Thirteen Northern State University students deepened their understanding of Islam thanks to a field trip to a Minnesota mosque. Students in the course “History and Geography of the Middle East,” co-taught by Drs. Erin Fouberg and Steven Usitalo, traveled to the Abu Bakar Islamic Center in Minneapolis in November. The field trip, which also included a stop at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, gave the students a unique experience they couldn’t get in the classroom, Fouberg said. “Seeing a mosque firsthand gave the students who went on the field trip a dimension of knowledge and understanding that those who were not able to go on the field trip will simply miss,” she observed.
Usitalo said the trip was an invaluable educational experience, since “Many of our students have never been to an art museum, let alone a mosque.”
The trip was made possible in part by a donation from the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate tribe, which paid for students’ hotel rooms—a gesture that Usitalo found “very moving.” NSU senior Brandy DeCoteau, an enrolled member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate who went on the field trip, said her tribe is very supportive of higher education.
“They fully support going to a direct source, like a mosque, as a way of learning more about the religion and culture,” said DeCoteau, a political science and history major. “My tribe, like many others, knows what it's like to be stereotyped a certain way, so going to a place that involves a certain religion or culture is a great way to break those stereotypes.”
DeCoteau and her fellow students wrote thank you letters to tribal leaders afterward.
“Our tour of the mosque was an enlightening one. We visited with the leaders of the mosque about Islam and the role it plays in the lives of Muslims,” wrote senior History major David Hales. “I believe that this specific aspect of our visit was the most important in terms of broadening our knowledge.”
Mikayla Bonnet, a senior biology and pre-nursing major, said the trip was very meaningful since she had never before been able to experience a mosque, an art museum or Middle Eastern food.
“The best part of the trip was being able to talk to the Muslims in the mosque and ask them about their beliefs, everyday lives, and experience one of the daily prayers,” Bonnet wrote. “There is something immensely different about experiencing culture rather than reading or learning about it in a classroom. This trip was amazing because it allowed me (and my classmates) to see the world through a different lens – the lens of a Muslim in the Midwest – an experience that will never be recreated in a classroom setting.”