BLOOMINGTON, Minn. – A small group of Republican activists is holding an annual convention at a Minnesota mosque, an unusual setting for a party with an uneasy relationship with Islam. It started with two guys talking to each other.
Abdulahi Farah runs programs at Dar al-Farooq mosque, which was damaged by an explosive device that caused no injuries last summer, in the Minneapolis suburb of Bloomington. Zavier Bicott is chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Minnesota. The two men met through a civic initiative called One Bloomington, and Bicott said he'd love to have an event at the mosque.
Farah welcomed the idea, but it stirred up controversy on social media. But Bicott tells Minnesota Public Radio that he's gotten more support than criticism. Bicott, who said he didn't vote for President Donald Trump, disagrees with some of his fellow Republicans who fear Muslims are threatening the Constitution and want to implement sharia law.
"And I just say, 'I'm a libertarian, I am pretty liberty-minded. I would be there to defend the Constitution with you if something like that happened,'" Bicott said. "But they're like, 'It's coming, inch by inch!' I just agree to disagree with them."
According to the Pew Research Center, 13 percent of Muslims identify with or lean toward the Republican Party, compared with 66 percent who lean Democrat. Abdi Mohamed, a 24-year-old Somali-American and Republican from Woodbury, said he appreciates Bicott's decision.
"It's a way of reaching out to Muslims who are culturally conservative and can benefit from conservative policies," said Mohamed, adding that Bicott "and many others want to expand the conservative and libertarian message to all."
Asked to comment on the controversy, Jennifer Carhanan, chairwoman of the Minnesota GOP, said her party "is an open, inclusive and optimistic party" with "no religious test to participate."
Bicott said he believes the Republican Party is a good fit for Minnesota Muslims because of its conservative values and push for limited government. He said Republicans need to reach out to other communities, or the party will die.
"I just happen to be the one doing it with al-Farooq," he said. "If we don't continue to do outreach and share our values and find common place and start having conversations that need to happen, then we're not going to be successful as a party."
Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, http://www.mprnews.org