During the 2017 South Dakota legislative session, two anti-Muslim, anti-refugee, anti-immigrant resolutions and one such bill were introduced.  Our executive director, Taneeza Islam, was contacted by lobbyist friends in the state capital about these bigoted pieces of legislation.

She organized immigrant, refugee, Muslim and interfaith communities to go to Pierre to be present and heard during committee testimony.  She used social media and local news and newspapers to inform the larger community about these issues and a beautiful intersectional group of people showed up each time to fight against the propaganda to instill fear in South Dakota about Islam, Muslims, immigrants and refugees.  After legislative session ended, we started to see a surge in anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-refugee speakers, come to further sow seeds of hate and fear in our communities.  These speakers are part of a national circuit of anti-Muslim and anti-refugee/immigrant speakers. From April-December 2017, 24 such speakers and events were held throughout South Dakota, primarily in Rapid City, Aberdeen, and Sioux Falls.

The intersectional group who organically came together in Pierre, continued to meet, continued to grow, and continued to openly resist the imported hate into our state. Through this time our group decided we needed to formally become and entity.  There were no other organizations in the state devoted to advocacy against Islamophobia and anti-refugee activities, and no organizations committed to empower the impacted communities to be their own voice and become civically engaged. South Dakota Voices for Peace was incorporated as a nonprofit in South Dakota in October of 2017. Because of the political nature of much of our work, we also incorporated a separate nonprofit in South Dakota devoted to lobbying work – South Dakota Voices for Justice.

Our mission is very specific to fighting this bigotry in our state, providing accurate information on the issues, and empowering communities to act through civic engagement.


Join a coalition to spread accurate information about Islam, Muslim, immigrants, and refugees through a statewide storytelling campaign in South Dakota so our neighbors understand our collective experiences in being South Dakotan.


What is Shariah law?2018-10-08T21:43:14+00:00

Shariah “law” is a misnomer and a very nuanced subject misconstrued by Islamophobes to instill fear about the religion of Islam and its followers, Muslims. Shariah are the principles and practices that Muslims follow based on the Qu’ran (Islam’s holy book) the practices and teachings, of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). There are four schools of thought in Islam, and each school have different interpretations of these verses, practices and teachings based on the time period, culture and knowledge.  Muslims regard Islam to be a way of life, not just a religion.  To be the best Muslim, individuals emulate the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). For example, when the Prophet (peace be upon him) drank water, he sat down and use his right hand to hold the cup and supported the bottom with his left hand.  So many Muslims drink water in the same manner and this would be a practice under Shariah.

“Shariah law” is a term used by those who instill fear and misinformation about Islam and Muslims. Islamopohbic propaganda refers to “Shariah law” and a set of laws used to kill and punish. Islamophobes often referred to dictatorial countries who claim to use Shariah to stone people to death or kill people who leave the religion of Islam “apostates”. There were punishments used during the time Islam first started that stoned people or beheaded people, similar to midevil punishments used in Europe during the same timeframe. Islamophobes and the propaganda twist a Pew Research Poll saying the many Muslims in Muslim countries support the idea of Shariah being the law of the land. Islamophobes then make the leap in saying that the majority of Muslims want Shariah law and that means killing all people who leave the religion of Islam! See Pew research “Muslim beliefs about Shariah” http://www.pewforum.org/2013/04/30/the-worlds-muslims-religion-politics-society-beliefs-about-sharia/

However, if staying true to Shariah principles, modern Islamic interpretation finds these practices have been outdated and found to be inhumane and no longer used in the overwhelming majority of countries who have majority Muslim populations.

In fact, the largest number of Muslims per capita are in Indonesia, which is a democracy. And a researcher who studied how many people have been killed for leaving the religion of Islam from 1980-2006 found only 4 people had been executed. See:  https://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/26/weekinreview/in-kabul-a-test-for-shariah.html

What is Islamophobia?2018-10-08T21:41:30+00:00

It refers to propaganda used to instill fear amongst people and hate towards the religion of Islam and its practitioner or those who “appear” to be Muslim. Islamophobes are the people who push this fear and hatred. Oftentimes, Islamophobes also push propaganda to dehumanize immigrants and refugees. The victims of Islamophobic hate crimes are oftentimes non-Muslim but are believed to be Muslim by the perpetrator. The Sikh community in the United States have faced the some of the worse victimization as Sikh men wear turbans as a religious practice and are misidentified by perpetrators as Muslim, the intended victim of the crime. The Center for American Progress has identified the “Islamophobic Network” in the United States, which is a $57 million industry of think tanks, foundations, media outlets, grass root organizations and individuals. See https://islamophobianetwork.com

Who is Allah?2018-10-08T21:40:41+00:00

Islam is a true monotheistic religion where Muslims believe in one God only. Allah is the Arabic word for God, as Dios is the Spanish word for God. Muslims believe in the same God of Judaism and Christianity, which is oftentimes referred to as Abrahamic faiths.

What are some similarities and differences between Islam and Christianity?2018-10-08T21:39:52+00:00

Muslims believe in all of the prophets and parables found in the Old Testament Bible and Torah. Muslims believe in the prophets Adam, Eve, Abraham, Moses, Noah and Jesus (peace be upon them all). Muslims believe that Jesus (peace be upon him) is an important Prophet but Muslims do not believe Jesus is the son of God. Muslims believe that God only spoke directly to Moses (peace be upon him) through the burning bush. Muslims believe in creation and the flood.  Muslims believe that Adam and Eve have equal blame and punishment for not following God’s order to not eat from the forbidden tree. Muslims believe that Mary had a virgin birth of Jesus (peace be upon him) and that Jesus (peace be upon him) will return to this earth as a sign of the Day of Judgement.

What are the core principles practiced by Muslims?2018-10-08T21:38:06+00:00

The practitioners of the religion of Islam are called Muslims.  There are 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide from every continent and ethnic group. Therefore culture heavily influences how the religion is practiced.  There are five core principles that all Muslims agree to. There are oftentimes referred to as the “Five Pillars of Islam”. It is important to remember that these are obligations for able bodied Muslims, though followers of Islam may fast, pay charity and pray at any time.

  • Shahadah (testimony) – To be a Muslim one must testify and believe that there is no God but God and the last messenger God sent to this world is the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
  • Salat (prayer) – Muslims pray five times a day. These prayers are during certain times throughout the day. These prayers are done in a very specific manner which involves standing, sitting, kneeling and bowing ones head to the group. Muslims can say prayers like a blessing before a meal but those prayers are different that these five daily prayers:
    1. Fajr – before sunrise
    2. Dhur – early afternoon
    3. Asr- late afternoon
    4. Maghrib – after sunset
    5. Isha – late night
  • Sawn (fasting)—Muslims abstain from food and drink during the holiest month in the Islamic calendar called Ramadan. Muslims wake up to eat and drink before dawn, cannot eat or drink anything during daylight and breaks their fast right after sunset. Muslims believe that the angel Gabriel was the conduit God used to reveal the verses of the Qu’ran, holybook, to the Prophet Muhammad during this month. These revelations started when Muhammed was 40 years old in the month of Ramadan and continued for 23 years and ended in the month of Ramadan.  There are exceptions to this obligation, such as pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, those who are sick and need to be on medication etc.
  • Zakat (Charity) Muslims are obligated to pay 2.5% of their yearly savings to charity – to Muslims in need. This obligation is for those who can afford to do so. Community is a central principle in Islam.
  • Hajj (Pilgrimage) Muslims who are able bodied and can afford to do so must visit holy sites in Saudi Arabia and perform rituals as prescribed. This takes place during the holy month of Dhul-Hijja (Islamic Calendar) Hajj, and within a specific 5 day period.
What is the refugee process, and how many refugees are in South Dakota?2018-10-08T21:36:34+00:00

The definition of a refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his/her country because of persecution, war or violence.  A refugee has either been persecuted or has a well-founded fear of persecution based on his/her race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.

The refugee process is determined by the UNHCR, The UN Refugee Agency and international law.  To be designated a “refugee” on must have fled country A to country B and entered a UNHCR designated area, usually a refugee camp.  If the UNHCR determines one is a refugee you are put on a list to see if you can be resettled into a 3rdcountry – Country C.  This is called resettlement. Only about 1% of the world’s designated refugee population is resettled. http://www.unhcr.org/en-us/resettlement.html

Refugees can only be resettled in the United States by a designated resettlement agency.  In South Dakota that resettlement agency is Lutheran Social Services (LSSSD). LSSSD directly settles refugees in Sioux Falls, SD.  Once a refugee is resettled, they are free to move to anywhere they please in the United States, this is called secondary migration.  According to LSSSD’s 2017 Legislative Report direct resettlement numbers were: FY2013- 535; FY2014 – 536; FY2015-495; FY 2016-439; FY 2017-316. The largest demographic resettled in Sioux Falls are Bhutanese refugees. https://www.lsssd.org/what-we-do/family-services/center-for-new-americans/

The president of the United States determines how many refugees can be admitted to the United States.  President Obama set that cap at 85,000 people in FY 2016.  President Trump recently announced the cap would be 30,000 in FY 2019.

Understanding the refugee process, there is no process for someone from Central America, South America or Canada to be designated as a refugee.  For people fleeing violence, persecution war based on the definition above, the legal process as defined by international law and US law is to enter the border of the United States and ask for asylum.

Are there sanctuary cities in South Dakota?2018-10-08T21:32:54+00:00

No. “Sanctuary city” in the immigration context refers to how city/county/state governments will not use resources to assist the federal government in enforcing immigration laws.  Cities and police departments across the country have declared they will not work with federal entities to enforce immigration laws. To see a list of sanctuary cities/counties/states, see: https://cis.org/Map-Sanctuary-Cities-Counties-and-States

Do undocumented immigrants have access to public benefits?2018-10-08T21:31:05+00:00

Yes and No.  Undocumented immigrant refers to immigrants who do not have the proper paperwork to show they are lawfully present in the United States. The majority of undocumented immigrants are visa overstays – people who have lawfully entered the country but did not leave when there were supposed to. Those who are not lawfully present do not have access to federal/state public benefits. However, every child has a constitutional right to public education (K-12) regardless of immigration status and every person has a right to medical care in an emergency room, regardless of immigration status.  They do have to pay for medical costs and there are no medical benefits (insurance) for undocumented immigrants. It is a federal crime for an undocumented immigrant to apply for benefits. It is a federal crime for undocumented immigrants to use unlawfully obtained public benefits.

What benefits do immigrants bring to South Dakota?2018-10-08T21:20:54+00:00

Immigrants bring ethnic, religious and cultural diversity to the region transforming SD to reflect more of the world’s population.  According to the American Immigration Council’s fact sheet on SD, about 3% of SD’s population is immigrant (not born in the United States) and lawfully present. About 4.1% of the SD workforce are immigrant workers with the majority of workers in manufacturing. Immigrant led households in the state paid $58 million in federal taxes and $32.6 million in state and local taxes in 2014.  And undocumented immigrants in SD paid an estimated $5.3 million in state and local taxes in 2014.  Immigrant business owners accounted or 3.2% of all self-employed SD residents in 2015 and generated $3.2 million in business income. For more SD facts see: https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/immigrants-in-south-dakota

Has South Dakota been impacted by families separated at the US-Mexico border?2018-10-08T21:20:05+00:00

Yes! Immigrants from Central America have been crossing the border and seeking asylum (see question # 6 for more on refugee process) for decades.  The issue of Unaccommpanied Minors from Central America (UACs) skyrocketed and grabbed media attention in 2014. Since 2014 there have been nearly 300 UACs released to sponsors in South Dakota. (for up to date numbers see: https://www.acf.hhs.gov/orr/resource/unaccompanied-alien-children-released-to-sponsors-by-state)

Then the impact of the Trump administration’ s policy change to separate children from parents who are crossing the border surged in the summer of 2018. After six weeks the administration reverted to the Obama administration policy to not separate children from parents.  In that six-week period nearly 3000 children were separated and shipped to children detention centers across the United States. Many parents have been deported while children remain in the United States – remaining separated.  But the majority of parents and children have been reunited.  If parents are released on bond they usually travel to be with family. We have about a dozen parents who have reunited with their children in South Dakota and also live here.

UACs and families reunited in SD are all in immigration court proceedings.  Immigration court is in Minneapolis, MN.  (Link to Hand in Hand info)


Myth vs. Fact: Sanctuary City

Download a sharable PDF here: Sanctuary City MYTH There are sanctuary university campuses and cities in SD FACTS States and cities across the United States have openly declared they are “sanctuary.” Though there is no legal definition [...]

Myth vs. Fact: Shariah and Apostasy

Download a sharable PDF here: Shariah and Apostasy MYTH Shariah law will take over the United States Constitution FACTS To amend the US Constitution, 2/3 of Senators and Representatives would have to approve an amendment [...]