Mohamed Omar, executive director of Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center, (left) speaks with members of Neighbors Together in Solidarity on Friday, Aug. 7, 2020 at the Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington. Around 50 people gathered to show support and provide security after an imam was attacked outside the mosque Thursday night. Credit: Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

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An imam at Dar Al Farooq in Bloomington was walking across the street from his home to the mosque Thursday for the evening prayer. Before he made it to the door, two people approached from behind and started kicking, punching and cursing him. They fractured the imam’s shoulder before fleeing.

The attack on Imam Mohamed Mukhtar is the latest in a series of incidents surrounding the mosque, some violent and some examples of non-violent harassment, that have left Bloomington’s Muslim community in a state of worry.

“The reality is, it’s not one incident we’re trying to make meaning of,” said Mohamed Omar, the executive director of Dar Al Farooq. “This is not something new.”

Since it opened in 2011, a blog run by a neighbor has tracked complaints about the mosque, most of them about traffic. The building was firebombed in 2017. A few weeks ago, a man set up camp in a park behind the mosque and raised a Confederate flag on a nearby tree. Mosque leadership said the incident was a feeble attempt to intimidate. 

One mosque visitor also on his way to the prayer late Thursday saw Imam Mohamed, 50, struggling to walk after the assailants escaped, and helped him to the front steps of the mosque. He had left his shoes, glasses and hat at the site of the attack. Imam Mohamed’s family, on a walk in a nearby park, saw his belongings and immediately knew something was wrong.

After the family called 911, an ambulance took Imam Mohamed to M Health Fairview Southdale Hospital. The Bloomington Police Department is investigating the incident. After arriving on the scene shortly after 10 p.m. Thursday, police could not find the two suspects, who were described as being in their late teens or early twenties.

Mohamed Omar and other mosque leaders were alerted within minutes. He took to Facebook to alert the community of the incident.

“This is terrorizing our community. Please pray for us. We did everything to secure our community but God knows how long we will be feeling this fear,” Mohamed Omar said in the post.

A medical examiner said Imam Mohamed had a fractured shoulder. He has left the hospital and is now recovering from home, according to Mohamed Omar.

“I visited him this morning,” Mohamed Omar said. “He was feeling okay but he was in a lot of pain because of the fracture in his shoulder.”

His wife and children, however, are terrified. They often take walks in the same park in the evening, but are now hesitant. 

“It makes me feel angry and also sad, because we lost a sense of security and safety,” Mohamed Omar said. “Our place of worship is not safe anymore.”

Bloomington Police Deputy Chief Mike Hartley said “as far as the investigation goes, it’s early,” and could not disclose more details about the case. Bloomington Police said they would be interviewing witnesses, the imam, reviewing any available security footage and following up with mosque leaders. 

In a press release Friday, CAIR-MN urged the police to investigate the possibility that the attack was motivated by anti-Muslim bias.

“We are thankful that the assault victim did not suffer life-threatening injuries,” said CAIR-MN executive director Jaylani Hussein. “We urge public officials to uncover the motivation behind the assault and to take concrete steps to ensure that Muslim and minority communities will be safe from such attacks in the future.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency approved Dar Al Farooq for a grant to support improved security at the mosque last year, but the money hasn’t arrived yet. Mohamed Omar said he has spoken to multiple state departments involved in distributing the federal grant, to no avail. 

“For some reason the state has been holding it. This is part of the problem,” Mohamed Omar said. “When the system is not recognizing the problems and not seeing our issues and when you have been subjected to these attacks, then you become more vulnerable.”

He added the mosque’s primarily immigrant and low-income community does not have enough resources to protect their place of worship. 

“We are where we are because of how the system is treating us,” Mohamed Omar said. “We have a system that’s ignoring us and other groups are attacking us.”

Sophia Rashid, a member of the mosque, heard about the incident after she saw Mohamed’s Facebook post. She said the mosque has been on edge, especially since the bombing.

In August 2017, three members of an Illinois-based far-right group calling itself the Patriot Freedom Fighters militia threw a fire-bomb through the window of the mosque and into the imam’s office. No injuries were reported. Two of three men charged with bombing the mosque pleaded guilty in January 2019. 

“As Muslims, we’re known to have attacks on our own community,” Sophia said. “To wait out in the dark for someone who literally represents the Muslim community, who speaks for and stands for your community, it’s terrifying.”

Hibah Ansari is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

Hibah Ansari is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.