Republicans convene in Bloomington mosque, den of their supposed villain

Abdul-Rahman Magba-Kamara buys the GOP's emphasis on the individual -- not so much its one-size-fits-all fear of Muslims.

Abdul-Rahman Magba-Kamara buys the GOP's emphasis on the individual -- not so much its one-size-fits-all fear of Muslims. Hannah Jones

Last weekend’s Republican Liberty Caucus convention took place in the Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center gymnasium. “The Conscience of the Republican Party” is how the group bills itself. It's big on individual liberties – the freedom to keep your money and your gun, and say what you want when you want.

But during the first hour, most of the praise went to caucus chairman Zavier Bicott, who chose the Bloomington mosque for the meeting. Speakers used words like “fearless” to describe his willingnesss to reach out to Muslims, who've won a recurring role as the GOP's go-to villains.

The announcement that the convention would be held at Dar Al Farooq caused a backlash in the weeks leading up to the event. Comments like “only brainwashed Republicans would agree to step foot in that mosque” and “Al-Farooq you!” peppered a chain of hundreds of comments on Facebook. To some, the idea was was so outrageous they suspected a prank. And though attendance was down, not everyone was outraged.

“I think it’s good,” Jeff Miner, a Libertarian from Savage, says. “I like to see them [the caucus] be a little more inclusive.” 

Abdul-Rahman Magba-Kamara, a Republican from Hugo, felt it was important to be there. The insurance agent grew up in a Muslim-Christian household. His Somali clients are usually surprised to find he's a Republican. 

“To be honest, [the Republican Party] doesn’t really have a great footprint in the Islamic community,” he says. Most of what you hear coming out of the party – at its very highest levels, at least – is a drumbeat association between Islam and terrorism. For the first time in a decade, Magba Kamara couldn’t bring himself to vote for the Republican presidential candidate in 2016 election. 

Donald Trump has espoused suspicion and misinformation about Muslims for years, with a back catalogue long before he ran for president, calling for a “complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the United States. But Trump’s words, Magba-Kamara says, didn’t match conservative values. If conservatism was all about empowering the individual, why were the loudest voices in the party trying to lump all Muslims together?

“I think it’s important for people to understand that we can’t betray our values just because people are different and we don’t understand them.”

Bruce Lundeen of Minneapolis was also disappointed, though mostly because of the shortage of Muslims attending. But a few had come to share their stories of how they found the party and a place within it. But Lundeen would have liked to see more. Lundeen says he “wanted to get a sense” of what Muslims thought about the Republican Party. They’d fare better with the GOP than the DFL, he says.

“The DFL will put them back on the plantation with the other American blacks,” he says.

Yes, he says, he voted for Trump. Yes, he’s aware of the things Trump has said about Muslims.

“He’s painting with a broad brush,” he says. But he believes the “consequences of what he’s speaking to” – terrorism -- are “very big problems on a large scale.”

Mohamed Omar, executive director of Dar Al Farooq, thinks the event went well. This is the kind of attention Omar is more than happy to see. If the media comes calling, it’s usually because a Muslim did something violent, or became the victim of violence. The mosque's last big moment in the news came when three Illinois men were arrested, charged with setting off a bomb in the imam’s office. It’s nice to be noticed for something normal and neighborly, like hosting a caucus.

But not everyone's feeling neighborly. The Liberty Caucus' Facebook page continued to rage follwing the event.