ST. CLOUD -- The St. Cloud community is growing and becoming more diverse by the day. U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger hosted a discussion on Islamophobia today (Thursday) at the St. Cloud Public Library.

"All of us, whatever our background, religious beliefs or ethnicity, understand the need for respect and for building a community that draws on our differences," says Luger.

Business leaders, law enforcement and the legal community were encouraged to attend the discussion to learn more about the Muslim community in St. Cloud.

During the discussion the community was able to hear from three members representing the Somali community, Ayan Omar, Lul Hersi and Haji Yusuf.

The discussion focused on how the community can come together to learn about each other, learn about faith and to answer questions.

Omar says she's hosted inter-faith meetings within the community and she's been surprised by some of the questions people have about Islam.

"Questions like, what are your daily prayers about, what does the Quran say about women, so the questions that I just assumed people already knew or have easy access to figure out, people are bring that [questions] to the conversation," says Omar.

Hersi focused on being open with your neighbors and not letting fear take control.

"Let's build this community, let's be open to one another, and let's talk about this fear we have towards one another," says Hersi.

Playing off of that perception, Yusuf discussed how many Somalians are victims of terrorism.

"Somalis are victims of terrorism, thousands, hundreds, every year, every month die, because of terrorism, you see a mother and her children outside somewhere trying to provide and some guy comes and blows himself up, kills the mother, kills the children, we are victims of terrorism," says Yusuf.

After the initial discussion, community members where able to talk one on one with each other and other members of the Somali community.

Waite Park Police Chief Dave Bentrud says this is a great start to getting community members to engage with one another.

"I think it's really important for us as police officers as police agencies to know our community, all of the community, and understand what their needs are, understand what we have in common, our [differences] and build some trust. I think the only way you can do that is by having some dialogue and some conversation," says Bentrud.

Not everyone was satisfied by how the meeting was organized, Tom Krieg of Sauk Rapids was hoping their would be more audience interaction.

"I was very disappointed, disappointed from the perspective that I came here not just to learn but to have the opportunity for exchange of dialogue/conversation, no such opportunity existed nor were we given the opportunity for dialogue, says Krieg.

Islamophobia meetings are not a rare occurrence, Luger says his team is working to bring these discussions to other major Minnesota cities.

--Reporter Rebecca David contributed to this story.-- 

Rebecca David, WJON
Rebecca David, WJON