Hundreds of Muslims gather outside City Hall to pray for peace in Gaza and Philly

The Philadelphia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations — or CAIR — and a coalition of local mosques and other organizations sponsored the Friday prayers.

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Braving the cold wind and low temperatures, hundreds of Philadelphia Muslims gathered outside City Hall on Friday night for the Taraweeh, a special Sunnah prayer offered after sundown during Ramadan.

Police officers, volunteer safety marshals and heavily armed private security guards watched over as the Muslims performed the many rakahs — the ritual of genuflection offered with the recitation of prayers. A large TV screen illuminated the night sky with the message “Let Gaza Live.” A few of the followers were holding up signs expressing solidarity with the people in Gaza, one of them read “Praying for Peace from Philadelphia to Palestine.”

Volunteer safety marshals hold a sign expressing solidarity with the people of Gaza while watching over Muslim devotees in prayer outside City Hall.
Volunteer safety marshals hold a sign expressing solidarity with the people of Gaza while watching over Muslim devotees in prayer outside City Hall. (Carmen Russell-Sluchansky/WHYY)

The Philadelphia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations — or CAIR —  and a coalition of local mosques and other organizations sponsored the Friday prayers.

Hundreds of Philadelphia Muslims gather in the cold outside City Hall on Friday night for the Taraweeh, a special Sunnah prayer offered after sundown during Ramadan. (Carmen Russell-Sluchansky/WHYY)
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The Taraweeh commences the last 10 nights of Ramadan, said Asiyah Jones, a youth programing leader with CAIR Philly.

“You want to really try to strive to be a better Muslim during the last 10 nights,” Jones told WHYY News. “Those are nights where Muslims spend all night, all day in the masjid praying because we believe that there’s a one day where our duas — our prayers — are answered.”

Hundreds of Philadelphia Muslims gather in the cold outside City Hall on Friday night for the Taraweeh, a special Sunnah prayer offered after sundown during Ramadan.
Hundreds of Philadelphia Muslims gather in the cold outside City Hall on Friday night for the Taraweeh, a special Sunnah prayer offered after sundown during Ramadan. (Carmen Russell-Sluchansky/WHYY)

Drexel University student Noor Bowman said she prayed for a ceasefire — in Gaza and for an end to violence plaguing local neighborhoods.

“We want to advocate for the needs of our brothers and sisters in Palestine and also our Muslim brothers and sisters here in this city who are unfortunately dying at the hands of gun violence,” Bowman told WHYY News. “So we are reminding ourselves first in our community that we show up first and most often to God and beg God to help us and rectify our affairs. This is what this gathering is about for us.”

During the holy month of  Ramadan,  practicing Muslims fast from sunrise until sunset. Jones said that it’s an incredibly small sacrifice when compared to the challenges in Gaza where many refugees are going without aid and facing starvation.

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“After every day of fasting, at the end of the day, I can come and I have a whole full meal ahead of me,” Jones said. “I can eat. I eat in the morning. I eat at night. And I know that that little couple hours of fast –- that little ounce of hunger that I feel — is nothing compared to our brothers and sisters overseas.”

Hundreds of Philadelphia Muslims gather in the cold outside City Hall on Friday night for the Taraweeh, a special Sunnah prayer offered after sundown during Ramadan.
Hundreds of Philadelphia Muslims gather in the cold outside City Hall on Friday night for the Taraweeh, a special Sunnah prayer offered after sundown during Ramadan. (Carmen Russell-Sluchansky/WHYY)

For many of Friday’s participants, the prayer also served as a political demonstration and a message to Washington — particularly to President Biden, who wants to win Pennsylvania’s 19 electoral votes. As many as 300,000 Muslims are estimated to live in Philadelphia alone. By comparison, Joe Biden won the state — and, with it, the 2020 election — by only 80,000 votes.

Hundreds of Philadelphia Muslims gather in the cold outside City Hall on Friday night for the Taraweeh, a special Sunnah prayer offered after sundown during Ramadan. (Carmen Russell-Sluchansky/WHYY)

Bowman says Washington’s support for Israel will affect her vote in the primary next month as well as in November.

“I think it’s important to understand that as Muslims, we can be unified and we can come together,” she said. “We don’t have the loudest voice in politics here, but we’re hoping to change that because I think for far too often politicians have taken us for granted.”

Not all attendees were making a statement, however. Timothy Johnson — who goes by Hassan Abdul Rahman — told WHYY he was there to show his devotion and will be voting for the president.

Hundreds of Philadelphia Muslims gather in the cold outside City Hall on Friday night for the Taraweeh, a special Sunnah prayer offered after sundown during Ramadan. (Carmen Russell-Sluchansky/WHYY)

“I most definitely will vote for Biden because the reason being is Trump at this time is just too radical and definitely way out there,” he said. “And if he were to get back in the office, I think he would throw this country in a total turmoil.

The devotees prayed for nearly two hours, lowering and rising with the rakahs spoken by Ahmed Burhan, a Somali-American Quran reciter well known in the Muslim-American community.

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