Ibrahim Al-Qudah said his phone has been beeping like crazy in the wake of controversial comments made by Superior Mayor Bruce Hagen just prior to Christmas.
But instead of condemning Hagen, Al-Qudah, as president of the Islamic Center of the Twin Ports, “decided to take a different route,” he said, and invited the mayor to dinner.
“He accepted,” Al-Qudah said Tuesday, meaning that Hagen will fly home from a family vacation to attend the community dinner on Saturday at the center on the 100 block of West Winona Street in the Duluth’s Woodland neighborhood.
“I fully intend to attend,” Hagen told the News Tribune in an email. “I look forward to a dialogue and clarification of the issues and also look forward to meeting the members of the Muslim community.”
Al-Qudah invited Hagen and Superior city councilors along with members of the local ICTP mosque - which Al-Qudah estimated to have 200-300 members. Calling it a “nice, friendly meal,” the dinner is set to begin at 7 p.m.
“I have a very good feeling about all of this,” Al-Qudah said. “We believe in pulling people together.”
A civil engineer with the city of Superior, Al-Qudah described being familiar with Hagen but not close to him. He said he knows Hagen as being different from the man who created a stir beginning Dec. 21 with a Facebook post followed by his continued refusal to yield to calls for retraction, apology and even resignation of his mayoral duties.
“We’re all human and we all do foolish things,” Al-Qudah said. “I want to put this behind our backs in a positive manner.”
On Dec. 21, Hagen responded on Facebook to a post that included a photograph of first lady Michelle Obama and wrote, “Unbelievable! She and her Muslim partner have destroyed the fabric of democracy that was so very hard fought for.” President Barack Obama has repeatedly professed a Christian faith - a fact that led in part to the criticism of Hagen’s Facebook comment.
Al-Qudah said he hoped meeting the Muslim community in the Twin Ports would “get rid of any confusion and misunderstanding,” the mayor may have. Hagen won re-election to a fifth term as Superior mayor last spring and has long said he won’t seek a sixth term.
The mayor has repeatedly said he will not resign. Al-Qudah and ICTP were approached to stand with the protesters who rallied at the Government Center in Superior on Monday, but declined in favor of an alternative response.
The protesters, dubbed the Justice City Coalition, called for Hagen’s resignation and solicited signatures to a petition in support of that cause. The group will resume its protest Wednesday outside the Government Center between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
“We are committed to seeing this through,” said organizer Kym Young.
But Al-Qudah said he hopes the meal will mark an end of the controversy. The ICTP will not ask Hagen for anything other than to break bread, Al-Qudah said.
“Maybe unspoken is way more efficient than spoken words,” Al-Qudah said, later adding, “I’m an engineer by trade, not a politician, and I believe in logic. I approach things from a logical perspective and things don’t work out in fights, anger and hatred. Nice gestures that warm people’s hearts, that’s what makes a difference.”