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Group given grant funding to fight rising Islamophobia in MN

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A Muslim advocacy group says it has received tens of thousands of dollars in grants to address discrimination in Minnesota, after a reported rise in incidents of Islamophobia.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations of Minnesota (CAIR-MN) said in a news release Muslims in the state have reported more than 30 incidents of intimidation, threats, bullying and harassment in the past three months.

That's led to an increased – and unexpected – demand for the council's services, specifically requests to "protect civil liberties" and "encourage dialogue at a time of heightened tensions," according to the release.

Muslims in Minnesota and the US

According to PEW Research Center there are about 3.3 million Muslims living in the US, a number that is likely to double by 2050. A study by the group found Muslims are one of the most negatively viewed religious groups in the U.S.

There has been a string of recent incidents and cases around the state, including a former school board member resigning over comments he made on Facebook directed at Muslims, and debates over mosque and Islamic cemetery proposals.

Meanwhile the Twin Cities Somali community has been concerned over the allure the Islamic State militant group has had on young men – including those from Minnesota – who have left the U.S. to fight.

"There are a lot of good things happening in our community. I want to acknowledge that," said Jaylani Hussein, executive director of CAIR-MN, in the news release. "But this is our time to build bridges of understanding and make sure all people are safe and secure wherever they go."

On Monday, a few dozen state leaders and elected officials put out a full-page ad in the Star Tribune, saying they "know better than to be silent or still in the face of bigotry toward Muslims. Our fellow Minnesotans."

The ad also encouraged people to use #UnMinnesotan to discuss the issue on social media.

What CAIR-MN plans to do with the grants

CAIR-MN says it's now trying to cover $100,000 in unplanned expenses related to recent demand. To help, the Saint Paul Foundation and F. R. Bigelow Foundation issued grants totaling $57,500 with costs for additional legal fees, outreach and community training activities, the news release says.

Hussein said these types of efforts are even more important in the wakes of the San Bernardino shooting and Paris attacks last year.

Meanwhile the Tom and Pat Grossman Fund of the Minnesota Community Foundation pledged up to $25,000 as a matching grant (so if CAIR-MN can raise another $25,000) for more outreach work.

Some of that will be used to hold "Challenging Islamophobia" workshops across the state, as well as creating "Know Your Rights" pocket guides for Muslims in the state.

The organization also wants any incident of harassment of or threats toward Muslims reported – you can do so by going to this page on CAIR-MN's website.

"We want to know about all the incidents – no matter how small – that happen in Minnesota, so we can offer support," Hussein said.

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