Philadelphia-area Muslims are offering a $20,000 reward to find criminals cloaking their identities beneath Islamic women's clothing, saying the crooks are feeding mistrust of their faith.
Members of Majlis Ash Shura, a group representing 71 mosques and congregations in Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley, and Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said they have zero tolerance for the tactic, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
“Whatever happened to the mask?” Imam Asim Abdul-Rashid of the Masajid of the Delaware Valley said, referring to ski masks often seen worn by bank robbers, the Inquirer reported.
Officials say perpetrators have worn Muslim garb in five Philadelphia bank robberies since December. Also, Sharif Wynn, charged with an April 18 killing in an Upper Darby barber shop, allegedly wore a woman's robe as part of a robbery ruse that turned out to be a love triangle gone bad.
“These types of bizarre incidents feed into that cottage industry of Muslim bashers,” Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the national Council on American-Islamic Relations, told msnbc.com. “These types of incidents demonize Islam and American Muslims.”
They also make it difficult for Muslim women to get service in banks, Hooper said.
Amara Chaudhry, civil rights director at CAIR’s Philadelphia chapter, told msnbc.com that one community member, who went to a bank to deposit the paycheck of her son in the military, was not allowed to enter the branch before first removing her hijab, making her feel as naked as removing her blouse and bra.
“She couldn’t even serve her son who is serving our country,” Chaudhry said.
Islamic leaders said at a news conference Tuesday they're concerned the crimes could make Muslim women the targets of mistrust or even violence.
Williams appealed for the public's help.
“We are seeing cowards dressed in the outer garb of Muslim women,” he said, according to the Inquirer. “We will do all that we can to make sure [Muslim] women aren’t degraded in this way.”
“I would like to ask the perpetrators if they have a mother, a daughter, or an aunt, and if they’d put them in jeopardy with this act,” said Alia Walker, executive director of Earth’s Keepers in Philadelphia, the Inquirer reported.
“We are human beings. To have my peers look at me in some kind of way because of this crime ... it really hurts my heart,” Walker said.
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