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Exhibit to showcase Minnesota Muslims

An exhibit about Muslims in Minnesota called "Tracks in the Snow" hangs last fall at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College in Cloquet, Minnesota. The display will arrive at the Alexandria Community and Technical College on Monday, April 9. (Contributed photo by Tom Urbanski)

An exhibit describing the Muslim experience in Minnesota will arrive in Alexandria on Monday, April 9, for a three-week stay.

Called "Tracks in the Snow," it features photos and experiences narrated by 25 Muslim Minnesotans. It has traveled around the Midwest for several years and is organized by the Saint Anthony-based Islamic Resource Group. It will be on display in the hall connecting the 700 Building and the Law Enforcement Center, and a reception is planned for 5:30 p.m. Monday, April 23, at the school.

"I think people are really looking for dialogue and direct connections with Americans of different backgrounds," said John Emery, a speaker for the group who escorts the exhibit. "The main impact of the exhibit is that it gets people to question their stereotypes. And most importantly, it brings people together to ask questions and talk."

A convert to Islam, Emery chose to keep his name. John the Baptist is considered a prophet by both Christians and Muslims, he said, so though it might not sound like it, "John," is still a "great Muslim name."

Muslims have called Minnesota home for more than a century, according to the Islamic group. Emery said the exhibit's goal is to allow viewers to connect with their stories. The stories are about finding one's place in America and making America a better place for all, he said.

"That idea really resonates with so many Americans' lives," he said.

The college, its foundation and the Inclusion Network are hosting the exhibit. Their interest was sparked after an Islamic speaker came to Alexandria in February 2017. That event turned contentious at times as some in the audience repeatedly challenged the speaker.

"It was good information to talk about the Muslim experience and what their beliefs are," said Shari Maloney, the college's human resource director and a volunteer with the Inclusion Network. "There's a lot of confusion and misperception about that religion."

Inclusion Network president Deb LeDoux said those who attended last year's event had so many questions and comments that the speaker stayed at the college until almost 10 p.m.

"I would just hope people can look at this as new information and something to learn," she said. "Nothing they have to believe or accept, just something to learn."

In February, the Tracks in the Snow exhibit was in Montevideo, at the Chippewa County Public Library. Head librarian Larissa Schwenk said most who encountered the display seemed surprised and pleased.

"The reaction seemed to be, 'Oh, this is really neat, it's not something you're going to see in rural Minnesota," she said. "In rural Minnesota, we just don't get that exposure in our smaller communities and there's a lot of misinformation."

More recently, "Tracks in the Snow" was in the public library in La Crosse, Wisconsin, which has a mosque. The display was paired with programs about Islam, which programming librarian Brendan Hubbs said sparked "good conversations."

One woman spoke with library staff about her daughter, who was dating a Saudi man who is also Muslim.

"She had certain prejudices and concerns with that relationship and wanted to dispel those for herself and she no longer wanted to have that kind of a closed mindset," Hubbs said. "She wanted to change what she thought about people she wasn't familiar with."

If you go

WHAT: "Tracks in the Snow," photos and audio tellings the stories of Muslims who make their homes in Minnesota

WHEN: On view April 9-30, with a reception planned for Monday, April 23. Refreshments are from 5:30-6 p.m., with a presentation from 6-8 p.m.

WHERE: Alexandria Technical and Community College. The exhibit will be in the hall connecting the 700 Building with the Law Enforcement Center, while the April 23 reception will take place in Room 743.

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