The Al-Asqa Islamic Society was abuzz Friday with celebrations marking the end of Ramadan when mayoral candidate Jim Kenney stopped in to talk with the crowd, tour the Arab American Community Development Corp.’s Tajdeed Residences and sign a “Pledge to Combat Bigotry.”
There, he removed his shoes to briefly address worshipers in the mosque, thanking them for welcoming him into their house of worship and asking them to continue praying for the city.
Then, Kenney signed an Arab American Institute pledge that states, in part, “I pledge to uphold civil discourse and not engage in bigotry, whether it be in speech or actions and to speak out against those who do.”
After posing for photographs with dozens of attendees, Kenney told NinetyNine that he hoped the visit would reinforce the need for respect among religions and different communities in the city, while letting those at the mosque know they are welcomed here.
Putting that into perspective just one day after a devout Muslim fatally shot four U.S. Marines in Tennessee, a teenager approached Kenney in the lot next to the mosque to shake his hand and ask, with a smile belying sarcasm, whether he was scared of him being a terrorist.
“We have to let people here understand that they’re full-fledged citizens of this city and country, just like all of us,” he said. “We’ve all come from somewhere else. When the Irish came here back in the 1840s, [people] were burning our churches down. We don’t ever want to repeat that cycle in our history again.
“You have to understand that my religion was disrespected in the mid 1800s, and we want to make sure we show respect here. … We respect everyone who wants to live in this city.”
Speaking about the pledge, he cited the controversy surrounding the American Freedom Defense Initiative ads on SEPTA buses which linked Islam to Hitler, most notably how they impacted drivers of the Islamic faith. The pledge directly resulted from that controversy.
Kenney also hearkened back to Sept. 11, 2001, when, as people lashed out against mosques across the country, he was among those who accompanied Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey to Al-Aqsa to let them know they’d be protected.
“What happened on 9/11 and what happened [in Chattanooga] yesterday is not indicative of this religion,” Kenney said. “This religion is a peaceful, charitable religion. You see these folks: They’re hard-working folks who live in our country and worship God in the way they’re allowed to because it’s America.
“This is a very important holiday for Islam. It’s the end of Ramadan, similar to what happens to Christians at Easter or Christmas. It’s a great day. It’s great to be an American. You can worship God any way you’d like.”
Marwan Kriedie, the development corporation’s founder, led Kenney around the site Friday. He said Philadelphia is fortunate insofar as the candidate’s visit not being a rarity; among those who’ve previously visited are Ed Rendell, Tom Wolf, David Oh and Sam Katz.
“People here feel safe in Philadelphia,” he said. “The reality is that after 9/11, there were some incidents, but no comparison to what happened in other parts of the country. In fact, we were embraced by the neighbors.
“The critical thing is we have to make sure Arabs and Muslims are not regarded as ‘the others.’ Everyone here is just as American, just as Philadelphian, good or bad, as anyone else.”
Kriedie noted that they’re trying to get other politicians to sign the pledge as well, including Kenney’s opponent Melissa Murray Bailey, whom he urged to change her stance on “sanctuary cities” earlier this week.
Bailey told NinetyNine on Friday afternoon that she’s yet to hear from anyone about the pledge itself but “of course I will sign” it when asked to do so.
“It’s great to see him here,” said mosque president Amin Elarbi of Kenney. “Hopefully, we can continue working with the city once he becomes mayor and be part of this great city of brotherly love.”