As a columnist and a public speaker, it is not easy to live a normal life. Anything I write to defend my community or speak the truth irritates some people.

Abdi Nor Iftin is a Somali-American writer, radio journalist and public speaker. He lives in Yarmouth.

A column I wrote in January to celebrate the first-ever Muslim and Somali immigrant elected to lead as the mayor of a city in Maine caused some frustration (“Through My Lens: Here’s hoping that as Maine goes, so goes the nation,” Jan. 5). It immediately becomes a political issue of Republican versus Democrat. Since when did celebrating a historical moment as a minority group become political? I don’t even know what party the members of my community are affiliated with. I don’t ever remember sitting in a community gathering and talking about registering with either Democrats or Republicans.

When immigrants or refugees arrive in the U.S., they usually don’t have preconceived opinions about politics and party affiliations in this country. We don’t sign up with Democrats or Republicans.

But anyone would defend their community when they are under attack or when there are widespread misconceptions. Our previous president was one of the reasons we immigrants had to be politically involved to defend ourselves. Those who stood by us at times when our communities faced attacks from politicians are the ones with whom we will share the same political goals. You could be a Democrat, Republican or something else. It does not really matter.

Conservative radio hosts talk about Democrats letting immigrants in this country because the Democrats own us and use us for political purposes. I was shocked to hear this. It’s definitely an insult to those of us who have done everything we could and risked our lives to get here to find a better life.

History is at work; we all can see what is happening in our country about which political group is sympathetic to refugee communities and which is not. The children of immigrants who will be born in this beautiful state will look back at the history we are writing today. Those boys and girls will grow up knowing one side of America is with them, the other side is not. But for the moment, we can only unite as a community and stand up for our own rights in this country. Those who think we don’t belong here, we will show them that we do. That is why participating in the elections in this country is critical to us.


When someone mentions Sharia to describe Somali refugees and immigrants like Ilhan Omar, Deqa Dhalac or even me, this shows ignorance of the word.

Sharia, which is derived from the Quran and the Sunnah and Hadith  – the deeds and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad – is Islam’s legal system. But there is actually no clear definition of the word Sharia; it depends on who is in power. I don’t know one refugee who entered the U.S. who wants to live in a country with the Sharia system as it is defined by some radical groups such as Al-Shabaab in Somali or Boko Haram in Nigeria. When you use the word to describe the women here as if they belong to these radical groups, anyone can understand how hurtful that can be.

Sharia is not a divine order and practicing it is a choice. This may include being extremely religious but not harming others. Many in Maine think that if you are a Muslim and from Somalia that you believe and practice the Sharia law. I do not, and I don’t know anyone else in Maine who says they do.

I recall the days when I had recorded secret audio diaries while living in a hole I dug near where I had lived in Mogadishu. My city was under siege by men with guns, waving an Islamic flag and forcibly recruiting men into the army of the holy war. It was easy for me to sign up if I thought Sharia was what I wanted. Instead, I risked my own life to go against it. I could have been easily killed if they found that I was speaking up against them and their brutal laws. Now, when we do the same in this country by speaking up against what seems to be an attack on our communities, some think that we hate the country and that we should go back to where we came from. This is the last place we have. We won’t let it go.

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