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Muslim immigrants say they're welcome in Dickinson

DICKINSON, N.D. - When Shahbaz Munawar is starting his day, his parents are finishing theirs.

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DICKINSON, N.D. – When Shahbaz Munawar is starting his day, his parents are finishing theirs.

Munawar's family lives more than 7,000 miles away in Karachi, Pakistan, and he is just one of many immigrants living in Dickinson. He is also part of the Muslim community.

Dickinson's Muslim community has about 50 members attending prayer, according to Imam Younis Mohammed, pastor of the church.

The city feels like home to Munawar, even though he has only lived here two years.

"Wherever you go, wherever you work, you should make it your home," he said. "That's the basic thing that should be in your mind, to make that place your own. This is my home. This is my town."

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And that's what Munawar has done by opening his own business, a cigarette shop on Villard Street.

Meeting people through his business has given Munawar a way to connect to the community. He has been invited to Thanksgiving dinners, and given Christmas gifts and cookies. He said as an immigrant, you have to talk to people and get to know them, and also be active in the community.

"We are Americans," he said. "We are proud to be American Muslims and part of this community. And we try to contribute as much as possible to the city of Dickinson and North Dakota."

Mohammed mirrors this notion saying, "When the community has any meetings, invite us. We are not the killers. We are loving people and we want to associate with them as a human being ... to bring our view. To say what we have. To show them how we love them. We don't hate them."

Mohammed wants people in town to know it's OK to approach him with questions or to talk about his religion or culture.

He moved here for the oil boom and has taken the role of imam after seeing a void in leadership. He was offered the opportunity to lead even though he said it is a big responsibility.

His passion and dedication for Islam has led him on a path of learning and teaching.

Mohammed said he knows people will look at him when he is wearing his hijab, saying, "Sometimes I wear my hijab and I go to Walmart and see people looking at me. I need people to ask me questions. I need them to talk to me, but I don't find people talking to me so I can express my feelings or teach them what it is about."

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He wants everyone to know that Muslims are a peaceful people.

However, the Muslim religion has come under discrimination since the terrorist group ISIS, also known as the Islamic State, has came into the limelight for its radical views, mass killings and acts of terror.

The attacks in Paris in November, credited as a terrorist act carried out by ISIS members, have led to increased security and fear across the world. The mass shootings and bombings left more than 300 people wounded and 130 people dead.

But Mohammed wants everyone to know that ISIS followers are not Muslim.

"We want all the nation to know that Islam or Muslims are not terrorists, according to the scriptures," he said. "Our scripture says when you kill one person, you kill the nation. And if you save a person, you save the nation. So why would you call yourself a Muslim and go out there and kill? We see ISIS to not be Muslim, we see them to be terrorists. They are nothing but criminals. That is how we Muslims see them. This is hurting the Muslims a lot. This is hurting us."

Mohammed is fearful ISIS is damaging the image of Islam and is ready to prove that they are not Muslim. He said he loves his Christian brothers, and any other Muslim you meet will say the same.

He said he came to the U.S. just like other immigrant, looking for a good life.

"America is a loving nation. God has blessed America," he said. "We know America has a room for us. We love that and we appreciate that. Not only we, as in Africa, but in general all foreigners."

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Munawar has only good things to say about Dickinson and the melting pot of cultures that has culminated here following the oil boom.

"For a society to grow, a melting pot is a good thing," he said. "That's what America is-a society of immigrants. Everyone has came here from somewhere, right? From Germany 400 years, France 300 years, so that is what society is. That's what makes society great."

Related Topics: DICKINSON
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