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Luther alum harassed in Edina incident

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Kadra Abdi (‘08).

Kadra Abdi (‘08).

Photo courtesy of Kadra Abdi

Photo courtesy of Kadra Abdi

Kadra Abdi (‘08).

Shasa Sartin, Staff Writer

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Two Somali Muslim women, one of whom is a Luther alum, were verbally harassed at a Twin Cities-area restaurant on Jan. 28. The incident has raised concern as the victims consider the harassment to be an act of racial and religious prejudice.

Kadra Abdi (‘08) and her friend Sadia Warfa were denied service at a Smashburger restaurant in Edina, MN, after spending the day shopping. Warfa’s three-year-old daughter was with the two women. 

According to Abdi, she and Warfa were verbally harassed by two Smashburger employees, including an assistant manager and a customer, and were denied their orders despite having already paid. Abdi drafted a complaint which she sent into the Minnesota Department of Human Rights on Feb. 23. She included her account of the experience in that document.

“The assistant manager, Antonio, Christina [an employee], and their customer friend started to verbally attack us and told us ‘welcome to America’ and to ‘go back to your country’ if we were unhappy with the service,” Abdi wrote in her complaint. “We insisted we were waiting for a service that we paid for; [we] continued to be verbally assaulted, belittled, and berated, in front of [Warfa’s] three-year-old child.”

Smashburger issued a statement denying Abdi’s claims about the incident, saying that only customers were involved in the dispute.

“On Saturday evening, two guests in our Edina, MN restaurant expressed concerns about the speed and accuracy of the service they received,” the statement read. “Whenever a customer has a complaint, our team members are expected to try to address their concerns as quickly as possible. While that was happening, another patron got into a heated argument with those guests. The argument among the three guests went on for some time and was disruptive for other guests. In keeping with company policy, our employees asked all parties involved in the argument to leave the restaurant. Our focus is always to serve great food — to all customers — in a comfortable and safe environment.”

In an interview with Chips, Abdi reaffirmed her belief that the harassment came out of prejudice.

“I was already prepared for hate crimes against Muslims to be on the rise,” Abdi said. “I just didn’t think I would be a victim of it.”

Abdi added that she believes people feel more inclined to act in a similarly prejudiced manner amidst the current socio-political climate in the United States.

“We have a president who makes all sorts of hateful remarks against Muslims, the LGBTQIA+ community, and against black people,” Abdi said. “There are people who are listening to him and his words resonate with them.”

She went on to say that behavior toward minorities follows a top-down approach.

“When you have someone in that leadership position,  the everyday person — it could be your co-worker, it could be someone you ride the bus with — would feel like ‘Hey, my president agrees with me, and my president would [support] what I’m about to say,’” Abdi said.

Professor of Religion Robert Shedinger echoed Abdi’s sentiment.

“Islamophobia is rampant in most of the country,” Shedinger said. “So many people feel much freer to vent their anger at Muslims because they see a president who talks the way he does.”

Abdi said that as of Feb. 23 the Smashburger corporation had yet to contact her or Warfa.

“There were a lot of people in the community who were outraged by this incident,” Abdi said. “The fact that Smashburger came to a conclusion without conducting a thorough investigation was pretty shocking to a lot of people.”

Abdi grew up in Cedar Rapids, IA before attending Luther. At Luther, she served as president of the Black Student Union (BSU) and the Muslim Student Association (MSA), as well as Student Senate president her senior year. Abdi works as a communications and program associate at Legal Rights Center in South Minneapolis, MN.

Abdi added that she wants Luther students to remain connected with the world outside of campus so as to stay informed and be present among current events.

“As students we feel like we’re being prepared for the real world,” Abdi said. “We’re getting ready for what’s to come next; I think we forget that the world is happening around us.”

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