The Philadelphia Police Department and the FBI are investigating why a severed pig’s head was found outside a mosque in North Philly early Monday morning.
The incident comes as President Barack Obama is asking Muslims to help root out extremism that leads to violence, such as last week’s mass shooting in San Bernardino, California.
In a speech on terrorism Sunday night, Obama called on Muslims to keep a close eye on members of their communities and to report unusual behavior.
“If we’re to succeed in defeating terrorism, we must enlist Muslim communities as some of our strongest allies, rather than push them away through suspicion and hate,” he said.
Less than three hours later, surveillance video at the Al Aqsa Islamic Society mosque in North Philadelphia captured a person in a pickup truck throwing an object out the window, according to caretaker Nabil Khalil.
Early the next morning, Khalil said he found a severed pig’s head laying on the sidewalk at the main entrance to the mosque. Devout Muslims consider pork an unclean food. Khalil reported the incident to the Philadelphia Police Department and the city’s Commission on Human Relations and was later contacted by the FBI, he said.
When Mustafa Bashir, of Glenside, Montgomery County, arrived for evening prayer at Al Aqsa on Monday, he didn’t know about the pig’s head. When a reporter told him what happened, he shook his head.
“I feel violated,” Bashir said later. “I’m glad nobody got hurt, but we need something like this to be reported to the authority before something major can happen.”
He supports Obama’s call to keep watch for extremism within the Muslim community, but he also wants non-Muslims to learn about his religion and to respect it to avoid future incidents like this.
“Every single thing, if we catch it in the beginning, we will save ourselves a big tragedy that can happen in the future,” he said. “I believe that works with us reporting and if we see something happening in our community we have to report also.”
However, many Muslims in Philadelphia said there should be a delicate balance between fighting terrorism and maintaining people’s rights.
Three weeks ago, the owner of a North Philadelphia pizzeria and his cousin were detained from boarding a flight from Chicago after passengers expressed concerns the two men were speaking Arabic.
“I feel I’m not free to speak my language,” Maher Khalil told the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Hamad Hahsy came to Philadelphia 25 years ago from Afghanistan and said he has never faced discrimination as a Muslim in America, but knows some people may perceive him in a negative way. He said the best way to prove all Muslims are not extremists is to be a vigilant citizen.
“I told my wife, ‘We are first American, then Afghans,’ so this is our duty to protect this country,” Hahsy said.
Earlier on Monday, Sabir Abdul was attending midday prayers at United Muslim Movement Masjid in South Philadelphia. He said he already keeps an eye out when new people come to pray “because you don’t know where the terrorists is coming from.
“I often wonder were they here…,” he said. “And I never seen any signs that they were.”
If they were, Abdul said he wouldn’t consider them part of his community.