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Area mosques report receiving threats after video shows Muslim children reciting violent poems, songs

The Philadelphia branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations issued an advisory to all Islamic institutions to increase security precautions.

Islamic Center is shown in Philadelphia, Pa. Tuesday, May 7, 2019.
Islamic Center is shown in Philadelphia, Pa. Tuesday, May 7, 2019.Read moreJOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer

Several local Muslim leaders say their mosques have received threatening phone calls after a video was posted Friday of children reciting violent poems and songs in Arabic during a program at a North Philadelphia Islamic center.

That prompted the Philadelphia branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) to issue an advisory Monday to all Islamic institutions to increase security precautions throughout the month.

The CAIR office in Center City was itself threatened by a caller who, referring to the “sick video," told a staff member that “we will deal with you” if violence erupts, said Ahmet Selim Tekelioglu, the outreach and education director. The caller also said that “America won’t put up with that” and “We’re from here, you’re not” and ”Bring it," according to Tekelioglu.

Amir Qasim Rashad of the United Muslim Masjid in South Philadelphia said he planned to meet Tuesday with police following two calls to his mosque threatening physical harm.

“Places of worship used to be sacred, but now they are the target," Rashad said. "And it doesn’t make a difference whether it’s a mosque or synagogue or church.”

The CAIR alert comes four days after the video of youngsters participating in an April 17 “Ummah Day” program at the Philadelphia branch of the Muslim American Society was posted by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), a Middle East monitoring group. (Ummah is Arabic for “community.”)

The local branch of the Muslim American Society is also known as Masjid Al-Hidayah within the Islamic community, Tekelioglu said.

In the recording, youngsters recite and sing violent statements, including one about chopping off heads to “liberate the sorrowful and exalted Al-Aqsa Mosque” in Jerusalem, a holy site for Muslims and Jews.

The video includes an English translation of the Arabic, which The Inquirer has independently confirmed. MEMRI describes itself as a nonpartisan nonprofit, but critics say it selectively translates “Arab/Muslim/Iranian press purportedly demonstrating hostility against Israel/Jews.”

The national Muslim American Society (MAS) called the program “an unintended mistake and an oversight in which the center and the students are remorseful” in a statement released Saturday. The organization has launched an investigation into the program.

>>READ MORE: North Philadelphia mosque officials apologize for anti-Semitic statements delivered in sermons by guest imam

MAS, which has more than 50 chapters throughout the United States, owns the property where the program was presented, and says it leases it to a school operator. The program’s supervisor has been dismissed and the organization in charge plans to develop sensitivity training and improved oversight procedures. “We stand resolutely in our condemnation of hate, bigotry, Islamophobia, xenophobia, racism, anti-Semitism, and all the illnesses of hate that plague our society,” the MAS statement read.

The Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations (PCHR) said it is investigating the incident and working with interfaith groups to improve cooperation and understanding, said Rue Landau, the commission’s executive director.

Calling the incident “extremely disturbing,” the Anti-Defamation League in Philadelphia said that children “should not be indoctrinated to hate, and should not have been asked to make speeches and dance and lip-sync to songs that glorify violence against Jews and the State of Israel."

The Philadelphia and Pennsylvania branches of the Council on American-Islamic Relations reaffirmed their condemnation of any and all manifestations of anti-Semitism, in a statement on CAIR-Philadelphia’s website.

“Islamic tradition categorically rejects either speech or actions that harm in any way our Jewish brothers and sisters,” said Iftekhar Hussain, chair of CAIR-Pennsylvania.

CAIR announced Tuesday that the organization will host a series of free diversity training sessions at area religious institutions in collaboration with government, religious and interfaith groups.