As a state, we’re weathering social isolation, economic hardship, boredom, and austerity while essential workers bust ass and attempt to keep that coronavirus peak as low and as late as possible.
That'd be enough to take in all at once without, say, people spreading yet another baseless rumor that throws Muslims under the bus. But here we are.
This week, Reuters published a fact-checking piece addressing claims that the state government was allowing Muslims—and not people of other faiths—to keep their places of worship open during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The article gave a few examples of Facebook posts making this claim—several of them the same right down to the word. They usually mention speaking to a “deputy” with the St. Cloud Police Department and finding out mosques are allowed to be open by the “governor’s orders.”
But you really don’t have to look hard through your local social media feed to find a few of your own.
And yet Mosques are left completely alone https://t.co/pJ3K8BUE9n— Brian Duce (@Coach_Duce) April 16, 2020
I checked & as of today, April 17th the Mosques in MN are open, but Christian churches are closed, think about that. The Mosques remain open for Muslims to worship— Ellen Burgoyne (@elburgoyne) April 17, 2020
But the churches are closed to Christians. Why?
@GovTimWalz Why are mosques still open but not medical clinics? How do we know they are not spreading it during their services and getting the elderly sick where they work?— Jasmen Gudino (@florecita311) April 19, 2020
As Reuters confirmed, there's no truth to the rumor. Gov. Tim Walz's administration makes “absolutely no distinction” between mosques and churches in the stay-at-home order—or “any order” for that matter. Like peopleof a lot of different faiths, Muslims have been trying to find creative ways to worship while social distancing, like broadcasting calls to prayer in Minneapolis's Cedar-Riverside neighborhood during Ramadan. (Don't expect that to go over well with the gullible bigots, either.)
Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Minnesota, tells City Pages these waves of false online claims have even confused a few Muslims.
“People start asking, ‘Is this true?’” he says.
Hussein has seen enough of these false stories to recognize the general pattern of their spread. Often they don’t even originate in Minnesota, but once they get traction on large Facebook groups—pages with hundreds of thousands of followers looking for this specific brand of content—they start filtering into the state.
A few years back, there was another formulaic story going around about a Muslim woman in a head scarf working in a St. Cloud Walmart who demanded a teenage customer hide her cross pendant under her shirt before making her purchase. The next time it resurfaced, nothing had chanced except the location; it was a Scheels now. Both times, the St. Cloud Times poked around and couldn’t find any evidence it had ever happened.
Or, see our own roundup of stories that either didn't happen or didn't actually involve Muslims and East African immigrants.
To Hussein, these myths aren’t harmless. Stories like these are “racist,” and they’re “hate-baiting.” After seeing a small group of Illinois men blow up a Bloomington mosque in the summer of 2017, they know exactly how violent and how real that hate can get if stoked properly.
“We see safety as a critical aspect of our living,” Hussein says. That’s why it’s important for anyone who recognizes these stories as false and anti-Muslim to “speak up.”
“They need to call these people out individually and flag this stuff for Facebook to pull it down,” he says. The silence of bystanders helps this misinformation thrive.