Philadelphia police are stepping up patrols around Islamic worship sites and the city’s mayor has offered a $2,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of “anyone engaged in a hate crime” after early-morning prayers at the Al-Aqsa Islamic Society were disrupted by the discovery Monday of a severed pig’s head on the mosque’s doorstep.
“Someone tried to desecrate the mosque and its peaceful people,” Mayor Michael Nutter (D) said Tuesday, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. “That, of course, will not be tolerated.”
Nutter condemned the “ignorant act” at a City Hall news conference, where, the newspaper reported, “shoulder to shoulder they stood: imams in kufis, ministers in robes, rabbis in skullcaps, elected officials and community leaders in business suits.”
Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said no arrests have been made in the incident outside the west Philadelphia mosque, according to the Associated Press. Ramsey said the department is attempting to enhance security video that shows someone throwing the pig’s head from the passenger side of a red pickup truck that drove by the building twice Sunday night.
A mosque spokesman called it a “hate motivated” act. Pork is considered non-halal, or food that is not religiously sanctioned by Islamic law.
From the Inquirer:
Speaking in Arabic through an interpreter, Al Aqsa Imam Muhammad Shehata told reporters: “We all come for the same roots, the same mother and father, Adam and Eve. . . . The best among the believers are the ones who do not harm anyone with words or violence.”
A worker opening the mosque — which is in the same building as an Islamic school and the Arab American Development Corp. — found the pig’s head about 6 a.m. Monday.
“It’s just a pig’s head — that’s not a big deal, but it does send a message,” mosque spokesman and Arab American Development Corp. Director Marwan Kreidie told The Washington Post. “I think people are worried that if they do a pig’s head, they could do something more violent in the future.”
At the news conference Tuesday, Kreidie said the perpetrators “might have thought they were doing something against” the Islamic State, according to the Inquirer.
“In fact, they are doing exactly what the radicals want them to do,” he said, the newspaper reported. “They want America to appear to be anti-Muslim. This will help them in their recruiting; this will help them in their propaganda. We can’t let the extremists win.”
“It is too early in the investigation to determine if it is a hate crime, but I anticipate that will be the direction the investigation will go,” Philadelphia Police Department spokeswoman Leeloni Palmiero told CNN.
“This vandalism of a sacred space comes in the midst of an election cycle that has given us the most public attacks on an American minority in living memory,” Jacob Bender, executive director of the Philadelphia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said in a statement Tuesday. “Attacks upon American Muslims should be, and must be, the responsibility of all Americans to condemn.”
Mayor-elect Jim Kenney called on the people of his city to “join me in rejecting this despicable act and supporting our Muslim neighbors.”
“The bigotry that desecrated Al-Aqsa mosque today has no place in Philadelphia,” Kenney said in a statement.
The complex will be under increased police protection, officials said.
A manager at Philadelphia’s Al-Aqsa Islamic Society said the mosque received a voicemail on Nov. 14 that alluded to the Paris terror attacks, according to police. “Are you happy about what happened in France?” the male voice stated. The persona also said, “God is a pig!” and “God is Pork!”
Kreidie doesn’t believe anyone from the surrounding community was responsible for throwing the pig’s head. This particular mosque hasn’t been targeted in the past, even after 9/11, Kreidie said. But national discourse about Muslims has become increasingly hostile lately.
Indeed, many Muslims in America report feeling or experiencing growing anti-Muslim sentiment, particularly since the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino. That rhetoric, Muslims say, has also taken center stage in the political arena: On Monday, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”
Trump has previously called for surveillance of some mosques and requiring Muslims to register with the government.
On Tuesday, Nutter slammed Trump’s proposal and said his city should ban the billionaire businessman.
“Trump is literally trying to radicalize Americans against Muslims, and that’s not what America is about,” Nutter said, according to the AP.
“There’s a constant climate of insinuation of terrorism and disloyalty that creates this pervasive sense of being an outsider,” Haroon Moghul, a fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding in Washington, told The Post last week.
The incident could be a violation of the city’s ordinance on ethnic intimidation and institutional vandalism, Rue Landau, executive director of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, told the Inquirer.
“It is a heinous act that sends a message to Arab American communities that they are not wanted here in Philadelphia, and that could not be further from the truth,” Landau said.
There have been other stories of severed pig heads being left at mosques. In 2006, someone threw a severed pig’s head into a Maine mosque as a group of men prayed inside. The suspect said it was a prank, but the incident rattled the Lewiston Somali community.
And on Sunday, a pig’s head was reportedly found in the bathroom of a university mosque in Australia.
“A lot of people think it’s kryptonite to Muslims and it’s not,” said Kreidie, the Philadelphia mosque spokesman. “It’s just degrading and humiliating to people, and you know why it’s being done.”
This post, originally published on Dec. 8, has been updated.