Mural project draws support for North Philly Muslims [photos]

The Al-Aqsa Islamic Society hosted a Community Paint Day Saturday, inviting members of the larger community to help paint a mural that will adorn the North Philadelphia mosque.

The event was part of a long-standing project intended to reduce the isolation of the local Muslim community, said Mural Arts Program director Jane Golden.

“Nothing happens overnight. All change is incremental, but it will happen,” said Golden.

The Al-Aqsa mosque was thrust into the national spotlight last month when someone tossed a pig’s head at the door. In the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris and California, the pig’s head was seen as an ominous sign of growing anti-Muslim sentiment. The FBI joined Philadelphia police in the investigation.

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Last week, a Philadelphia police officer was shot by a man who claimed to have acted in the name of Islam.

While those events were not the direct motivation for the community paint day, organizers said they were on the minds of volunteers who poured “emotional intentions and divine energy” into their work.

The mural was designed by ArtWell artist-in-residence Joe Brenman, and volunteers filled in decorative shapes formed by the paint-by-numbers outlines he created.

Mayor Jim Kenney and City Council members Helen Gym, Allan Domb and Curtis Jones Jr. joined community members at the large canvases spread out on tables in the basement of Al-Aqsa Mosque.

The mayor’s appearance was scheduled before the shooting of police Officer Jesse Hartnett last week. Kenney condemned the shooter’s claim to have acted in the name of Islam.

Looking at the room filled with painters, Amneh Ahmad, associate director with the Arab-American Community Development Corporation, welcomed the scene of racial and religious diversity as she watched the community working together.

Traditionally Islamic culture stays away from representing faces or animals. Clinton Graybell, part-time art and poetry teacher at Artwell, explained that “emotional intentions and divine energy” are channeled into geometrical, balanced and symmetrical motifs instead.

Brenman demonstrated a very contemporary translation as he presses a simple tap into clay tile to create a floral shape.

Hundreds of these will be incorporated into the “Windows of Peace” mural and used to decorate entryways this spring when the latest decorative elements will be added to the existing “Doorways to Peace” mural created 12 years ago.

It transforms the outside to match the beauty of what is going on inside, Golden explained.

A second Community Paint Day is scheduled for Jan. 30.

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