MINNEAPOLIS -- Abia Ali is known in her neighborhood, at work and in the local Somali community as a woman of kindness. At the Abu Bakr as Siddique mosque in South Minneapolis, the youngsters call her "Mama."
On a recent day during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Ali, a community activist who volunteers in her neighborhood and at the mosque, sat down on a folding chair in the community room. This was one of the last nights of Ramadan, and Muslims here would pray together until dawn.
Little girls ran through the community center and teenagers sat cross-legged and gossiped or did their homework.
Ali set out a donation box — as she did every night of Ramadan, a time of charity — to sponsor sick children from Somalia who live in poverty in the midst of violence and need medical help.
"I put it under my name and I send it," she said. "If I'm going to be punished for helping my needy people let it be."
Other people are too afraid to contribute, concerned that even innocent gestures will be flagged.
Ali was subpoenaed by the FBI, questioned for two days and appeared in front of a grand jury in June. Every face on the jury was white.
"Mama Abia, the FBI showed us your picture," she recalled teens in the mosque telling her just before she was subpoenaed.
She wept as she told the story. Now she takes blood pressure medication every day.
Ali had planned to retire this summer and join her husband and children in East Africa. After she returned from a visit, however, she was escorted to a small room to be interrogated, like a criminal, she said, a situation that many Muslim Americans describe when they return from a trip abroad. Ali now is unsure whether she's been put on the Transportation Security Administration's no-fly list.
"We have so much fear of the unknown. Lock us out or leave us alone," she said. "Nowadays, you can't trust anyone. They say you have freedom of speech, but it's not true for some people."
After about 20 Somali young men started to go missing in 2007, this mosque where many of them prayed felt the brunt of the scrutiny and the sadness of the losses.
The mosque has been a center of community, culture and outreach to young teens wrapped up in gang violence. In recent months, however, it was portrayed as a recruiter of terrorists. This breaks Ali's heart.
But she is strong. She still works with the mosque and with young people in the community, and collects charitable donations. During the week, she works at Hennepin County's Economic Assistance Department.
"All the young generation are scared and frustrated," she said. "So many students are barely passing classes. I feel it's unjust. We're straight and good citizens, but we have to face this and we have nothing to do with it."
She broke down again, her face framed by a flowing head scarf.
"They are destroying us," she said. "What can we do? We are black, we are immigrants and we are Muslims."
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