Muslim community outraged over criminals wearing women’s traditional garb to rob, kill

Some members of Philadelphia’s Muslim community say they’re outraged by a series of robberies in Philadelphia and the murder of an Upper Darby barber perpetrated by criminals wearing clothes associated with Muslim women.

Keziah Ridgeway says it’s disgusting to think that men are dressing as Muslim women to commit crimes.

“It just makes me sad that they would portray our religion in this manner,” she said

Sitting in a room upstairs at the Al-Aqsa Academy in Philadelphia, the teacher’s young son, who’s in kindergarten, waits quietly in a chair next to her. Ridgeway says she and her husband talked about how the crimes could make people more suspicious when a Muslim woman walks into a store.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

“You can’t see the face and so you don’t know who’s coming into your store. It’s really just going to make it hard for Muslim women, whether you cover your face or you cover your head,” Ridgeway said. “It’s just going to be something wherein people, when they see someone who looks like me, or they see another Muslim woman, they’re going to think negative thoughts.”

Worries spur $20,000 reward

Muslim leaders are worried enough that they joined Philadelphia politicians to announce a $20,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction of anyone who commits violent crime in such as disguise.

Abdul-Mateen, the secretary for the Majlis Ash’Shura of Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley, says fears about how the crimes could hurt Muslim women prompted the group to offer the reward.

“It endangers our women, it disrespects our women, it makes a mockery of our women and Islam,” he said. “When they do this, it puts the Muslim woman in a bad light. It subjects her to being ostracized.

“I’m told that some ladies were forced to reveal themselves before they go into different places of business, because of this,” he said.

Aishia Muhammed says she’s outraged criminals would hide using something that could have come from her closet. The dress she wears billows out over her belly — she’s pregnant with her seventh child. Muhammed says she likes having her whole body covered except for her eyes.

“Modesty is a huge part of Islam and it’s something we love to do. We’re not forced to do it. It’s not a hardship or anything,” she says. “I love when I walk out the door that I’m dressed this way, and I’m comfortable, and it’s a part of who I am.”

Muhammed says store employees are already on high alert when she walks in the door.

“If I go into a store, to purchase clothes or shoes, there’s definitely a lot of following me around the store. Or people will say instantly: ‘Do you need help with something? Can I help you?’

“And it’s not polite — it’s a little aggressive,” she says.

Muhammed, a childbirth educator, says she was attracted to the religion about 15 years ago because she thought it was beautiful and pure.

“To pray five times a day … you can stop in the middle of the day and just pray. You know that was beautiful to me,” she said. “For the women to cover and still get so much respect from men.”

Muhammed says she hopes the reward money will make people realize that — even for criminals — this is inappropriate behavior.

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal