Mohamed Samatar, Islamic schoolteacher and mentor to youth, dies at 36

Faiza Mahamud, Star Tribune
·3 min read

In his youth, Mohamed Samatar's magnetic personality showed no boundaries. Everyone was drawn to him, including bad influences.

But after his father died in 2015, Samatar changed his ways. He cut off negative people from his circle, found a job and became a devout Muslim.

"He was the best father to our kids and the best husband that I could ever ask for," said his wife, Ugbed Issak. "All he wanted was to have a better life and a better opportunity."

Although Samatar succeeded in mending his old ways, his past never left him. The St. Paul man was fatally shot in his auto body shop business on March 30 by a man who told authorities that he killed Samatar to avenge the death of a relative. He was 36.

While the investigation has refocused attention on Samatar's troubled past, his sisters Shukri Samatar and Ayan Samatar said allegations that their brother was involved in gangs are false and a smear on his good name.

Samatar, who was also known by the name Macalin (teacher) Abdinasir, was born in Somalia. His family settled in Minnesota in 2000. Samatar went to Edison High School for two years and graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School. It was around then when the mild-mannered teen started hanging out with the wrong crowd and was once badly injured from a gunshot. Samatar's life took a major turn when his ailing father succumbed to a stroke.

That same year, Samatar started teaching at an Islamic school in north Minneapolis called Nawawi Academy. He started attending the mosque, which gave him refuge from bad friends. There he met his wife. Those who knew Samatar said he strove to set a good example for Muslim youth, particularly his students who always got a gentle nudge from him to stay out of trouble. Despite the serious talks, he made sure he left them smiling. In 2017, Samatar and Issak married and had two girls together.

Saciid Shire, a teacher at Dar Al-Farooq mosque who taught Samatar Arabic for three months in 2017, said he was always impressed with how hard Samatar worked in class even though he struggled and was behind his peers.

"He never quit and he always showed up to class early in the morning," Shire said. "He pushed himself until he mastered the language and went on to earn a degree in Arabic."

In less than two years, Samatar became a prominent figure in his local Somali community, teaching the Qur'an and Arabic classes to students of all ages. His auto body shop business, which he started in 2018, became popular among financially struggling families who got their cars fixed, sometimes free of charge.

Although busy juggling several jobs, Samatar always found time to spend with his family, Issak said. The night before he died, Samatar and his wife talked about starting a business selling fashion clothes to improve their finances and support their children. He wanted Issak, a stay-at-home mom, to have her own business and have a life outside the house. The day of his death, Issak said, her husband woke up beaming and excited to go to work, kissing his daughters goodbye. Five hours later, she got a call from a neighbor who told her that Samatar was killed inside his shop.

"I thought I was in a dream," Issak said. "I'm still in shock, but it hurts to see my kids grow up without their father."

Mohamed Omar, executive director of the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, said the mosque launched a GoFundMe page to support Samatar's family. Omar said Samatar was a longtime member of the mosque who volunteered as a security guard on weekends and during Ramadan.

"He was an honest man and a hard worker who always took the first call to help the community," Omar said. "His absence will be felt."

Samatar was preceded in death by his father, Hashi Samatar Jama. In addition to his wife and sisters, he is survived by daughters Asiya and Asima, all of the Twin Cities.