was so compact.”
Samira said she helped cool down the younger girls, some about age 13, who struggled to breathe as the room began to heat up.
“So I start noticing some kids were just like not able to breathe, having a hard time breathing,” she said. “We’re just trying to help them breathe: ‘It’s ok, you’re gonna be fine. Just air yourself out a little bit.’ And most of the girls that we noticed were not breathing correctly were the ones that were actually wearing something tighter on the more heavier side.
“It was unorganized. I feel the best thing they should have done is to get a bigger area first. Second, I get it. They were like, ‘Oh, nobody knows about the sheikh, no one would be coming in.’ I was just like, ‘You guys always gotta be ready for everything.’”
Multiple videos posted on social media show attendees at Thursday’s event packed into various parts of the center with little room to walk or maneuver. A few videos show people leaving the event without shoes on, walking through the snow.
Several videos show Abu Taymiyyah struggling to make his way through the crowd while onlookers film him. Another video clip appears to show people in the crowd chanting, “I can’t breathe.”
“We are not here to benefit from a celebrity or a superstar,” Abu Taymiyyah says from the podium in another video posted to Twitter. “I am not that. I am just your brother.”
A number of attendees and Twitter users took to the platform to express their disappointment with the event’s organization, with several wondering why the lecture was scheduled at the Islamic center instead of a larger event space.
Zubair, who attended the event, told Sahan Journal that people started “flooding” into the mosque, also called a masjid, between sunset prayer and evening prayer. He said the scene turned scary as people began to argue with security in the packed space.
“There was grown men acting like kids a holy place like the masjid,” Zubair said. “We all thought it was going to be the kids being menaces, but it was actually the grown men talking back to the security guards.”
Zubair heard that some people had lost consciousness during the event, but did not witness it himself. He said the evacuation was also complicated.
“When we were getting out, people were showing no manners,” Zubair said. “People were actually shoving each other, stampeding each other.”
Stronger Together Minnesota posted statements on its Twitter and Instagram accounts early Friday taking responsibility for what happened. The group also canceled other events that were scheduled for Friday at the Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center.
“We understand the challenges of the event at the Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center with regards to our speaking engagement with Abu Taymiyyah,” said the statement from Stronger Together Minnesota that was dated February 2. “We organised this event for our community to benefit the people to come together for the sake of Allah.
“With regards to the challenges arising from capacity issues in our event, we take responsibility and will work to review all of the day’s events for lessons learned.”
The Minneapolis-based organization said it was looking for a different venue to accommodate another event with Abu Taymiyyah. A person reached at the group’s office early Friday afternoon declined to comment.
Stronger Together Minnesota posted an update late Friday afternoon on its Instagram account, noting that an event featuring Abu Taymiyyah would be held at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Karmel Masjid, 2910 Pleasant Avenue, in Minneapolis.
“PLEASE CARPOOL,” the group wrote under a post about the event.
Abdulaziz Sugule, vice chair of the Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center, said Thursday’s event drew mostly young attendees. Event organizers knew Abu Taymiyyah was popular on social media, Abdulaziz said, but they didn’t plan for hundreds of people showing up.
“We surprised, you know, how many people came here and couldn’t control the crowd,” he said.
Men were asked to leave Thursday’s event early, and the speaker was allowed to address the remaining women for 20 to 30 minutes, he added.
Traffic by the center also added to the “chaos” during the event, according to Abdulaziz. Police were called in to help control traffic while the fire department was briefed on the overcrowding.
During significant events, parked cars typically line both sides of the streets around the center. For events like Friday’s midday prayers, some streets are only navigable by one vehicle at a time.
Officials at the Islamic Center said many of Thursday’s attendees arrived early and were forced to park blocks away.
“The purpose of the conference was to engage the youth, many of them at-risk youth, so we try to get a positive speaker to come in and talk to them,” said Abdallahi Adan, youth coordinator of the Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center. “And unfortunately, we had over the capacity of people that we expected.
“We dispersed as much people as possible, try to bring the capacity down, the number of people down.”
While Abdallahi said it was unfortunate that the event ended the way it did, a silver lining was that many young people showed up at the mosque.
Samira, who attended the event, and her sister headed home close to midnight. She said she’d like to see a bigger venue for such events, because it’s uncommon to see free lectures like Abu Taymiyyah’s speech. Many young people attended the event, especially young women who aren’t able to participate sometimes due to capacity, she said.
Samira was upset that many people missed out on Abu Taymiyyah’s message about life in the West for young Muslims.
“That is one thing he wanted to share—love, communication, and putting his people together and making sure that there’s no kids in Minnesota dying,” she said. “He wanted to highlight that, but he wasn’t able to. I just want people to know that it’s the number one thing he always [strives] for. And I don’t want anyone misunderstanding what he came here for.”
Abu Taymiyyah’s Twitter account posted a notice that in reaction to Thursday’s incident, a speaking engagement he has scheduled for Saturday in Seattle, Washington, will be split into two separate sessions.